David Forden, an American intelligence officer who helped a highly placed Polish colonel deliver vital secrets for eight years during the Cold War, including advance warnings that may have helped prevent a Soviet invasion of Poland, died on Tuesday in Alexandria, Va. He was 88.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his daughter Sara Gay Forden said.
Mr. Forden was a Polish-speaking former Warsaw station chief for the C.I.A. who had returned to the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., when, from 1973 to 1981, he oversaw the flow of Warsaw Pact military secrets conveyed by Ryszard Kuklinski, a colonel on the Polish Army’s general staff and a liaison with Moscow.
Colonel Kuklinski gave Washington a heads-up that the Soviets were poised to invade Poland, as they had invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, if the Poles failed to squelch growing dissent. President Jimmy Carter publicly warned them not to and mustered diplomatic pressure.
In December 1981, Colonel Kuklinski warned the United States that the Polish government was about to impose martial law to crush Solidarity, the grass-roots dissident movement. The warning enabled Washington to better assess the implications of military maneuvers in and around Poland.
“Thanks to Kuklinski, we had the information and insight to know the difference between military exercises and warfaring escalation,” Mr. Forden said last year in a statement prepared for a memorial in Poland for Colonel Kuklinski, who died in 2004.
American officials did not tell Solidarity about the forthcoming crackdown, fearing that doing so would expose the leak. That happened anyway.
Mr. Forden, who was chief of the Soviet-Eastern European division at Langley, met Colonel Kuklinski when the officer left Poland for summer sailing missions that were disguised as vacations (his code name was Gull) in Northern Europe.
Along with 40,000 pages of what the agency called “highly classified Soviet documentary intelligence” that the colonel dispatched, Mr. Forden and Colonel Kuklinski also conducted a personal correspondence to maintain the colonel’s morale during his solo mission behind the Iron Curtain.
“Perhaps one day, God willing,” he wrote in 1974 under his code name, Daniel, “we and our families can all know each other.”
“You should know,” Colonel Kuklinski replied, “that in my personal thoughts, you are often my conversation partner.”
Mr. Forden said later, “I wanted to be sure that Kuklinski knew we saw him as a courageous human being.”
Once the Poles suspected a leak, the colonel was smuggled out of Warsaw in late 1981 with his family and given a new identity in the United States. He later retired to Florida, where he and Mr. Forden became neighbors, and died in Tampa at 73.
Colonel Kuklinski always viewed himself as a peacekeeper and not as a spy, and saw his mission as a patriotic payback to the Soviets for subjugating Poland.
“Long before I met him, Kuklinski had already decided that Poland deserved to be a free state and that there was only one country that could help achieve that goal: the United States,” Mr. Forden said in his statement last year. “We didn’t recruit him — he recruited us.”
After the colonel escaped in 1981, he was sentenced to death in absentia by a military court. That judgment was lifted only in the mid-1990s, when Poland sought admission to NATO.
David Warner Forden was born on Sept. 11, 1930, in Buffalo to William and Amy (Adams) Forden. His mother was a homemaker; his father, who was known as Ted, was an office clerk in a boiler factory who was laid off during the Depression and survived on New Deal government jobs.
David won a scholarship to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in government. He earned a master’s in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Mr. Forden “was an improbable spy,” Benjamin Weiser, a New York Times reporter, wrote in a book about the Kuklinski case, “A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and The Price He Paid to Save His Country” (2004). “He often wondered how he had ended up working for the C.I.A.”
In retrospect, the answer was easy.
He wanted to work for the government because government jobs had bailed out his family during the Depression. In 1953, Mr. Forden and several fellow students went to Washington for job interviews, only to find that the Central Intelligence Agency, to their knowledge, was the only government arm seeking recruits.
Mr. Forden was interviewed and invited back for a follow-up. One of his roommates, Peter Falk, was not. He became an actor instead.
In 1955, Mr. Forden married Sally Carson; they divorced in 1983. In addition to his daughter Sara, he is survived by another daughter, Katherine Carson Forden; a son, Daniel; his sister, Mary Elizabeth Whitman; and four grandchildren. His second wife, Aurelia Bachmeyer, died in 2003.
Mr. Forden went to Infantry Officer Candidate School, worked in Germany as a junior case officer and was assigned to undercover work in Buenos Aires. He accepted the post of station chief in Warsaw in 1964. There he became famous within the agency for perfecting an automobile version of the pedestrian brush pass — the clandestine method of slipping secrets from one person to another on foot as they go around a corner to evade surveillance.
Mr. Forden was on assignment in Mexico City in June 1973 when he was dispatched to Hamburg, Germany, to meet Colonel Kuklinski. The colonel had made contact with the Americans the previous August through a handwritten letter in broken English to the United States Embassy in Bonn; convinced of his bona fides, the agency had reached for a trusted Polish-speaking officer, Mr. Forden.
Mr. Forden and Colonel Kuklinski, who were the same age, met during the colonel’s summer missions and exchanged messages when Mr. Forden was in Washington. (During Mr. Forden’s three years as Vienna station chief, a ghostwriter filled in from Washington, maintaining a personal link to the colonel.)
Mr. Forden was the Athens station chief in the mid-1980s. He retired in 1988 after 35 years with the C.I.A. and was awarded its Distinguished Intelligence Medal.
Jerzy Kozminski, who was the Polish ambassador to the United States in the 1990s, said in an email on Wednesday, “All those endeavors undertaken by Colonel Kuklinski in the ′70s and at the beginning of the ′80s, aimed at strengthening the West in its confrontation with the Soviet Union, were immensely facilitated by David Forden.”