The dramatic, untold story of one of the CIA’s most successful Cold War intelligence operations.
December, 1981—the CIA receives word that the Polish government has cut telephone communications with the West and closed the Polish border. The agency’s leaders quickly inform President Ronald Reagan, who is enjoying a serene weekend at Camp David. Within hours, Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski has appeared on Polish national television to announce the establishment of martial law. A new era in Cold War politics has begun: Washington and Moscow are on a collision course.
In this gripping narrative history, Seth G. Jones reveals the little-known story of the CIA’s subsequent operations in Poland, which produced a landmark victory for democracy during the Cold War. While the Soviet-backed Polish government worked to crush a budding liberal opposition movement, the CIA began a sophisticated intelligence campaign, code-named QRHELPFUL, that supported dissident groups. The most powerful of these groups was Solidarity, a trade union that swelled to a membership of ten million and became one of the first legitimate anti-Communist opposition movements in Eastern Europe. With President Reagan’s support, the CIA provided money that helped Solidarity print newspapers, broadcast radio programs, and conduct a wide-ranging information warfare campaign against the Soviet-backed government. QRHELPFUL proved vital in establishing a free and democratic Poland.
Long overlooked by CIA historians and Reagan biographers, the story of QRHELPFUL features an extraordinary cast of characters—including spymaster Bill Casey, CIA officer Richard Malzahn, Polish-speaking CIA case officer Celia Larkin, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II. Based on in-depth interviews and recently declassified evidence, A Covert Action celebrates a decisive victory over tyranny for U.S. intelligence behind the Iron Curtain, one that prefigured the Soviet collapse.