CHAOS BREEDS PROFITS
The rise of organized crime syndicates flourished following the collapse of the communist system and frontier controls throughout most of the Balkan peninsula, resulting in lawlessness and civil conflict. The traffickers are from every ethnic group in the region, and despite the bloody rivalries that have torn apart Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, they work closely together.
In many areas they work with the complicity of police and customs officials. The U.S. State Department report on human rights for 2001 notes that "instances of corruption and involvement of police in trafficking in persons occurred on the local level. At least two law enforcement officials have been dismissed for accepting bribes from traffickers."
Often these activities enjoy the protection of high-ranking politicians, who are generously bribed, according to regional law enforcement officials.
Corrupt judges and prosecutors also frequently help arrested criminals.
On April 18, the Albanian state security service acknowledged the problem, saying in a statement that a "dangerous aspect of the growing power of the criminal groups is their ability to establish links with individuals in the top state administration offices and with politicians."
"The traffickers are from every ethnic group in the region, and despite the bloody rivalries that have torn apart Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, they work closely together."
This is not an Islamic mafia, or even an Albanian mafia, although Albanians, who are predominantly Muslims, are involved, as are Muslims from elsewhere in the Balkans and beyond. And, there is the connection to Turkish organized crime figures and the Turkish Deep State. But, these are various organized crime groups working together for common business interests.
"Often these activities enjoy the protection of high-ranking politicians, who are generously bribed, according to regional law enforcement officials."
The implication is that it is high-ranking politicians in Balkan governments who are generously bribed.
But, we know from the Sibel Edmonds case that high-ranking elected and appointed officials in the US government, from both political parties, are bribed with money made from Turkish organized crime, which has extensive ties to the arms and narcotics traffickers in the Balkans; in fact, Turkey is where the poppies from Afghanistan are refined into heroin, before being shipped off, often via the Balkans, to Europe.
It is worth recalling at this point some details from the situation prior to the US/NATO air offensive against Serb forces; back now to the 1999 Senate Republican Policy Statement:
The KLA: from 'Terrorists' to 'Partners'
The Kosovo Liberation Army "began on the radical fringe of Kosovar Albanian politics, originally made up of diehard Marxist-Leninists (who were bankrolled in the old days by the Stalinist dictatorship next door in Albania) as well as by descendants of the fascist militias raised by the Italians in World War II" ["Fog of War -- Coping With the Truth About Friend and Foe: Victims Not Quite Innocent," New York Times, 3/28/99]. The KLA made its military debut in February 1996 with the bombing of several camps housing Serbian refugees from wars in Croatia and Bosnia [Jane's Intelligence Review, 10/1/96]. The KLA (again according to the highly regarded Jane's,) "does not take into consideration the political or economic importance of its victims, nor does it seem at all capable of seriously hurting its enemy, the Serbian police and army. Instead, the group has attacked Serbian police and civilians arbitrarily at their weakest points. It has not come close to challenging the region's balance of military power" [Jane's, 10/1/96].
The group expanded its operations with numerous attacks through 1996 but was given a major boost with the collapse into chaos of neighboring Albania in 1997, which afforded unlimited opportunities for the introduction of arms into Kosovo from adjoining areas of northern Albania, which are effectively out of the control of the Albanian government in Tirana. From its inception, the KLA has targeted not only Serbian security forces, who may be seen as legitimate targets for a guerrilla insurgency, but Serbian and Albanian civilians as well.
In view of such tactics, the Clinton Administration's then-special envoy for Kosovo, Robert Gelbard, had little difficulty in condemning the KLA (also known by its Albanian initials, UCK) in terms comparable to those he used for Serbian police repression:"'The violence we have seen growing is incredibly dangerous,' Gelbard said. He criticized violence 'promulgated by the (Serb) police' and condemned the actions of an ethnic Albanian underground group Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) which has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Serb targets. 'We condemn very strongly terrorist actions in Kosovo. The UCK is, without any questions, a terrorist group,' Gelbard said." [Agence France Presse, 2/23/98]
Consequently, Serbian security forces were, to a great extent, battling terrorist lawlessness, random attacks on civilians of all ethnic groups.
The 1999 Senate Republican Policy Statement also noted
the presence of foreign mujahedin (i.e., Islamic holy warriors) in the Kosovo war, some of them jihad veterans from Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. Some of the reports specifically cite assets of Iran or bin-Ladin, or both, in support of the KLA.
Thus, not only were Serb forces -- the legitimate authority in that place at that time -- battling random vandalistic terrorism, but that lawlessness that Serb forces were dealing with was a function an infusion of Islamic fundamentalist mujahideen from outside the region.
