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Review by Leonard J. Baldyga

Hot Books in the Cold War by Alfred A. Reisch, Central European University Press, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-6155225239, pp. 574, $63.00.

Those of us who served in the press and cultural sections of American embassies in Eastern Europe during the Cold War were well aware of the importance of books as part of our programs in communicating with our contacts and audiences in the intellectual, academic, media, cultural and even political fields. But what we did not know was that our relatively modest and overt book and publication initiatives at that time were being greatly and effectively amplified by a massive covert book distribution program run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Alfred Reisch’s meticulously researched book about the CIA’s secretly funded book distribution program provides the first detailed account of the extraordinary “political warfare” effort conducted by the CIA to counter the Soviet global political and cultural offensive, as Mark Kramer points out in his superb introduction in the book. Each superpower, as he notes, sought “to affect the perceptions, attitudes, motives, and—ultimately—political behavior of the other side’s organizations, groups, individuals, and government officials” by operating a wide array of programs that sought “to overcome (or at least diminish) the opposition of those who were most hostile, to gain the allegiance of those who were neutral or uncommitted (i.e., to ‘win the hearts and minds’), to reinforce the loyalty of supporters, and, in wartime, to erode the enemies will to fight.”

The 1952 “Seventh Semi-Annual Report on Educational Exchange Activities” of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange of the Department of State, reported that in 1950 alone the Soviet Union spent “almost a billion dollars on propaganda activities”1 as part of an accelerated Soviet “peace” offensive. The report revealed that “under the new offensive”— radio broadcasts, wide dissemination of publications, support for binational societies, and assistance to the Communist parties in in various countries were multiplied and accelerated. The Soviet press and publication program was “greatly stepped up.”2

The U.S. Government responded with its own coordinated political and cultural counter-offensive with increased scholarly and cultural exchanges, film festival participation, sending abroad of performing artists and groups, and promoting fine arts and thematic exhibitions arranged and conducted by the State Department and the U.S. Information Agency. However those efforts are another story. Reisch’s focus is on the use of books and publications as part of the USG’s counter-offensive.

Kramer in his introduction and Reisch in much greater detail in his chapter on the “Origins, Objectives, and Launching of the Book Project under Sam Walker, Jr.” point out that these Soviet propaganda and cultural activities were already of great concern to elements of the U.S. government as early as 1948.  Following a series of policy memoranda exchanged between the State Department and the CIA,  the decision was made to have the CIA “initiate and conduct covert psychological operations to counteract Soviet and Soviet-inspired activities which constitute a threat to peace” consistent with the National Security Council directive authorizing the use of cover organizations. The result was the creation of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL) to use “radio to penetrate the Iron Curtain.”

Both Kramer and Reisch indicate that until 1970, the CIA funding for book distribution in the Soviet Bloc countries was channeled through entities associated with RFE and RL. The Free Europe Committee (FEC) handled Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the three Soviet Bloc Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Radio Liberty Committee’s secret Bedford Publishing Company covered the Soviet Union except for the three Baltic states. After CIA’s role in funding of RFE and RL was publicly revealed in 1970, a series of new front organizations were created to conduct the book publishing operations until the entire program was terminated in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And what started out as an idea to commence a “Publication Section” under the direction of the FEC Vice President Samuel S. Walker, Jr., in 1951, followed by the launching in 1953 of plastic balloons filled with a monthly letter-sized magazine to Czechoslovakia and the monthly mailing of 10,000 information packed letters to individuals randomly selected from telephone and/or population directories in Hungary and Poland, ended 40 years later in 1991 with an estimated 10 million  books and publications having successfully penetrated the “cultural Iron Curtain.”3

