Mercenaries IN KOSOVO: The U.S. connection to the KLA.
Meeting in the fourth floor conference room of a quaint red brick office building in a quiet section of Alexandria, Virginia, a group of retired generals discussed military support for a U.S. ally. The topic of the day: how to train and equip a shadowy guerrilla group accused by the State Department of being a terrorist organization.
The military men knew that the Drug Enforcement Administration suspected the guerrillas of smuggling high-grade Afghan heroin into North America and Western Europe. Police agencies across Europe had been alerted to the links among the rebels and the Sicilian, Calabrian, Neapolitan, and Russian mafias.
Was this the setting for a Tom Clancy novel? Or was it a flashback to one of the numerous secret meetings attended by the likes of Richard Secord and Oliver North during the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s?
Actually, it was neither. It was a real life and present-day strategy session at MPRI (formerly known as Military Professional Resources, Inc.). Its client: the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
MPRI is one of a handful of Pentagon contractors known as private military companies providing support to the KLA, according to retired Army Colonel David Hackworth, in an interview with Fox News's Catherine Crier. According to Hackworth, MPRI has used former U.S. military personnel to train KLA forces at secret bases inside Albania.
According to its web site, MPRI was founded as a Delaware-based corporation in 1987 by eight retired military officers. Its present board of directors is a virtual Who's Who of retired Pentagon brass. Members include one retired admiral, two retired major generals, and ten retired generals. One of those is former U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Carl E. Vuono. MPRI employs more than 400 personnel and, more importantly, has access to the resumes of thousands of former U.S. military specialists, from Green Berets and helicopter pilots to supply clerks and cooks. The firm--which, according to Jane's Intelligence Review, is involved in internal conflicts in Angola and the Congo, as well as the Balkans--did more than $48 million in business in 1997. MPRI's motto is: "Our integrity is our most treasured asset."
Some of the military leadership of the KLA includes veterans of MPRI-planned Operations Storm and Strike, 1995 Croatian military offensives that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from eastern Croatia. One former CIA official confided that he is not surprised that MPRI is now involved with the KLA. "It fits the pattern," he said.
The military commander of the KLA, Agim Ceku, is a former brigadier general in the Croatian army, and, according to the London Independent's Robert Fisk, an "ethnic cleanser" in his own right. Along with MPRI military advisers, Ceku helped plan the Croatian offensive that drove some 350,000 Croatian Serbs from Krajina province. Croatian forces also destroyed more than 10,000 Croatian Serb homes.
Another KLA leader is Xhavit Haliti, who is not even a Kosovar. He is a former officer of the dreaded Albanian secret police, the Sigurimi, an entity that has chalked up innumerable human rights violations inside Albania.
KLA leaders have been accused of assassinating moderate Kosovo Albanians, including some of those who agreed to the Rambouillet peace accords. In fact, according to Albanian State Television, the KLA had sentenced to death in absentia Ibrahim Rugova, the democratically elected president of the Republic of Kosovo. (The KLA boycotted the election he won in 1998.) Apparently, Rugova, whose government-in-exile signed the Rambouillet accord, was too moderate for the KLA.
Until last year, the KLA was regarded as a terrorist organization by the State Department.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported last May that "officers of the Kosovo Liberation Army and their backers, according to law enforcement authorities in Western Europe and the United States, are a major force in international organized crime, moving staggering amounts of narcotics through an underworld network that reaches into the heart of Europe."
The Congressional Record indicates that the United States may have actually shipped arms to Serbia and Montenegro in the name of the War on Drugs. In the aftermath of the Dayton Accords on Bosnia, the Clinton Administration viewed Milosevic as an ally against America's other great enemy: international drug dealing.
