Remembering the 1999 NATO led
War on Yugoslavia: Kosovo "Freedom Fighters" Financed
by Organized Crime
by Michel Chossudovsky
[Ten years ago, March 24th 1999,
marks the commencement of NATO aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia.
The bombings which lasted for almost three months, were followed
by the military invasion (under a bogus UN mandate) and illegal
occupation of the province of Kosovo. The following article
was written and published in April 1999. Michel Chossudovsky,
March 19, 2009]
Heralded by the global media as a humanitarian
peace-keeping mission, NATO's ruthless bombing of Belgrade and
Pristina goes far beyond the breach of international law. While
Slobodan Milosevic is demonised, portrayed as a remorseless dictator,
the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is upheld as a self-respecting
nationalist movement struggling for the rights of ethnic Albanians.
The truth of the matter is that the KLA is sustained by organised
crime with the tacit approval of the United States and its allies.
Following a pattern set during the War
in Bosnia, public opinion has been carefully misled. The multibillion
dollar Balkans narcotics trade has played a crucial role in "financing
the conflict" in Kosovo in accordance with Western economic,
strategic and military objectives. Amply documented by European
police files, acknowledged by numerous studies, the links of the
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to criminal syndicates in Albania,
Turkey and the European Union have been known to Western governments
and intelligence agencies since the mid-1990s.
"...The financing of the Kosovo guerilla
war poses critical questions and it sorely test claims of an "ethical"
foreign policy. Should the West back a guerilla army that appears
to partly financed by organised crime." 1
While KLA leaders were shaking hands with
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Rambouillet, Europol
(the European Police Organization based in the Hague) was "preparing
a report for European interior and justice ministers on a connection
between the KLA and Albanian drug gangs."2 In the meantime,
the rebel army has been skilfully heralded by the global media
(in the months preceding the NATO bombings) as broadly representative
of the interests of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
With KLA leader Hashim Thaci (a 29 year
"freedom fighter") appointed as chief negotiator at
Rambouillet, the KLA has become the de facto helmsman of the peace
process on behalf of the ethnic Albanian majority and this despite
its links to the drug trade. The West was relying on its KLA puppets
to rubber-stamp an agreement which would have transformed Kosovo
into an occupied territory under Western Administration.
Ironically Robert Gelbard, America's special
envoy to Bosnia, had described the KLA last year as "terrorists".
Christopher Hill, America's chief negotiator and architect of
the Rambouillet agreement "has also been a strong critic
of the KLA for its alleged dealings in drugs."3 Moreover,
barely a few two months before Rambouillet, the US State Department
had acknowledged (based on reports from the US Observer Mission)
the role of the KLA in terrorising and uprooting ethnic Albanians:
"...the KLA harass or kidnap anyone
who comes to the police, ... KLA representatives had threatened
to kill villagers and burn their homes if they did not join the
KLA [a process which has continued since the NATO bombings]...
[T]he KLA harassment has reached such intensity that residents
of six villages in the Stimlje region are "ready to flee."
While backing a "freedom movement"
with links to the drug trade, the West seems also intent in bypassing
the civilian Kosovo Democratic League and its leader Ibrahim Rugova
who has called for an end to the bombings and expressed his desire
to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Yugoslav authorities.5
It is worth recalling that a few days before his March 31st Press
Conference, Rugova had been reported by the KLA (alongside three
other leaders including Fehmi Agani) to have been killed by the
Covert Financing of "Freedom Fighters"
Remember Oliver North and the Contras?
The pattern in Kosovo is similar to other CIA covert operations
in Central America, Haiti and Afghanistan where "freedom
fighters" were financed through the laundering of drug money.
Since the onslaught of the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies
have developed a complex relationship to the illegal narcotics
trade. In case after case, drug money laundered in the international
banking system has financed covert operations.
According to author Alfred McCoy, the
pattern of covert financing was established in the Indochina war.
In the 1960s, the Meo army in Laos was funded by the narcotics
trade as part of Washington's military strategy against the combined
forces of the neutralist government of Prince Souvanna Phouma
and the Pathet Lao.6
The pattern of drug politics set in Indochina
has since been replicated in Central America and the Caribbean.
"The rising curve of cocaine imports to the US", wrote
journalist John Dinges "followed almost exactly the flow
of US arms and military advisers to Central America".7
The military in Guatemala and Haiti, to
which the CIA provided covert support, were known to be involved
in the trade of narcotics into Southern Florida. And as revealed
in the Iran-Contra and Bank of Commerce and Credit International
(BCCI) scandals, there was strong evidence that covert operations
were funded through the laundering of drug money. "Dirty
money" recycled through the banking system--often through
an anonymous shell company-- became "covert money,"
used to finance various rebel groups and guerilla movements including
the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan Mujahadeen. According to
a 1991 Time Magazine report:
"Because the US wanted to supply
the mujehadeen rebels in Afghanistan with stinger missiles and
other military hardware it needed the full cooperation of Pakistan.
