Poland’s Crazy/Awesome Corruption/Spy Scandal
Poland never ceases to entertain spy-watchers. While that country has made a remarkable transition from Communism to free-market democracy over the last generation, rebranding Poland as the standout success story among former Warsaw Pact countries today, there have been bumps along the way.
Politics have been periodically roiled by accusations of collaboration with the Communist-era secret police (UB), up to and including presidents, while the fear of the UB-derived dossier, the dreaded kompromat, still hangs over Polish elites a generation after the fall of Communism. So, too, is fear of Russian intelligence pervasive among Polish security agencies – with good reason, as I’ve previously reported – and those agencies have been shaken up several times since 1990 to rid them of Moscow-linked habits and agents.
Now comes a corruption, and perhaps spy, scandal that has Warsaw security insiders talking about little else, since its gossip is top-notch and its implications are disturbing. It involves the fall from grace of the deputy defense minister, General (retired) Waldemar Skrzypczak, amidst accusations of all kinds of nefarious behavior.
The flamboyant Skrzypczak, who capped off a distinguished career in uniform by serving as the commander of Polish Ground Forces from 2006 to 2009, resigned his post after claiming Polish units serving in Afghanistan had not been properly equipped, resulting in needless casualties. This principled stand placed Skrzypczak in a positive media light and made him something of a hero to the troops.
Having taken off the uniform, he returned to the Ministry of Defense (MoD) as a senior advisor in September 2011 to help bolster the ministry’s image, and in June 2012 he was promoted to deputy defense minister, a powerful post that includes acquisition in its portfolio. The recent announcement that Skrzypczak is under investigation for kickbacks from defense contractors is, therefore, most unfortunate.
It turns out, however, that the case is a good deal more interesting than a tale of bags of dirty money going to corrupt officials, which is routine stuff in many parts of the world. There is ample dirty laundry as the Polish Military Counterintelligence Service (SKW), which has had its own share of scandal in recent years, had the retired general under close surveillance ever since he returned to the MoD in 2011. What they found was interesting, including many things Skrzypczak failed to disclose on his security clearance paperwork.
SKW surveillance determined that the deputy defense minister has a circle of wealthy friends who also happened to be in the defense business, often on the shady side. The foreign defense business. Of greatest interest was one Mieczyslaw Bull, a Pole who emigrated to Israel in 1957 and who goes by Menachem or Michael depending which country he’s in at the moment (he also has a British passport). A wealthy macher in Israeli defense acquisition circles, he and the deputy minister socialized often, and Bull got himself and his high-ranking friend into hot water over questionable sales of drones to the Polish military, including accounts of loans and kickbacks, but the Warsaw rumor mill has it that the story is worse than that. There are the usual rumors that Bull has close ties to MOSSAD, which, given his role, is far from implausible.
Phone wiretaps and physical surveillance, plus a decent background check, revealed all sorts of careless behavior by Skryzpczak over the years. Back in 2006, while on official travel, the general lost his briefcase at Los Angeles airport when he left it in the temporary care of a woman. There are also more-than-usual zipper problems. Skrzypczak has run a harem of beauties, some of whom he’s borrowed money from and failed to repay; it’s clear the old boy likes to party, and when he was deployed to Iraq as a general officer he was flirting with so many women he met on online dating sites that he couldn’t really keep track of them all. As one well acquainted with good-time Polish behavior, I can almost smell the vodka.*
The deputy minister’s defenders maintain that Skrzypczak has his weaknesses but is neither a crook nor a traitor. If he took money, they say, it wasn’t malevolent; and the womanizing … well, it’s Poland. There is also the unmistakable whiff of bureaucratic warfare here, with SKW investigators – never a popular bunch in the Polish military – out for a big scalp to prove their worth. What’s not in doubt is there’s a full-fledged “generals’ war” going on in Warsaw now between the counterspies and the MoD. This promises to not end well for anyone.
As if the suspected MOSSAD angle weren’t enough, this being Poland there are the customary whispers that this is whole show is really a Russian espionage operation. That cannot be determined yet, neither can it be ruled out. All that’s certain is that Skrzypczak has had his security clearances pulled – Polish, NATO, and EU – and is at best a lame duck official. His career would seem to be over. What happens next? Follow the story here ….
* I’m mostly Polish on my mother’s side and am well acquainted with Polish mores regarding drink and women; it’s a genetic weakness, what can I say?