Testifying before the House National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice Subcommittee on May 1, 1997, Clinton's drug czar General Barry McCaffrey stated he wanted several Congressional "614 waivers," or what are called "national interest waivers," to ship weapons to various nations, including some with questionable human rights records. "I have fourteen waivers that the President granted ... for Serbia, Montenegro, Haiti, Somalia, Jordan, the list goes on and on," McCaffrey told the panel headed up by a then little-known Illinois Republican Representative named Dennis Hastert, now Speaker of the House. Hastert said he personally was "very supportive" of McCaffrey getting the money for the arms on a "long-term basis," or whatever basis he needed to get weapons to the Serbs and Montenegrins under file provisions of both the Foreign Military Sales program and the waiver provision.
There was apparently some delay in shipping the arms to those countries, and this annoyed Hastert, who pressed McCaffrey at the hearing to hurry up and see that the weapons made their way to their intended destination.
Hastert may have helped the weapons get into the hands of Serbia's Special Police and similar paramilitary forces in Montenegro. One month after pressing McCaffrey on the weapons waivers, Hastert told the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee that the waiver process was "under way." McCaffrey's Office of National Drug Control Policy has chosen to remain mum on the subject.
These days, no one in Washington is pressing for aid to the Serbs. During the recent conflict between NATO and Serbia over Kosovo, the U.S. government changed its position on the KLA. U.S. officials shoved aside more moderate representatives of the Kosovar Albanians in favor of KLA guerrillas during negotiations with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Still, "suspicion of criminal associations taints the KLA's newly acquired legitimacy and clouds its recent efforts to press NATO for money, guns, and other supplies," The Wall Street Journal reports. "NATO so far has said no, despite concern that the refusal will only entrench the KLA's reliance on murky groups and make it less suitable for a role in a postwar Kosovo government."
One of those "murky groups," not mentioned in The Wall Street Journal article, is Washington's own MPRI.
MPRI has been involved in the Balkans for years. In 1996, after the ethnic cleansing in Krajina, MPRI received a $400 million State Department contract to "train and equip" the Bosnian Croat-Muslim Federation Army.
In a caper reminiscent of the Reagan Administration's solicitation of funds for the contras, the United States managed to get Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Malaysia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates to pony up more than one-fourth of the cost of the Bosnian military contract. Retired Major General Walter Yates runs MPRI's Bosnian operation, which is officially known as the Military Stabilization Program. The company's good fortunes in the Balkans are advertised on the firm's web page. The page shows a map headlined "Where in the World Is MPRI?" Arrows pinpoint Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia as centers of MPRI activity. Serbia is also mentioned as a country where MPRI mercenaries are active. MPRI has also helped set up a number of arms factories and military training schools in Bosnia that are staffed by veterans of the Croatian war against Serbia as well as Bosnian Croats and Muslims.
In early April, MPRI was caught off-guard when Bosnia's army arranged for millions of dollars worth of arms to be secretly transferred from Bosnian caches to KLA guerrillas in Kosovo and Yugoslav Muslims in the province of Sandzak. As a result of the arms transfers, the State Department "temporarily suspended" MPRI's "train and equip" program.
Retired Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll Jr., deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, says such weapons traffic is a predictable side effect of mercenary companies like MPRI. "The military loses control of material twice. First, they turn it over to a commercial enterprise, and they turn it over again," he says.
When it comes to supplying arms, MPRI has a fortunate next door neighbor on the fourth floor of its Alexandria headquarters--Cypress International. Cypress is a well-known international weapons broker. MPRI shares one other thing with its arms-dealing neighbor: retired Major General Vernon Lewis, a member of MPRI's board of directors, is the founder of Cypress.
MPRI does not have a monopoly on the lucrative mercenary business in southeastern Europe. Last year, MPRI bid for a Pentagon contract to help oversee the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo. But the Pentagon awarded the booty to DynCorp, another big-league military contractor playing in the private military company world. In addition to retired military personnel, DynCorp also actively recruits police officers for peacekeeping missions requiring a more civilian profile. DynCorp prides itself on being able to rapidly respond to the U.S. government's procurement morass to get personnel quickly to trouble spots like the Balkans. Its web site proclaims: "In Kosovo, seventy-five peacekeepers were deployed from the U.S. thirteen days after providing a quote."