By the mid-1980s, the CIA operation in Islamabad was one of the
largest US intelligence stations in the World. `If BCCI is such
an embarrassment to the US that forthright investigations are
not being pursued it has a lot to do with the blind eye the US
turned to the heroin trafficking in Pakistan', said a US intelligence
America and Germany join Hands
Since the early 1990s, Bonn and Washington
have joined hands in establishing their respective spheres of
influence in the Balkans. Their intelligence agencies have also
collaborated. According to intelligence analyst John Whitley,
covert support to the Kosovo rebel army was established as a joint
endeavour between the CIA and Germany's Bundes Nachrichten Dienst
(BND) (which previously played a key role in installing a right
wing nationalist government under Franjo Tudjman in Croatia).9
The task to create and finance the KLA was initially given to
Germany: "They used German uniforms, East German weapons
and were financed, in part, with drug money".10 According
to Whitley, the CIA was, subsequently instrumental in training
and equipping the KLA in Albania.11
The covert activities of Germany's BND
were consistent with Bonn's intent to expand its "Lebensraum"
into the Balkans. Prior to the onset of the civil war in Bosnia,
Germany and its Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher had actively
supported secession; it had "forced the pace of international
diplomacy" and pressured its Western allies to recognize
Slovenia and Croatia. According to the Geopolitical Drug Watch,
both Germany and the US favoured (although not officially) the
formation of a "Greater Albania" encompassing Albania,
Kosovo and parts of Macedonia.12 According to Sean Gervasi, Germany
was seeking a free hand among its allies "to pursue economic
dominance in the whole of Mitteleuropa."13
Islamic Fundamentalism in Support of the
Bonn and Washington's "hidden agenda"
consisted in triggering nationalist liberation movements in Bosnia
and Kosovo with the ultimate purpose of destabilising Yugoslavia.
The latter objective was also carried out "by turning a blind
eye" to the influx of mercenaries and financial support from
Islamic fundamentalist organisations.14
Mercenaries financed by Saudi Arabia and
Koweit had been fighting in Bosnia.15 And the Bosnian pattern
was replicated in Kosovo: Mujahadeen mercenaries from various
Islamic countries are reported to be fighting alongside the KLA
in Kosovo. German, Turkish and Afghan instructors were reported
to be training the KLA in guerilla and diversion tactics.16
According to a Deutsche Press-Agentur
report, financial support from Islamic countries to the KLA had
been channelled through the former Albanian chief of the National
Information Service (NIS), Bashkim Gazidede.17 "Gazidede,
reportedly a devout Moslem who fled Albania in March of last year
, is presently  being investigated for his contacts
with Islamic terrorist organizations."18
The supply route for arming KLA "freedom
fighters" are the rugged mountainous borders of Albania with
Kosovo and Macedonia. Albania is also a key point of transit of
the Balkans drug route which supplies Western Europe with grade
four heroin. 75% of the heroin entering Western Europe is from
Turkey. And a large part of drug shipments originating in Turkey
transits through the Balkans. According to the US Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA), "it is estimated that 4-6 metric tons
of heroin leave each month from Turkey having [through the Balkans]
as destination Western Europe."19 A recent intelligence report
by Germany's Federal Criminal Agency suggests that: "Ethnic
Albanians are now the most prominent group in the distribution
of heroin in Western consumer countries."2
The Laundering of Dirty Money
In order to thrive, the criminal syndicates
involved in the Balkans narcotics trade need friends in high places.
Smuggling rings with alleged links to the Turkish State are said
to control the trafficking of heroin through the Balkans "cooperating
closely with other groups with which they have political or religious
ties" including criminal groups in Albanian and Kosovo.21
In this new global financial environment, powerful undercover
political lobbies connected to organized crime cultivate links
to prominent political figures and officials of the military and
The narcotics trade nonetheless uses respectable
banks to launder large amounts of dirty money. While comfortably
removed from the smuggling operations per se, powerful banking
interests in Turkey but mainly those in financial centres in Western
Europe discretely collect fat commissions in a multibillion dollar
money laundering operation. These interests have high stakes in
ensuring a safe passage of drug shipments into Western European
The Albanian Connection
Arms smuggling from Albania into Kosovo
and Macedonia started at the beginning of 1992, when the Democratic
Party came to power, headed by President Sali Berisha. An expansive
underground economy and cross border trade had unfolded. A triangular
trade in oil, arms and narcotics had developed largely as a result
of the embargo imposed by the international community on Serbia
and Montenegro and the blockade enforced by Greece against Macedonia.