It was also “the highly inventive” Walker who initiated the covert book mailing program in April, 1956 and then helped manage the first “person-to-person” distribution system where visitors from Poland to Western Europe were given American and Western books. He had to overcome skeptics who felt that the books would never get past the Communist censors. Reisch, however, notes that Walker’s idea of disseminating printed material to eager Soviet Bloc recipients was not unique and that it was common practice within East European emigre circles to mail letters and packages to friends and relatives behind the Iron Curtain. Reisch also cites a unsigned 1954 USIA “action plan” that outlined more effective ways to reach Soviet Bloc audiences, including “a Russian-language magazine, gifts of classical American books, the circulation of American motion pictures, and the distribution of printed materials to Soviet sailors and to Soviet soldiers in Austria.”  And Reisch notes that the same means would later be used by the FEP/IAC/ILC book distribution project.4

Kramer in the introduction also provides an excellent overview of the features of the book program, as revealed by Reisch, which evolved from a relatively modest, cautious and initial focus on select elitist audiences in the six target countries of Eastern Europe in 1956, to a much broader expansion of the distribution system to “cover young people, especially university students, as well as professors, teachers, clergy, writers, artists, doctors, and other key elites such as economists and journalists.” And Kramer adds, by the mid-1970s, “students had become the largest single group of person-to-person book recipients, followed by professors and teachers.”

The program was now operating in two parts. One which focused on key elites and the second which reached out to almost anyone in the Soviet Bloc who desperately wanted to get any kind of reading material or information from the West. According to Kramer, senior CIA officials “attached great importance to the two book distribution programs” which had a “special place” in “the world of covert propaganda.”  Basically, the distribution operation consisted of three parts (1) the mailing of books and publications directly to individuals and institutions; (2) under the “person-to-person” program handing books and printed material physically  to Soviet and East European travelers  able to travel to the West either individually or in groups (attending sporting events, conferences or as tourists); and (3) smuggling the books into the Soviet Bloc via the recruited volunteer couriers from all walks of life who willingly took the risk of doing so.

Reisch reveals that the FEC often used intermediaries to organize conferences that were designed to “attract specific groups from behind the Iron Curtain” including writers, scholars, journalists and translators” all of whom would then have access to the books and publications made freely available to them at the gatherings. Between June 1962 and September 1965 the FEC supported “no less than 180 international conferences.”that were designed to “attract specific groups from behind the Iron Curtain” including writers, scholars, journalists and translators” all of whom would then have access to the books and publications made freely available to them at the gatherings. And by 1965, the FEC was assisting 22 East-West projects in seven West European countries in sponsorship of student seminars and summer schools which brought in mostly young students. It also financed the travel of “selected writers” to the West.

The program’s major expansion came under the leadership of a remarkable Romanian-born refugee named George C. Minden who came to the U.S. in 1955 and soon began working for the (FEC) Free Europe Committee’s Romanian desk as an analyst and researcher. Reisch dedicates an entire chapter in the book to Minden (The Man in the Grey Suit) who had degrees from Cambridge and New York University and, besides Romanian, spoke “flawless English, French and Spanish.” A serious, hardworking, impeccably dressed man in a grey suit, he quickly moved up within  the organization and by 1958 was promoted to Department Head of the Free Europe Press’ Book Center which handled the book mailing project.

In May, 1961, John Richardson, Jr., the then recently appointed President of the FEC, recognized Minden’s unique organizational and leadership abilities and appointed him director of the newly created Communist Bloc Operations Department and as supervisor of FEC’s East Europe magazine. In March, 1963, again with the strong support of John Richardson, Minden became director of FEC’s Publications and Special Projects Division (PSPD). With these two appointments, Minden began overseeing all aspects of the book program and continued to do so until its termination in September, 1991. From that point on the CIA-supported program became associated with the secretive Minden who brilliantly develops an unbelievable covert maze of book and periodical  large scale distribution centers, translation and publishing units, person-to-person distribution systems, myriads of volunteer couriers to transport books and periodicals into the targeted countries and, finally, devising evaluation and documentation systems in an effort to prove the effectiveness of the program.

