Saturday, April 30, 2005

Poland's Soviet ambassador to the USA?

Is the Polish government readying to appoint an alleged communist secret police collaborator as its representative in Washington?

That’s what sources close to the White House are worried about. And they say it’s the last thing that Polish-American relations need right now.

Tough jobs await the next Polish ambassador here. One of them is to convince Washington that the Polish government has purged itself of Soviet-era operatives and spies – something that President Aleksandr Kwaśniewski has set a bad example at doing. That long-awaited housecleaning is one of several quietly understood but publicly unspoken necessities for the U.S. to consider lifting visa restrictions on Polish citizens.

Kwaśniewski’s reputed top choice to be Poland’s official face in Washington is Henryk Szlajfer. Szlajfer comes from the old Communist Party nobility whose parents and relatives staffed Stalin’s occupation government after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1944.

The secret official microfilms of the Polish political police indicate that Szlajfer was working covertly for the Communists while operating among political dissidents. Szlajfer has not publicly commented on the matter.
"Poland has made so many gains that it’s hard to believe its leaders would send a former communist secret police agent as the country’s representative to America," says a Washington source with close ties to the State Department and White House. "It would further undermine confidence in Poland’s commitment to remain independent from Moscow."

American officials are concerned that, with the communist-era secret police archives moved to Moscow, the Russian intelligence services are able to compromise the integrity of democratic Poland and, consequently, NATO itself.

Here is what we find in the microfilmed archives: Two entries for "Szlajfer Henryk" are recorded on the so-called Wildstein’s List – IPN BU 644/596, KBW, akta osobowe; and IPN BU 001043/1706, Mikrofilmy MSW, jedynki MKF. The first entry denotes personal files and likely concerns Henryk Szlajfer, the ambassador-apparent’s uncle and namesake who was with Poland’s NKVD (KBW) and was believed killed by his pro-democratic countrymen at the dawn of the Soviet occupation in 1944.

The second entry regards the Henryk Szlajfer who might become Poland’s official representative in Washington. The "jedynki MKF" information denotes that Henryk Szlajfer was either a candidate for a secret agent or a secret agent.

"MKF" means that the material exists on microfilm only. It appears that the original paper file of Henryk Szlajfer, as with most of the Soviet occupation archives, was destroyed by the Communist secret police after being microfilmed. Former collaborators such as President Kwaśniewski have been able to escape culpability for their crimes, according to Polish courts, for lack of the original paper documents, which were either destroyed or transferred to Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

Any official inquiry will have to base itself on analysis of the microfilm, which is preserved at the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw.

Szlajfer allegedly became an informer as a student leader in 1968, following his arrest during protests against the banning of a Romantic-era play, "The Forefathers’ Eve" by Adam Mickiewicz. The play contains anti-Russian (though not anti-Soviet) elements, but the regime considered anti-Russian themes to be politically and culturally subversive. Polish sources say that the secret police targeted Szlajfer that year during the regime’s "anti-Zionist campaign."

Though later identified with the Solidarity movement, Szlajfer participated Marxist "dissident" activity in the late 1950s through the mid-‘60s in high school and at the University of Warsaw. He participated in a Trotskyist "dissident" faction called "The Commandos" and led by Adam Michnik.

Szlajfer co-authored an obscure book on "monopoly capitalism" that was published in 1984 by a Marxist press in New York. He joined the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1989.

Sources close to the former Solidarity movement say that Szlajfer, a trained economist and sociologist, kept a low profile after 1968, both as a "dissident" and as a bureaucrat.

The microfilm file verifies what Paul Lendvai recorded in his 1971 book, Anti-Semitism Without Jews: Communist Eastern Europe (Doubleday). Lendvai’s contention, based upon information from other victims of the 1968 "anti-Zionist campaign."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

NBC reports how this blogger warned lobbyists to stay away from Russian company at center of congressional scandal

NBC Nightly News reports how this blogger in 1997 warned a Washington lobbying firm to stay away from a shadowy Russian oil company that sought to buy influence on Capitol Hill.

Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers and the NBC Investigative Unit report that the head of the Russian company in question paid the expenses of Washington "superlobbyist" Jack Abramoff and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay during a 1997 visit to Moscow.

The new information validates this blogger's warnings from eight years ago that Abramoff was reckless in taking influence-peddling money from the Russian company, and that involving Members of Congress in the scheme would endanger them to political scandal or worse.

Abramoff and his staff ignored the warnings and, ultimately, got DeLay in needless political trouble.

Though news organizations have investigated the issue exhaustively, they have produced no evidence indicating that DeLay did anything unethical or illegal. In the NBC program, this blogger places the blame squarely on Abramoff.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Newsweek's spin: An amazing piece of journalistic architecture

Newsweek magazine quoted this blogger in a swipe at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, apparently intending to imply that the embattled Republican chief ignored warnings against going to Russia as part of a sleazy lobbying operation in 1997.

The implication is false. I did warn congressional staffers and a couple of congressmen in advance about the funders of the August, 1997 trip - as I warned the trip's organizers repeatedly - and I wrote about it in my newsletter later that month after the trip had taken place. But I never warned Tom DeLay because I didn't know him at the time and he was not active in foreign affairs. In fact, I never discussed the matter with DeLay until more than four years after the trip, in late 2001 or early 2002, by which time the congressmen himself had discovered on his own that the Russian sponsors were undesirable.

Even so, Newsweek managed to string together some facts that might lead some readers to conclude falsely that DeLay was guilty of wrongdoing after I had warned him.

A study of the article's structure reveals first-class Washington political spinning disguised as a news story.

First, the top-of-the-sandwich setup: “Aides to DeLay insist he was in the dark about the Russian money behind the trip.” (As far as I know, the aides are right. The money was run through a nonprofit group. Journalistic tip: Always start with the denial, because the target looks guilty that way.)

Next, contextually apparent but nonexistent contradiction, and therefore proof-of-lying, by a fellow conservative: “But one conservative think-tank analyst, Michael Waller, was aggressively trying to warn congressional staffers about the Naftasib connection. Even after the trip, he continued to press them. The excursion was ‘bankrolled by influence peddlers tied to [the then] Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin,’ Waller wrote in a bulletin faxed and e-mailed to congressional staffers shortly after the trip.” (The statement is true - but it had nothing to do with warning DeLay. It went out in e-mail and fax bulletin I edited at the time, Russia Reform Monitor, to hundreds of congressional offices, think tanks and journalists.)

Then, the guilty-looking bottom of the sandwich. . . “DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, said Naftasib's business interests were irrelevant to DeLay. ‘The main purpose of the trip was to talk about religious persecution,’ he said.”

. . . followed by speculative dismissal - anonymous, of course - of the denial. . . “But DeLay's many political enemies in Washington aren't likely to buy that explanation.”

. . . and ending with a hint of blackmail and therefore guilt, however unsubstantiated: “And the one man who may know best so far isn't talking, except to those he invites to his restaurant for lunch.”