Industry and agriculture in Kosovo were
spearheaded into bankruptcy following the IMF's lethal "economic
medicine" imposed on Belgrade in 1990. The embargo was imposed
on Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanians and Serbs were driven into abysmal
poverty. Economic collapse created an environment which fostered
the progress of illicit trade. In Kosovo, the rate of unemployment
increased to a staggering 70 percent (according to Western sources).
Poverty and economic collapse served to
exacerbate simmering ethnic tensions. Thousands of unemployed
youths "barely out of their Teens" from an impoverished
population, were drafted into the ranks of the KLA...22
In neighbouring Albania, the free market
reforms adopted since 1992 had created conditions which favoured
the criminalisation of State institutions. Drug money was also
laundered in the Albanian pyramids (ponzi schemes) which mushroomed
during the government of former President Sali Berisha (1992-1997).23
These shady investment funds were an integral part of the economic
reforms inflicted by Western creditors on Albania.
Drug barons in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia
(with links to the Italian mafia) had become the new economic
elites, often associated with Western business interests. In turn
the financial proceeds of the trade in drugs and arms were recycled
towards other illicit activities (and vice versa) including a
vast prostitution racket between Albania and Italy. Albanian criminal
groups operating in Milan, "have become so powerful running
prostitution rackets that they have even taken over the Calabrians
in strength and influence."24
The application of "strong economic
medicine" under the guidance of the Washington based Bretton
Woods institutions had contributed to wrecking Albania's banking
system and precipitating the collapse of the Albanian economy.
The resulting chaos enabled American and European transnationals
to carefully position themselves. Several Western oil companies
including Occidental, Shell and British Petroleum had their eyes
rivetted on Albania's abundant and unexplored oil-deposits. Western
investors were also gawking Albania's extensive reserves of chrome,
copper, gold, nickel and platinum... The Adenauer Foundation had
been lobbying in the background on behalf of German mining interests.
Berisha's Minister of Defence Safet Zoulali
(alleged to have been involved in the illegal oil and narcotics
trade) was the architect of the agreement with Germany's Preussag
(handing over control over Albania's chrome mines) against the
competing bid of the US led consortium of Macalloy Inc. in association
with Rio Tinto Zimbabwe (RTZ).26
Large amounts of narco-dollars had also
been recycled into the privatisation programmes leading to the
acquisition of State assets by the mafias. In Albania, the privatisation
programme had led virtually overnight to the development of a
property owning class firmly committed to the "free market".
In Northern Albania, this class was associated with the Guegue
"families" linked to the Democratic Party.
Controlled by the Democratic Party under
the presidency of Sali Berisha (1992-97), Albania's largest financial
"pyramid" VEFA Holdings had been set up by the Guegue
"families" of Northern Albania with the support of Western
banking interests. VEFA was under investigation in Italy in 1997
for its ties to the Mafia which allegedly used VEFA to launder
large amounts of dirty money.27
According to one press report (based on
intelligence sources), senior members of the Albanian government
during the Presidency of Sali Berisha including cabinet members
and members of the secret police SHIK were alleged to be involved
in drugs trafficking and illegal arms trading into Kosovo:
(...) The allegations are very serious.
Drugs, arms, contraband cigarettes all are believed to have been
handled by a company run openly by Albania's ruling Democratic
Party, Shqiponja (...). In the course of 1996 Defence Minister,
Safet Zhulali [was alleged] to had used his office to facilitate
the transport of arms, oil and contraband cigarettes. (...) Drugs
barons from Kosovo (...) operate in Albania with impunity, and
much of the transportation of heroin and other drugs across Albania,
from Macedonia and Greece en route to Italy, is believed to be
organised by Shik, the state security police (...). Intelligence
agents are convinced the chain of command in the rackets goes
all the way to the top and have had no hesitation in naming ministers
in their reports.28
The trade in narcotics and weapons was
allowed to prosper despite the presence since 1993 of a large
contingent of American troops at the Albanian-Macedonian border
with a mandate to enforce the embargo. The West had turned a blind
eye. The revenues from oil and narcotics were used to finance
the purchase of arms (often in terms of direct barter): "Deliveries
of oil to Macedonia (skirting the Greek embargo [in 1993-4] can
be used to cover heroin, as do deliveries of kalachnikov rifles
to Albanian `brothers' in Kosovo".29
The Northern tribal clans or "fares"
had also developed links with Italy's crime syndicates.30 In turn,
the latter played a key role in smuggling arms across the Adriatic
into the Albanian ports of Dures and Valona. At the outset in
1992, the weapons channelled into Kosovo were largely small arms
including Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, RPK and PPK machine-guns,
12.7 calibre heavy machine-guns, etc.