As in any program funded by the U.S. Government and, even if it was a secret operation run by the CIA, questions arose as to how effective the book program met the objectives of “shaping the minds and attitudes” of the targeted recipients, whether they were the elites, the students, the general public or even party and government officials. Reisch, I believe, sufficiently provides the reader with a tremendous amount of evidence from his research to indicate that the book distribution program clearly met the five-part criteria that Kramer cites in the introduction: 1) providing reasonably accurate figures on the number of books and other publications distributed in the Soviet Bloc; 2) determining whether the books/publications actually reached and were read by the intended recipients; 3) ascertaining whether the recipients’ political views and perceptions were positively influenced by what they read; 4) determining how extensive were the efforts of the Soviet Bloc authorities in trying to confiscate or block the delivery of the books; and 5) taking into account the first four points, determining the overall impact, if any, of the program in the outcome of the Cold War.

Just as the Soviet Bloc spent considerable time and money trying to jam the broadcasts of RFE, RL and the VOA, thousands of post office employees and border officials in the targeted countries were employed to try to intercept the “subversive anti-Soviet literature and leaflets.” And, just as with the broadcasts, the books and printed material also got through. This frantic effort to intercept  anything coming from the West  included the Czechoslovak regime’s using aircraft in trying to knock down the thousands of balloons launched from Germany in the 1950s.

Soviet officials were “especially worried about the impact of illicit books on young people” and particularly university students. Kramer points out that in December, 1976, Yurii Andropov, at the time the head of the Soviet KGB, sent a detailed report to the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU). The report noted the host “of invidious influences from abroad,” particularly “newspapers and books from bourgeois countries” that were allegedly causing “negative behavior on the part of young people studying at universities.” According to Kramer, Andropov and other senior KGB officials “feared that the surge of East-West exchanges and human contacts” during the detente of the 1970s were facilitating the entry of Western books, a myriad of publications and “other propaganda that is the mainspring of hostile sentiments” among students.

Apparently Andropov was not concerned about his own son’s behavior. In May, 1974, the American Embassy in Warsaw gave a grant to the Polish Academy of Sciences to organize the “First Conference of Polish and American Historians” which was held in Nieborow, Poland. I was head of the Embassy’s Press and Cultural Section at the time. The President of the Polish Academy of Sciences Alexander Gieysztor and two professors from Columbia University, Ihor Shevchenko and Jaroslaw Pelenski, ran the proceedings. Two uninvited Russians appeared at the opening session. The two were Igor Andropov, Jurii’s son, and an older “academician” both “representing” IMEMO (The Moscow Institute of World Economy and International Relations). I invited Igor and his “mentor” to lunch at the end of the conference. Igor’s English was excellent as was the mentor’s. Igor’s knowledge of American history was impressive and he said he enjoyed reading American novels. When I suggested that he might wish to study in the United States to pursue his interests in the U.S., the mentor interrupted and laughed: “No, he can’t do that. It would spoil his objectivity.” It was obvious that the young Igor had unrestricted access to as many Western and American books as he wanted despite his father’s warning of their “invidious influences.”5

And this is what makes Reisch’s book so fascinating. While the party leaders and aparatchiks did everything possible to hinder the ordinary citizen from gaining open access to the forbidden books and publications, they themselves and their children did not appear to have that problem.

And what also is fascinating about Reisch’s book is the brilliant way Minden and his colleagues made use of the emigre organizations based in the United States and Western Europe to exploit their knowledge of the languages and cultures of the target countries to develop the list of elites who were to get the material; to advise on the selection of titles for distribution and, if necessary. to translate or even write the book needed. These were elites working to reach out to their fellow elites (and perhaps long-time friends) stuck behind the Iron Curtain. They would help create the extensive mailing lists and often help recruit the volunteer  couriers to carry the precious cargo to specific contacts.

