KOSOVO "FREEDOM FIGHTERS" FINANCED BY ORGANISED CRIME
Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and author of The
Globalization of Poverty, Impacts of IMF and World Bank Reforms, Third
World Network, Penang and Zed Books, London, 1997. The reader is also
referred to Chossudovsky's study entitled "Dismantling Yugoslavia,
Recolonising Bosnia" available at
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
Following a pattern set during the War in Bosnia, public opinion has been
carefully misled. The multi-billion 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 had been skilfully heralded by the global media as
broadly representative of the interests of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Ironically until recently, Washington has not denied the links of the
Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves (UCK) to organised crime. Christopher Hill,
America's chief negotiator and architect of the Rambouillet agreement "has
...been a strong critic of the KLA for its alleged dealings in drugs."3 In
the words of Robert Gelbard, America's special envoy to Bosnia: "We condemn
very strongly terrorist actions in Kosovo. The UCK [KLA] is, without any
questions, a terrorist group."4.
Moreover, barely a few 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:
"[According to a police informant]...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." 5
>From "Terrorists" to "Political Partners"
With KLA leader Hashim Thaci (a 29 year "freedom fighter") appointed as
chief negotiator at Rambouillet, the KLA had 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 military rule. With Thaci as Prime
Minister designate, the KLA had already been promised a central role in the
formation of government under the Rambouillet treaty.
"In order to get the Albanians'... acceptance [of the peace plan], Ms.
Albright offered incentives intended to show that Washington is a friend of
Kosovo...Officers in the Kosovo Liberation Army would . . . be sent to the
United States for training in transforming themselves from a guerrilla
group into a police force or a political entity..,"6
Bypassing the Kosovo Democratic League
While backing a "freedom movement" with links to the drug trade, the West
was 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.7 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 Serbs.
Rugova had openly criticised both Belgrade and NATO: "The bombing should
stop. I recommend to Belgrade to cooperate with the international community,
and to NATO to understand the other side, and not to kill people, but to
help find a solution."8
Both NATO and Western governments have cursorily disregarded these
statements. The KLA has accused Rugova of being a traitor.
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.9
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".10
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 officer.11
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 collaborated in covert activities. According to
intelligence analyst John Whitley, undercover 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).12 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".13 According to Whitley, the CIA was,
subsequently instrumental in training and equipping the KLA in Albania.14
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.15
According to Sean Gervasi, Germany was seeking a free hand among its allies
"to pursue economic dominance in the whole of Mitteleuropa."16
Islamic Fundamentalism in Support of the KLA
The CIA had used Islamic fundamentalist organisations in Afghanistan to
finance its covert operations. The pattern was replicated in the Balkans.
Bonn and Washington's "hidden agenda" consisted in triggering ethnic strife
and nationalist liberation movements in Bosnia and Kosovo with the ultimate
purpose of destabilising Yugoslavia. This objective was implemented "by
turning a blind eye" to the influx of money and mercenaries from Islamic
organisations including direct support provided by Osmane Bin Laden's Al
Qa'ida accused of masterminding the African embassy bombings in August
"Bin Laden had visited Albania himself. He was one of several
fundamentalist groups that had sent units to fight in Kosovo, ... Bin Laden
is believed to have established an operation in Albania in 1994 ...
Albanian sources say Sali Berisha, who was then president, had links with
some groups that later proved to be extreme fundamentalists".17
This infiltration by Islamic fundamentalist organisations was not only
known and accepted by the US State Department, it was an integral part of
CIA covert activities.18
Mercenaries financed by Saudi Arabia and Koweit had been fighting in
Bosnia. 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.19
According to Deutsche Press-Agentur, financial support from Islamic
countries to the KLA had also been channelled through the former Albanian
chief of the National Information Service (NIS), Bashkim Gazidede.20
"Gazidede, reportedly a devout Moslem who fled Albania in March of last
year , is presently  being investigated for his contacts with
Islamic terrorist organizations."21
"[B]y early December 1997, Iranian intelligence had already delivered the
first shipments of hand grenades, machine-guns, assault rifles, night
vision equipment, and communications gear... Moreover, the Iranians began
sending promising Albanian and UCK commanders for advanced military
training in al-Quds [special] forces and IRGC camps in Iran...22
The Laundering of Drug Money
The supply route for arming KLA "freedom fighters" are the rugged
mountainous borders of Albania with Kosovo and Macedonia. Albania is also
the hub 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."23 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."24
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 Albania and
Kosovo.25 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 intelligence
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
multi-billion 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 in Albania,
headed by President Sali Berisha. An expansive underground economy and
cross border trade had unfolded. A triangular trade in oil, arms and
narcotics had flourished 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
Poverty and economic collapse served to exacerbate simmering ethnic
tensions. Thousands of unemployed youths (including young girls) "barely
out of their Teens" from an impoverished population were drafted (often by
force and intimidation) into the ranks of the KLA...26 KLA intimidations
(according to an Agence France Press report) consists in threatening to
burn the houses of those who refuse to join the KLA: "Either you are with
us or we will burn down your houses. Join your brothers." It was signed:
"Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves," the words for Kosovo Liberation Army".27
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).28 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."29
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. 30
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).31
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
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
(...) 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.33
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'
The Northern tribal clans or "fares" had also developed links with Italy's
crime syndicates.35 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 had 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 government".36
Recent Developments: Coordinating with NATO Air Raids
Since the onset of NATO's "humanitarian bombings", foreign mercenaries and
volunteers (recruited in Western Europe, the US and Canada) have joined the
ranks of the KLA. In turn, the US and its allies are now supplying the KLA
directly with military hardware. According to Yugoslav sources, the KLA
training camp in Albania is now "concentrat[ing] on heavy weapons training
- rocket propelled grenades, medium caliber cannons, tanks and transporter
use, as well as on communications, and command and control".37
The KLA has acquired electronic surveillance equipment which enables it to
receive satellite information as well as relay to NATO command intelligence
concerning bombing targets. In turn, British and American special forces
teams are "advising the rebels at their strongholds in northern Albania,
where the KLA has launched a major recruitment and training operation.