Another U.S. company involved in the mercenary business in the Balkans is Science Applications International Corporation, a contractor that counts many former CIA and National Security Agency types in its ranks as military personnel. The company, along with another contractor, BDM International, lost out to MPRI for the lucrative Bosnia training deal.
Science Applications International has former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman and two other retired generals on its board of directors. These are individuals with one of the most important commodities in Washington--access.
The firm has attempted to corner the market on foreign police training. Its web page states it provides support for the Justice Department's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP or "Icky-Tap") by giving training and logistical support to "friendly foreign law enforcement organizations in high profile environments." This includes Bosnia.
ICITAP was primarily the brainchild of David Kriskovich--a Science Applications International employee and twenty-six-year veteran of the FBI. ICITAP suffered a severe blow in September 1997 when Kriskovich and four other Americans were killed in a helicopter crash in Bosnia.
ICITAP may serve as a cover for U.S. intelligence operations. Janice Stromsem, a career employee of the Justice Department who served as ICITAP's director, resisted the program's takeover by CIA elements. In February, Stromsem was relieved of her duties after complaining to the Justice Department Inspector General that ICITAP was being used by the CIA to recruit agents among foreign police officials.
And that raises the fundamental question about these private military companies: Just how private are they? The CIA itself was involved in training KLA guerrillas at clandestine bases. This operation was authorized by a "Presidential finding," according to a report on CNN's The World Today. With all the high-ranking former officials in these companies, you have to wonder who is actually calling the shots.
The shenanigans of the Reagan Administration's secret war against Nicaragua were uncovered thanks mainly to the ability of Congress and the press to gain access to government documents. Don't expect the same outcome with the Clinton Administration's secret plans to arm the KLA. The fact that so many of the operations are conducted by private mercenary firms means that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply. Companies supplying the KLA can argue that such information is proprietary and, therefore, they can block or stymie access to inquisitive Congressional investigators and reporters.
These private military companies subvert our democracy. According to Admiral Carroll, they "put the U.S. Military Assistance Program one reach removed from government agencies." Seeing the ease with which military privateers can operate virtually unhindered in the Balkans with the full support of the Administration and Congress alike, the veterans of Iran-contra must be green with envy.
RELATED ARTICLE: Clinton's Contras
You might think that members of Congress who vociferously opposed clandestine U.S. military support for the contras in the 1980s would object to similar support for the KLA in the 1990s. Think again.
In 1989, the Senate's Subcommittee on Narcotics, Terrorism, and International Operations issued a report condemning the Reagan Administration's support for the contras and their drug-running activities. The report stated: "U.S. officials involved in Central America failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war effort against Nicaragua." The report also said: "The war on drugs must not in the future be sacrificed to other foreign policy considerations."
The main author of that 1989 report was Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. He was upset about clandestine U.S. military support for the contras, which were using proceeds garnered from drug trafficking to help finance their war against Nicaragua. With ample evidence that the KLA is funding its operations through heroin and cocaine smuggling from Albania to Western Europe and North America, it is interesting to note Senator Kerry's statements now. "We could conceivably arm the Albanians.... I would make it very clear we are prepared to use anything necessary to achieve our goal," Kerry stated. Later, backing away from outright military support, a spokesperson for Kerry said the Senator feels that arming the KLA should not be an option for the United States.
Kerry's phrase, "using anything necessary," echoes the rationale Oliver North used to support the contras. Kerry's report said that Oliver North's proposals to look the other way on drugs was evidence of "the potential appeal of drug profits for persons engaged in covert activity."
Kerry's 1989 findings were endorsed by then-Senator William Cohen, Republican of Maine. Now Defense Secretary, Cohen has played a key role in clandestine military support for the Albanian rebels.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington journalist and frequent commentator on intelligence-related matters and electronic surveillance. He is a Senior Fellow of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C., and is the author of the upcoming book "Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999" (Edwin Mellen Press).