From the very beginning of the program the CIA established a priority ranking of the targeted countries which determined the level of resources and staffing to be assigned to each country, and on the basis of its actual population, Poland ranked first then followed by Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania,  Bulgaria and the three Baltic Republics. And while the size of the population determined the number of books and publications distributed, Minden felt Polish and Hungarian  target audiences showed “by far the greatest eagerness to participate in the cultural life of the West.” Reisch throughout the book refers to Poland as the “crucial country” and the reasons were obvious. (1) It was the only country in the Soviet Bloc that permitted an independent university to exist: the Catholic University in Lublin; and the independent newspaper “Tygodnik Powszchny” in Cracow; (2) It was the only Soviet Bloc country that allowed us to conduct cultural and informational programs without the need for a formal reciprocal and often restrictive exchanges agreement; (3) It was the only Soviet Bloc country that responded to the U.S. Government’s policy of differentiation as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s October 7, 1966  “Building Bridges to Eastern Europe” declaration . Under that policy, to the extent a Soviet Bloc country was willing to engage with us in a wide range of political, economic, social and other exchanges, the U.S. would reciprocate: (4) As Reisch points out, Poland also had the advantage of having a large Polish diaspora living in the United States and throughout Western Europe; and (5) It had the existence of the powerful institution of the Catholic church, which had a membership that exceeded that of the controlling Communist Party and which the Vatican used for its own book and publication distribution program in Poland.

Having himself spent several years working in the various New York-based operations directly under Minden, Reisch was able to provide valuable first-hand insights based on his own 15-year involvement in the book project, his personal contacts and the extensive interviews with those who were involved.

The reader will also be impressed with the intricacies of the secretive network operating out of New York (the names of the New York-based and the overseas front cover “sponsoring” organizations were often changed as the situation required) and with centers in London, Paris, Rome, Munich and Vienna. These major western cities had dozens of emigre groups who were willing to cooperate with the CIA front organizations. Because of its geographic proximity to Communist-ruled Eastern Europe, Vienna was the most important book distribution hub, while Rome became a “hot” center after the arrival on the scene  of the Polish Pope John Paul II. The Polish regime started allowing many thousands of Polish religious pilgrims to flock to Rome.6

Reisch also describes the great deal of thought Minden and the CIA gave in determining  the types of books and publications that were selected specifically for each country based on changing political situations (the temporary relaxation of controls in Poland under Gomulka in 1956 and the crackdowns on intellectuals and dissidents in 1968; the Prague Spring in 1968; the Hungarian revolt of 1956; the ups and downs in Romania under Ceausescu; and the very strict censorship in Bulgaria).

Having created an unbelievable data base of contacts in each country and having developed the system so as to obtain thousands of responses by letter or postcard from the recipients in each country, the CIA was able to determine which titles and publications would be most responsive to the interest of its readers but at the same time would fulfill the political objectives of the program. Reisch devotes a detailed chapter to the operation of the book program in each targetted country and provides excerpts from the many thousands of letters written to the “sponsors” profusely thanking them  for and confirming that the much desired books, magazines or items  had arrived. There also are thousands of letters in which the writers complained about the non-receipt of a book or publication requested or when a magazine subscription seem to have been disrupted. Some openly daring souls would directly blame or condemn the government censors or the post office for blocking delivery. But non-delivery complaints were also registered by regime-associated institutions or ministerial offices, including a complaint by the Military Political Academy in Warsaw of not having received several parcels of books they had requested from Kultura (the highly popular,  influential and independent Polish emigre publication)in Paris. Copies of Kultura were in demand not only in Poland but throughout Eastern Europe. Minden would then send to the CIA headquarters in Washington lengthy detailed country by country reports encompassing all facets of the book distribution program including excerpts from the letters and statistics on the number of books sent and responses received.