According to high-ranking KLA officials, the [British] SAS is using two
camps near Tirana, the Albanian capital, and another on the Kosovan border
to teach KLA officers how to conduct intelligence-gathering operations on
The KLA is also negotiating "for a long-term training deal with Military
and Professional Resources International, a mercenary company run by former
American officers who operate with semi-official approval from the Pentagon
and played a key role in building up Croatia's armed forces".39
The Post War Agenda
The fate of Kosovo had already been carefully laid out prior to the signing
of the 1995 Dayton agreement. Deliveries of weapons to the Kosovo rebel
army since the mid-1990s 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
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
In turn, a terrorist movement with links to organised crime has become the
sole political "voice" representing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. In the
words of State Department spokesman James Foley:
'We want to develop a good relationship with them as they transform
themselves into a politically-oriented organization,' ...`[W]e believe that
we have a lot of advice and a lot of help that we can provide to them if
they become precisely the kind of political actor we would like to see them
Installing a "Narco-Democracy"
With the KLA poised to play a central role in the formation of a government,
NATO's "hidden agenda" consists in installing in Kosovo a "mafia State"
with links to the drug trade. The US State Department's position is that
the KLA would "not be allowed to continue as a military force but would
have the chance to move forward in their quest for self government under a
'different context' meaning the inauguration of a "narco-democracy" under
NATO custody. `If we can help them and they want us to help them in that
effort of transformation, I think it's nothing that anybody can argue
In turn, "free market reforms" are envisaged for the post-War Kosovar State
under the supervision of the Bretton Woods institutions. The IMF's deadly
economic therapy transforms countries into open territories while fostering
the growth of illicit trade and the criminalisation of State institutions.
Post-War reconstruction financed by the World Bank and the European
Development Bank (EBRD) will largely benefit Western investors and
construction companies while fuelling external debt well into the third
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
1. Roger Boyes and Eske Wright, Drugs Money Linked to the Kosovo Rebels The
Times, London, Monday, March 24, 1999.
3. Philip Smucker and Tim Butcher, "Shifting stance over KLA has betrayed'
Albanians", Daily Telegraph, London, 6 April 1999
4. Agence France Presse, 23 February 1998.
5. 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.
6. New York Times, 24 February 1999.
7. "Rugova, sous protection serbe appelle a l'arret des raides", Le Devoir,
Montreal, 1 April 1999.
9. See Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia Harper and
Row, New York, 1972.
10. See John Dinges, Our Man in Panama, The Shrewd Rise and Brutal Fall of
Manuel Noriega, Times Books, New York, 1991.
11. "The Dirtiest Bank of All," Time, July 29, 1991, p. 22.
12. Truth in Media, Phoenix, 2 April, 1999; see also Michel Collon, Poker
Menteur, editions EPO, Brussels, 1997.
13. Quoted in Truth in Media, Phoenix, 2 April, 1999).
15. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No 32, June 1994, p. 4
16. Sean Gervasi, "Germany, US and the Yugoslav Crisis", Covert Action
Quarterly, No. 43, Winter 1992-93.
17. Chris Steven, "Bin Laden opens European terror base in Albania", Sunday
Times, 15 November 1998.
18. "U.S. Alarmed as Mujahidin Join Kosovo Rebels," The Times, London, 26
November 1998. A Defense Department statement (August 20 1998) had
acknowledged that Bin Laden organisation was supporting Moslem fighters in
both Bosnia and Kosovo...
19. Truth in Media, Kosovo in Crisis, Phoenix, 2 April 1999. For further
details see also Michel Collon, Poker Menteur, editions EPO, Brussels,
1997, p. 288.
20. Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 13, 1998.
22. Yossef Bodansky, "Italy Becomes Iran's New Base for Terrorist
Operations," Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, London, February
1998. Bodansky is Director of the US House Congressional Task Force on
Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.
23. Daily News, Ankara, 5 March 1997.
24. Quoted in Boyes and Wright, op cit.
25. ANA, Athens, 28 January 1997, see also Turkish Daily News, 29 January
26. See Brian Murphy, KLA Volunteers Lack Experience, The Associated Press,
5 April 1999.
27. AFP report, 9 October 1998.
28. 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,
29. The Guardian, 25 March 1997.
30. For further details see Michel Chossudovsky, La crisi albanese,
Edizioni Gruppo Abele, Torino, 1998.
32. Andrew Gumbel, The Gangster Regime We Fund, The Independent, February
14, 1997, p. 15.
34. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No. 35, 1994, p. 3.
35. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No 66, p. 4.
36. Quoted in Workers' World, May 7, 1998.
37. See Government of Yugoslavia at
38. Sunday Telegraph, 18 April 1999.n
40. Geopolitical Drug Watch, No 32, June 1994, p. 4.
41. New York Times, 2 February 1999).
Revised version, May 1999. C Copyright by Michel Chossudovsky, Ottawa,
1999. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to post this text on
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