used Islamists to arm the Bosnian Muslims
Richard J Aldrich
Monday April 22, 2002
The official Dutch inquiry into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, released
last week, contains one of the most sensational reports on western
intelligence ever published. Officials have been staggered by its
findings and the Dutch government has resigned. One of its many
volumes is devoted to clandestine activities during the Bosnian
war of the early 1990s. For five years, Professor Cees Wiebes of
Amsterdam University has had unrestricted access to Dutch intelligence
files and has stalked the corridors of secret service headquarters
in western capitals, as well as in Bosnia, asking questions.
His findings are set out in "Intelligence and the war in Bosnia,
1992-1995". It includes remarkable material on covert operations,
signals interception, human agents and double-crossing by dozens
of agencies in one of dirtiest wars of the new world disorder. Now
we have the full story of the secret alliance between the Pentagon
and radical Islamist groups from the Middle East designed to assist
the Bosnian Muslims - some of the same groups that the Pentagon
is now fighting in "the war against terrorism". Pentagon
operations in Bosnia have delivered their own "blowback".
In the 1980s Washington's secret services had assisted Saddam Hussein
in his war against Iran. Then, in 1990, the US fought him in the
Gulf. In both Afghanistan and the Gulf, the Pentagon had incurred
debts to Islamist groups and their Middle Eastern sponsors. By 1993
these groups, many supported by Iran and Saudi Arabia, were anxious
to help Bosnian Muslims fighting in the former Yugoslavia and called
in their debts with the Americans. Bill Clinton and the Pentagon
were keen to be seen as creditworthy and repaid in the form of an
Iran-Contra style operation - in flagrant violation of the UN security
council arms embargo against all combatants in the former Yugoslavia.
The result was a vast secret conduit of weapons smuggling though
Croatia. This was arranged by the clandestine agencies of the US,
Turkey and Iran, together with a range of radical Islamist groups,
including Afghan mojahedin and the pro-Iranian Hizbullah. Wiebes
reveals that the British intelligence services obtained documents
early on in the Bosnian war proving that Iran was making direct
Arms purchased by Iran and Turkey with the financial backing of
Saudi Arabia made their way by night from the Middle East. Initially
aircraft from Iran Air were used, but as the volume increased they
were joined by a mysterious fleet of black C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The report stresses that the US was "very closely involved"
in the airlift. Mojahedin fighters were also flown in, but they
were reserved as shock troops for especially hazardous operations.
Light weapons are the familiar currency of secret services seeking
to influence such conflicts. The volume of weapons flown into Croatia
was enormous, partly because of a steep Croatian "transit tax".
Croatian forces creamed off between 20% and 50% of the arms. The
report stresses that this entire trade was clearly illicit. The
Croats themselves also obtained massive quantities of illegal weapons
from Germany, Belgium and Argentina - again in contravention of
the UN arms embargo. The German secret services were fully aware
of the trade.
Rather than the CIA, the Pentagon's own secret service was the
hidden force behind these operations. The UN protection force, UNPROFOR,
was dependent on its troop-contributing nations for intelligence,
and above all on the sophisticated monitoring capabilities of the
US to police the arms embargo. This gave the Pentagon the ability
to manipulate the embargo at will: ensuring that American Awacs
aircraft covered crucial areas and were able to turn a blind eye
to the frequent nightime comings and goings at Tuzla.
Weapons flown in during the spring of 1995 were to turn up only
a fortnight later in the besieged and demilitarised enclave at Srebrenica.
When these shipments were noticed, Americans pressured UNPROFOR
to rewrite reports, and when Norwegian officials protested about
the flights, they were reportedly threatened into silence.
Both the CIA and British SIS had a more sophisticated perspective
on the conflict than the Pentagon, insisting that no side had clean
hands and arguing for caution. James Woolsey, director of the CIA
until May 1995, had increasingly found himself out of step with
the Clinton White House over his reluctance to develop close relations
with the Islamists. The sentiments were reciprocated. In the spring
of 1995, when the CIA sent its first head of station to Sarajevo
to liaise with Bosnia's security authorities, the Bosnians tipped
off Iranian intelligence. The CIA learned that the Iranians had
targeted him for liquidation and quickly withdrew him.
Iranian and Afghan veterans' training camps had also been identified
in Bosnia. Later, in the Dayton Accords of November 1995, the stipulation
appeared that all foreign forces be withdrawn. This was a deliberate
attempt to cleanse Bosnia of Iranian-run training camps. The CIA's
main opponents in Bosnia were now the mojahedin fighters and their
Iranian trainers - whom the Pentagon had been helping to supply
Meanwhile, the secret services of Ukraine,
Greece and Israel were busy arming the Bosnian Serbs. Mossad was
especially active and concluded a deal with the Bosnian Serbs at
Pale involving a substantial supply of artillery shells and mortar
bombs. In return they secured safe passage for the Jewish population
out of the besieged town of Sarajevo. Subsequently, the remaining
population was perplexed to find that unexploded mortar bombs landing
in Sarajevo sometimes had Hebrew markings.
The broader lessons of the intelligence report on Srebrenica are
clear. Those who were able to deploy intelligence power, including
the Americans and their enemies, the Bosnian Serbs, were both able
to get their way. Conversely, the UN and the Dutch government were
"deprived of the means and capacity for obtaining intelligence"
for the Srebrenica deployment, helping to explain why they blundered
in, and contributed to the terrible events there.
Secret intelligence techniques can be war-winning and life-saving.
But they are not being properly applied. How the UN can have good
intelligence in the context of multinational peace operations is
a vexing question. Removing light weapons from a conflict can be
crucial to drawing it down. But the secret services of some states
- including Israel and Iran - continue to be a major source of covert
supply, pouring petrol on the flames of already bitter conflicts.
· Richard J Aldrich is Professor of Politics at the University
of Nottingham. His 'The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War
Secret Intelligence' is published in paperback by John Murray in