Over the years, the U.S. Information Agency would get into trouble and its officers reprimanded for having the wrong (usually “leftist”) titles on its library bookshelves and/or distribution lists. Reisch’s book, on the other hand, shows that the CIA had no hesitation in disseminating the writing and books of the political and literary left from both the United States and especially Western Europe (Albert Camus, Rosa Luxemburg, Jean-Paul Sartre, Herbert Marcuse among others). At the same time, the CIA made certain that the works of Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, W.W. Rostow. Herman Kahn, Alexander Dallin, Milovan Djilas, and of dozens of prominent emigre writers, often critical of the regimes, were also disseminated).

More highly sensitive and provocative political literature openly critical of the Communist system and of the regimes was distributed either directly to East European visitors traveling to the West under the “person-to-person” side of he program or smuggled in by the volunteer couriers.

The CIA, Reisch notes, did not restrict its distribution to hard-hitting, serious titles but also provided thousands of popular books and publications with the understanding that they helped fill the tremendous desire  for information about the West across all levels of East European society. Dictionaries and textbooks for the teaching of English also were frequently requested by the letter writers.

The CIA also organized and/or subsidized a wide stable of translators and dozens of emigre publishing houses in London, Paris and Munich, as well in the United States, to produce translations of  French, German and British authors into the languages of the target countries. This included anthologies of British and French poetry and literature, as well as books dealing with the latest writings of post-Keynesian British economists. These were not the kinds of titles the U.S. Information Agency would purchase and distribute under its own “American only” extensive book and periodical distribution program. However, USIA received many thousands of books in bulk donated by American publishers and these were then sent out to embassies and consulates around the world, including Eastern Europe, often in oversized mail bags. The books contained in the bags could be highly attractive and illustrated coffee table volumes which made excellent presentation items to key contacts, or could be totally useless titles best disposed in the nearest trash bin.

So I was surprised to learn in my discussions over the past few years with Reisch and, as he reveals in the book, that USIA was unknowingly providing the CIA front organizations in New York with many thousands of its own donated books. Reisch points out that when Minden and his operation suffered budget cuts they would have their New York-based front organizations request books from USIA. According to Reisch, very few of the USIA donated books were used in the person-to-person distribution but were instead used in “unscheduled mailings.” Reisch also points out that Minden, after the CIA closed out the book distribution program in 1991, remained involved until October,1994 with the International Book Exchange Fund, Inc. (IBEF), a New York-based university library exchange and donations program which, after 1992, was managed under the auspices of USIA.

CIA and the Minden network carefully culled, screened, analyzed and catalogued the names and institutions gathered from the many thousands of response letters or cards sent in by individual recipients or those writing on behalf of various institutions. The cooperating emigre groups also assisted in the screening process to ensure that the requests were legitimate and not attempts to penetrate the secrecy of the operation. Having served nearly seven years in Poland (Poznan Consulate and Embassy Warsaw in the 1960s and 70s) I was impressed with the list of leading Polish dissident authors and poets , film/theater directors and playwrights, academics, journalists and editors of major literary and political journals whose names are mentioned in the book and in my conversations with Reisch. It were as if the CIA Station Chief gave Minden the Embassy’s Press and Cultural’s as well as the Political Section’s entire contact lists. This may also explain why those of us serving in the Press and Cultural Sections in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.were often publicly denounced as spies and/or declared persona non grata.

As valuable and important Reisch’s book is in revealing the extensive and secret  CIA book program in Eastern Europe and the three Baltic states, both Reisch and Kramer admit that the volume has significant gaps regarding the years after 1974 and including the CIA’s operations in Poland during Martial Law. For  several years Reisch tried unsuccessfully under the Freedom of information Act to gain access to the detailed and fact-filled periodic and semi-annual reports prepared by Minden and his staff which were sent to CIA headquarters covering the book distribution program and which were now missing.