The proceeds of the narcotics trade has
enabled the KLA to rapidly develop a force of some 30,000 men.
More recently, the KLA has acquired more sophisticated weaponry
including anti-aircraft and antiarmor rockets. According to Belgrade,
some of the funds have come directly from the CIA "funnelled
through a so-called "Government of Kosovo" based in
Geneva, Switzerland. Its Washington office employs the public-relations
firm of Ruder Finn--notorious for its slanders of the Belgrade
The KLA has also acquired electronic surveillance
equipment which enables it to receive NATO satellite information
concerning the movement of the Yugoslav Army. The KLA training
camp in Albania is said to "concentrate on heavy weapons
training - rocket propelled grenades, medium caliber cannons,
tanks and transporter use, as well as on communications, and command
and control". (According to Yugoslav government sources.32
These extensive deliveries of weapons
to the Kosovo rebel army were consistent with Western geopolitical
objectives. Not surprisingly, there has been a "deafening
silence" of the international media regarding the Kosovo
arms-drugs trade. In the words of a 1994 Report of the Geopolitical
Drug Watch: "the trafficking [of drugs and arms] is basically
being judged on its geostrategic implications (...) In Kosovo,
drugs and weapons trafficking is fuelling geopolitical hopes and
The fate of Kosovo had already been carefully
laid out prior to the signing of the 1995 Dayton agreement. NATO
had entered an unwholesome "marriage of convenience"
with the mafia. "Freedom fighters" were put in place,
the narcotics trade enabled Washington and Bonn to "finance
the Kosovo conflict" with the ultimate objective of destabilising
the Belgrade government and fully recolonising the Balkans. The
destruction of an entire country is the outcome. Western governments
which participated in the NATO operation bear a heavy burden of
responsibility in the deaths of civilians, the impoverishment
of both the ethnic Albanian and Serbian populations and the plight
of those who were brutally uprooted from towns and villages in
Kosovo as a result of the bombings.
1. Roger Boyes and Eske Wright, Drugs
Money Linked to the Kosovo Rebels The Times, London, Monday, March
3. Philip Smucker and Tim Butcher, "Shifting
stance over KLA has betrayed' Albanians", Daily Telegraph,
London, 6 April 1999
4. KDOM Daily Report, released by the
Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs, Office of South Central
European Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, December
21, 1998; Compiled by EUR/SCE (202-647-4850) from daily reports
of the U.S. element of the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission,
December 21, 1998.
5. "Rugova, sous protection serbe
appelle a l'arret des raides", Le Devoir, Montreal, 1 April
6. See Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of
Heroin in Southeast Asia Harper and Row, New York, 1972.
7. See John Dinges, Our Man in Panama,
The Shrewd Rise and Brutal Fall of Manuel Noriega, Times Books,
New York, 1991.
8. "The Dirtiest Bank of All,"
Time, July 29, 1991, p. 22.
9. Truth in Media, Phoenix, 2 April, 1999;
see also Michel Collon, Poker Menteur, editions EPO, Brussels,
10. Quoted in Truth in Media, Phoenix,
2 April, 1999).
12. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No 32, June
1994, p. 4
13. Sean Gervasi, "Germany, US and
the Yugoslav Crisis", Covert Action Quarterly, No. 43, Winter
14. See Daily Telegraph, 29 December 1993.
15. For further details see Michel Collon,
Poker Menteur, editions EPO, Brussels, 1997, p. 288.
16. Truth in Media, Kosovo in Crisis,
Phoenix, 2 April 1999.
17. Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 13,
19. Daily News, Ankara, 5 March 1997.
20. Quoted in Boyes and Wright, op cit.
21. ANA, Athens, 28 January 1997, see
also Turkish Daily News, 29 January 1997.
22. Brian Murphy, KLA Volunteers Lack
Experience, The Associated Press, 5 April 1999.
23. See Geopolitical Drug Watch, No. 35,
1994, p. 3, see also Barry James, In Balkans, Arms for Drugs,
The International Herald Tribune Paris, June 6, 1994.
24. The Guardian, 25 March 1997.
25. For further details see Michel Chossudovsky,
La crisi albanese, Edizioni Gruppo Abele, Torino, 1998.
27. Andrew Gumbel, The Gangster Regime
We Fund, The Independent, February 14, 1997, p. 15.
29. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No. 35, 1994,
30. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No 66, p.
31. Quoted in Workers' World, May 7, 1998.
32. See Government of Yugoslavia at http://www.gov.yu/terrorism/terroristcamps.html.
33. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No 32, June
1994, p. 4.