WARSAW — Dispatches from KGB agents were literally coming out of the woodwork when Krzysztof Kozlowski took over as Poland's first non-Communist intelligence chief six years ago.
Soviet spies were so comfortably embedded in the Interior Ministry that special telephone cables were hanging from the molding, installed as a direct link with the Soviet Embassy.
"They were sitting in offices, drinking tea and vodka, and talking with everyone," said Kozlowski, now a Polish senator. "I saw them coming into the building every day."
The cozy relationship ended half a dozen years ago when the country's new Solidarity-led government abruptly slammed the door on the KGB. Poland was reclassified by the Soviets as an unfriendly "Western country," and Russian agents were sent scrambling for information. That meant old-fashioned spying, the tedious working and reworking of personal contacts.
Among those the Russians turned to was Jozef Oleksy, an old friend and former party boss who, with other former Communists, was setting up a democratic successor to the collapsed Polish United Workers' Party.
Those contacts cost Oleksy his job as Polish prime minister last week amid allegations that he knowingly passed classified information to two Russian agents, as recently as last year.
Oleksy denies the charges and says he did not even know the Russians were spies, but he stepped down anyway to clear the air.
Although the exact nature of Oleksy's relations with the Russians is in dispute, the existence of his contacts--and admittedly close ones--is not. Therein lies the greatest trauma of the contentious spying scandal for many Poles.
Guilty of espionage or not, Oleksy has laid open Poland's incessant fear of Russian dominance over the country's political life, something that was supposed to disappear with the iron curtain and the yanked telephone cables at the Interior Ministry.
It has also drawn new attention to the bald Russian propensity to meddle in affairs here, regardless of the changed world order and the political surrender of its Eastern European empire.
In sum, many Poles fear, Oleksy's case demonstrates how helpless Poland remains in shaping its own destiny.
"Unfortunately, the degree of Russian infiltration in Poland is huge," said Antoni Macierewicz, a former interior minister and strident anti-Communist. "The basic element that determines social behavior right now is fear. Fear of Communists. Fear of Russians."
And the situation is getting more serious, Macierewicz and other Polish intelligence experts say.
As Poland pushes to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Polish soil is seething with both Russian agents seeking to derail Warsaw's ambitions and Western intelligence agencies working to secure Poland's permanent break from Moscow and develop business and economic links here.
A former Polish spy was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1994 for spying for Moscow, and two others have been convicted of spying in Poland for German intelligence, although details of the highly sensitive cases were never made public.
A recent article in the respected weekly newsmagazine Wprost alleged that the infiltration runs deep within the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, or SDRP, the party of former Communists that now dominates the Polish political scene and forms the core of the governing Democratic Left Alliance.
In a report condemned by SDRP officials, the magazine said that four top party colleagues of Oleksy's were also classified by Russian intelligence as "qualified sources of information" and that more than $1 million in seed money for the party came from Moscow.
"If we were in New Zealand, maybe, the interest of intelligence services would be minimal," said Kozlowski, the former spy chief. "But in this place in Europe, and in this time in history, that is certainly not the case."
Several top Russian spies, meeting with reporters in Moscow on the 75th anniversary of the country's foreign intelligence service, listed NATO--and its proposed enlargement--as a top threat to Russia's national security and a main focus of their intelligence work.
Belarussian President Alexander G. Lukashenko, meanwhile, suggested last month that strategic nuclear weapons could be redeployed on his nation's border with Poland if NATO swallowed up its western neighbor. Newly named Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, a former Russian intelligence chief, said such drastic measures would probably be unnecessary. But he reiterated Moscow's vehement opposition to Poland's NATO bid.
"The biggest problem for Poland today is not our own intelligence services but foreign intelligence services working on our territory," said Jan Parys, a former defense minister who held posts in three Polish governments. "For at least 150 years, it has been known that, from a geopolitical point of view, Poland is the key to Europe. The Russians want to continue to maintain influence here, and the West wants to take Poland into its camp."