Reisch also was not able to report in detail on the RLC’s Bedford Publishing Company’s book distribution operations in the USSR as these records were and are still unavailable. That is regrettable since there were increased book distribution initiatives targeting the Soviet Union following the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act and its provisions on human rights. Reisch reveals that in 1977 the new Carter Administration and its National Security Council advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski launched an “ambitious covert action program going beyond Eastern Europe” to challenge the legitimacy of the  Soviet system” and which called for increasing the covert distribution of Russian-language books and periodicals by Soviet samizdat authors.

In the closing pages of his book, Reisch tells his readers that “The complete and fully documented story of the last 17 years of the Minden-managed East European and Russian book programs still remains to be written, preferably by one or more scholars with a special interest in Cold War history and a good knowledge of the events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union from the mid-1970s on throughout the end of the 1980s” should the records ever become available. While troubled that he was unable to gain access to the missing Minden reports, Reisch told me in one of my last discussions with him: “I feel that my manuscript provides the true and authentic story of the book project based on concrete and solid evidence.”

Although he was undergoing extensive chemotherapy while finishing “Hot Books,” Reisch told me that he was in touch with researchers at IPN (the Polish Institute of National Memory) in Warsaw to initiate a joint research project covering the activities of Minden’s numerous Polish book distributors operating  in Europe between 1973 and 1990 “because many of them are still alive and I have their names from Minden’s European trip reports and IPN can interview them.”  He was eager to continue researching and writing about the book distribution program since he felt it was important to fill in the gaps about the program resulting from the missing Minden files which Reisch suspected the secretive Minden himself may have destroyed when the operations closed down in 1991. Reisch, sadly, died shortly after “Hot Books” was published.

In the short, concluding chapter of his book, dealing with the impact and contribution of the book distribution project to “the Ideological Victory of the West” Reisch, in the very last paragraph of his book, quotes Minden, who in a 1991 memo claimed that the International Literary Center (ILC) “operations have never been part of the Cold War. They have always been targeted, information-directed, and tightly controlled.” Reisch’s follows with his final commentary: “Even so, the CIA-funded, Walker-launched, and Minden-managed book mailing  and distribution programs, covering a period of over three decades, played a decisive role, by contributing, together with the radio broadcasts, to the West’s ideological victory. They did so at a relatively low financial cost and without loss of lives. For Minden, who abhorred violence, this must have been a source of great personal satisfaction.” And, finally, Reisch writes: “While anyone could switch on the radio, jamming permitting, the book project had more selective targets. It will remain an open question which of the two operations made a greater contribution in the struggle for the minds of the captive people of Eastern Europe. But millions of people were affected one way or another by the  book project” and ironically, “without ever hearing about its existence.” It was the ultimate example of the use of “soft power”

“Hot Books in the Cold War” is a must read for all those diplomats who served in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, since I am certain, that they too were affected and assisted in carrying out their political, press and cultural work without ever hearing about the existence of the extraordinary CIA-run book program. I, myself, can attest to that. Bravo CIA.End.


1. “Seventh Semi-Annual Report on Educational Exchange Activities,” United
States Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange, Department of State, 82nd  Congress, 2d session, House Document No. 412,  April 2, 1952, Washington, 1952., p. 1.

2. Ibid. pps. 2 and 3.

3. While I was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany in 1956, I was invited by an army buddy, Horst Neumann, to spend a weekend visiting his parents who lived near Tirschenreuth, a small Bavarian town situated near the Czech border. While there the father showed me several packets of Czech language publications he said he collected from errant U.S. propaganda balloons that landed on his property which was nearly adjacent to the border. The next day Horst took me out to watch a balloon launch and to see them sailing into Czechoslovakia.