All of this leads me to a question.
Notice the title of the last section of Sex, drugs and guns in the Balkans: CHAOS BREEDS PROFITS. The pressure on Serbia during the Kosovo crisis, culminating in the bombing of Serbia under the Clinton Administration, caused Serb forces (the legitimate authorities of Kosovo) to back off from the KLA (criminals who had extensive ties from outside Kosovo, and even from outside the region), thus making the situation more chaotic.
Was increased chaos the intended result?
ADDING UP THE PROFITS
No matter how much money the sex trade generates for traffickers, their big-ticket item continues to be drugs, police say.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 kilos of heroin are smuggled from Afghanistan to Western Europe every month, largely through the Balkans.
With a kilo of heroin worth between $50,000 and $200,000 on the street, the European traffic generates a market worth $7 billion a year, making it easily the biggest regional industry in the Balkans.
In February, Thomas Koeppel of the Swiss national police said, "Albanians account for 90 percent of our problems with drugs."
Law enforcement authorities in the Balkans openly concede that ill-equipped and underpaid police and border guards can be easily persuaded with bribes to help traffickers.
And police are no match for the smugglers' methods of evasion. For example, they throw away cell phones after one call to avoid electronic detection and transport their contraband in the latest speedboats.
Gjoni, the former Albanian interior minister, says that in contrast, rank-and-file police "need such basic things as flashlights, walkie-talkies, handcuffs. For now, we are likely to rely on tips from villagers."
Is it any wonder some of the police give in to corruption, accepting a bribe and staying alive, when the deck is so stacked against them?
At the regional level, things look more promising. The countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia have joined to create the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, or SECI, an American-inspired and assisted operation that began a coordinated war on trafficking in January 2001.
The group, whose headquarters are in Bucharest, Romania, is beginning to get results. It says one initiative involving Italian, Moldovan and Romanian police led to the arrest of a dangerous mob leader, and another involving Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian authorities ended in the dismantling of a network that had trafficked 1,000 sex slaves.
Although both mobsters and police believe illegal traffic in people and goods is increasing, SECI law enforcement officials say their group is up to the challenge.
"It has traction," says John F. Markey, the U.S. Customs Service special agent who coordinates SECI efforts at the U.S. State Department.
David Binder covered the Balkans for The New York Times starting in 1963. He continues to travel in and report on the region. Preston Mendenhall is MSNBC.com’s international editor.
Finally, here we review the last article, Policing sans borders in the Balkans by David Binder, which can also be found at this link, and is reproduced here in its entirety, with my comments.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Law enforcement agencies in the Balkans have come together to do what organized crime operatives in the region had been doing for years: cooperate across frontiers — and across ethnicities. In November 2000, agencies of 11 Balkans countries established the Regional Center for Combating Transborder Crime to tackle the flourishing triad of traffic in humans, drugs and guns.
THE REGIONAL CENTER'S sponsor is the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, known by the acronym SECI, which began coordinating cross-border law enforcement work in January. Housed on the 10th floor of an enormous white elephant in Bucharest called the Palace of the People, a building from the era of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the center was started with $2.4 million, largely from Romania, and $500,000 in technical assistance from the United States. Other governments are now contributing modestly.
At its inception, the member states signing on were Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Slovenia, Romania and Turkey. Since then, Yugoslavia has joined. There are now 29 permanent liaison officers from various member countries based in Bucharest specializing in customs, border policing, narcotics, contraband and human trafficking.
Some of these nations are traditional enemies, with years of animosity; still, they seem to see a common threat.
The inspiration for the creation of the SECI center came from an American, Richard Schifter, former U.S. ambassador. Before the creation of the SECI, Schifter said, "if a prosecutor or a police officer in country A wanted information on a case from country B, he had to go to the foreign ministry of A to ask the foreign ministry of B to inquire at the interior ministry of B for the information." Now the information is made available on the spot at the SECI center, where English has been adopted as the common language. SECI operations are assisted by agents from several U.S. agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Customs Service. They perform some mentoring and do some training. The FBI and DEA also maintain permanent liaison offices in several of the Balkan countries.
The American who keeps an eye on all of the SECI's operations is John F. Markey, a U.S. Customs Service special agent who has an office in the State Department but is on the road half the time. "SECI is still a fledgling," he said, "but it is off the ground and flying." He said its success can be gauged perhaps by the amount of information exchanged among the member nations. "In January (2001) there were 75 requests; in August, 300," he said.
In upcoming posts, we will examine the situation in the Balkans through the eyes of government agencies, scholars, non-governmental organizations with axes to grind... and one of the Balkans' main alleged war criminals.