4. USIA Action Plan “Curtain (USSR)” dated December 11, 1954, 1-7, declassified with deletions, EO-1999-00102, National Archives, College Par, MD. The major USIA publications resulting from this action plan were the magazines Amerika (America Illustrated) in Russianfor the Soviet Union and the Polish language Ameryka for Poland. For the agreements, distribution figures, limitation on subscriptions and kiosk sales in the two countries see Yale Richmond’s Practicing Public Diplomacy: A Cold War Odyssey, New York-Oxford: Berghahn, 2008, pps. 46, 48, 100-102. Richmond notes the popularity of these two magazines in the Soviet  Union and Poland. One solid example. Jan Sawka, the Polish-Ameircan graphic artist who later designed the Solidarity logo used in USIA’s January 31, 1982 Let Poland be Poland global television production, told me he used to rush home from school in the Silesian town of Zabrze on the day Ameryka came out to read it from cover to cover. His father would get a copy for him each month at a local kiosk where he regularly bribed the attendant to hold one for him. A prize-winning poster artist at am early age Sawka, his wife and daughter were barred from returning to Poland while on a visit to Paris in 1976 because of his outspoken opposition to the regime. He and his family made it to the USA in 1977 where he eventually became set designer for The Grateful Dead and the plays of Samuel Beckett. The AFL-CIO sold his 1981 Solidarity poster in the millions to provide immediate support to the Solidarity movement in Poland.

5. Igor Andropov later lectured at the Moscow Diplomatic Academy, was a member of the Soviet delegation to the Helsinki talks, and served as the Soviet Ambassador to Greece. He was described by a European diplomat as “belonging to the modern Soviet elite, with Western tastes and a comfortable command of English.”

6. Vienna was also location of the U.S. Information Agency’s major center for producing printed materials and photo exhibits for the U.S. embassies in the Soviet Bloc. Called the Special Projects Office (SPO), it produced monthly cultural bulletins in several languages and provided printing services not available to the embassy press and cultural units in the Soviet Bloc. The two-man SPO operation also issued an unattributed daily press bulletin on political, economic and social developments in the Soviet Bloc countries. I was assigned to SPO from 1967 to 1970 and I discovered years later that the person I replaced was a CIA officer. When I was assigned to Rome in 1983 as Public Affairs Officer, I received a courtesy briefing at Langley on KGB operations in Rome. The CIA officer conducting the briefing was the officer I replaced in Vienna. I assume he must have known about Minden’s undercover book distribution operation in Vienna. While based in Rome at the time Martial Law was in effect in Poland, I was able to re-engage with several of my most important Polish contacts who had received permission to travel to Rome and who would often have private audiences with the Pope at the Vatican. There happened to be in Rome a prominent and well-to-do Polish-Italian lady, Wanda Gawronska, who often arranged receptions for the VIP dissident Poles and who operated a “library-cum-center” where they could meet, relax and then chose a dozen or so books for shipment to Poland. She would call me at my Embassy office and say: “We have a visitor friend” without ever revealing the name over the phone. I would then go over to the facility to meet the visitor (translator Jacek Wozniakowski, Jerzy Turowicz, editor of the Tygodnik Powszechny, the actor Gustav Holoubek, Tadek Mazowiecki, journalist turned politician who later became Prime Minister in the fist Solidarity government, historian/journalist Marcin Krol and many others). Wanda would later send me cartons of books which I would send to the Press and Cultural Section of the American Embassy through the diplomatic pouch. Inside each carton was a single number. I would then send a classified cable to the head of the P&C section providing a name to match the number in the box. The box would then be delivered to Wanda’s visitor.

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy


Leonard J. Baldyga
Leonard J. Baldyga

Leonard J. Baldyga, now considers himself “retired” again after 20 post-retirement years as a senior consultant at the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) specializing in Eastern Europe. He served on the Editorial Board of Encyclopedia Britannica’s Polish Edition. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Sabre Foundation (Boston) and served on the board of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences (New York). He first retired as a Career Minister from the U.S. Information Agency and served as Minister-Counselor in New Delhi and Rome, as well as Public Affairs Officer in Mexico and Warsaw. He held senior positions at USIA including twice as Director of the Office of European Affairs. He was Acting Director of the Murrow Center at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts where he also taught courses in international political communication and public diplomacy. He a member of the American Foreign Service Association and of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs.

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