In recent years passage through the Balkans into Europe has grossly overshadowed previous drug channels from Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle. This principal drug-shipping channel, known as the Balkan Route, is worth an estimated $400 billion a year and handles 80 percent of the heroin destined for sale in Europe. Opium grown in Afghanistan and Pakistan (the heart of the Golden Crescent) is processed in Turkey, then travels through the former Yugoslavia and the Czech Republic to reach other parts of Europe. The Balkan Route then links to England through the French port of Calais, where Albanian gangs have secured their position. In the Channel ports, the Albanians hire facilitators who, to confuse sniffing patrol dogs, disguise the smell of smuggled cargo by loading their vehicles with meat, pet food, and fresh flowers. The clans profit doubly by piggybacking illicit trafficking operations—for example, shipping oil to Macedonia, dodging the Greek embargo, and using the shipment to cover the added cargo of heroin. And people seeking passage into Europe make ideal drug-carrying mules for the fares.
In the above paragraph, one should both notice the importance of the Balkan Route, and keep in mind that the report is from 1999.
Skipping now another document we looked at in Part 1, EUROPOL DRUGS 2006, we see how things have changed since 1999 in the Golden Crescent:
Afghanistan is the major supplier of heroin for the European markets. In addition to opium poppy cultivation, the country has developed into a major processor of the final product: heroin. UNODC estimates that 72% of opium is converted to heroin in Afghanistan. Some 10.000 tonnes of chemicals, including 1.000 tonnes of acetic anhydride are needed for this process. The Tajik Drug Control Agency estimates that there are more than 400 heroin laboratories in Afghanistan, with 80 of them situated along the border to Tajikistan.
Trafficking of heroin towards the European Union continues to be dominated by Turkish and associated criminal groups. These groups make use of facilitators in Southwest Asia to liaise with domestic criminals or brokers who can purchase large quantities of heroin directly from source countries. Very rarely do heroin consignments travel the whole way from Afghanistan to Europe in a single journey; they are bought and sold by different criminal groups along the route.
Afghanistan is the main supplier of heroin for Europe, although now, instead of processing the final product in Turkey, it is processed on the spot in Afghanistan. This makes business for the narcotraffickers a great deal easier, as heroin itself is easier to transport than bulkier unrefined opiates.
Notice, however, that Turkish groups continue to dominate the movement of heroin toward Europe. This reminds us of the Sibel Edmonds case, where Edmonds, working as a translator of Turkish-language (and other) materials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington Field Office in the wake of 9/11, was dealing with a backlog materials -- many from about the same time as the 1999 Cilluffo and Salmoiraghi report. The information Edmonds saw was startling for many reasons, not the least of which was that it indicated that front companies for these Turkish organized crime groups had US government officials, in the State and Defense Departments, in Congress -- from both parties -- and in the FBI on their payroll. These US government officials received bribes and promises of a cushy future in return for using their position in the government to further the interests of Turkish organized crime.
Notice also that consignments of drugs change hands as they travel from Afghanistan to the streets of Sweden, the UK and elsewhere.
Continuing with EUROPOL DRUGS 2006:
The liaison between organised crime groups trafficking different commodities is expected to continue. This cooperation refers, for instance, to South American criminal groups exchanging cocaine for heroin with Turkish traffickers, who, in turn, liaise with indigenous wholesalers of amphetamine type stimulants. Thus, heroin may be transported in multi-drug consignments, which include synthetic drugs, cocaine and cannabis. Heroin trafficking is sometimes also associated with the trafficking of human beings and/or illegal immigration to increase efficiency and profit.
Iran and Turkey are amongst the most important transit countries of Afghan sourced heroin destined for the European Union. Iranian law enforcement efforts concentrate on the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan and on internal trafficking, rather than on drugs leaving the country into Turkey. In 2004, Iranian law enforcement agencies seized some 4 tonnes of heroin, 12 tonnes of morphine base and 174 tonnes of opium.
Iran has a problem with narcotics addiction, but the government in Tehran, for all its shortcomings, has been helpful in the War on Drugs -- a war that has been dramatically eclipsed by the advent of the "War on Terror" and by the appearance of Iran's name on the "Axis of Evil" list, an appearance that occurred despite the fact that Iran was not implicated in the events on 9/11 that sparked the War on Terror.
Continuing with EUROPOL DRUGS 2006:
Equally, Turkish law enforcement priorities are on the situation in the country and on the exportation of heroin via the Istanbul area along the Balkan Routes into Western Europe. In 2004, Turkish law enforcement agencies seized 6,515 kg of heroin and 4,491 kg of morphine base.
Turkey remains, due to its geographical position, the main corridor for heroin trafficking towards the European Union. The country serves as a starting point for the Balkan Routes. Most heroin from Southwest Asia reaches Europe via these routes.
Whilst awaiting onward transportation into Western Europe, heroin is often stockpiled in countries along the Balkan Routes. The dual use of the Balkan Routes for smuggling heroin to and ecstasy from the European Union is noteworthy.
Even though the 'Silk Route' via central Asia is emerging, with indications of increased trafficking activities, it can be expected that the Balkan Routes will remain the most prominent supply routes for heroin in the coming years.
The Balkan Routes continue to be the most important for getting Afghanistan heroin to European markets!
Returning now to the final excerpts of Cilluffo and Salmoiraghi's And the Winner is . . . the Albanian Mafia from 1999:
The fares run a multinational operation. The Albanian clans are dispersed in Kosovo and Macedonia as well as Albania proper. Moreover, the Kosovo Albanian clans have confederated with their counterparts in Turkey and Bulgaria. Recent arrests also demonstrate that the fares use Czech couriers to deliver heroin to Britain-based English and Turkish dealers. The smugglers forged alliances with their criminal counterparts in Italy, including La Cosa Nostra. It is an open secret that the Italian Mafia relocated to Vlore, a coastal town in southern Albania, after the recent Italian crackdown on organized crime. But in many places the Albanians have begun to outmaneuver their various competitors. Already in the Turin region, according to Italian authorities, the Albanians supplanted all of the other foreign criminal groups—from Nigerians to Moroccans—that had been operating in the area. The Albanians and the Italians simultaneously have a symbiotic and competitive relationship. The fares take business from the mafia, but they also provide invaluable services. Despite this bifurcated existence, the Italians fear that the fares will use the exodus of refugees as a means of staking out an even larger sphere of influence in southern Italy. A British Home Office report warns that the Albanian clans are exceptionally vicious and "make the Italian Mafia look like a whist drive."
"A British Home Office report warns that the Albanian clans are exceptionally vicious and 'make the Italian Mafia look like a whist drive.'"
The paper states that the Albanian clans are "in Kosovo and Macedonia as well as Albania proper" -- actually, they are spread beyond that, but those three places are perhaps most significant.
The fares' success illustrates the extent to which the state has slipped into ungovernability. An estimated 10 percent or more of Vlore's population is involved, either directly or indirectly, in smuggling. Individual operators can realize $13,000 from a good night's haul, whereas criminal gangs can generate $400,000. The growing number of expensive Italian and German cars in Albania are signs of a thriving smuggling industry, and a recent report by investigative journalist Frank Viviano reveals that two-thirds of the cars on the streets of Vlore and Durres are stolen. Smugglers transport their merchandise throughout Central and Eastern Europe in Italian cars, reported as stolen to defraud insurers. After one or two trips, the courier receives the car as a bonus. Stolen cars are everywhere, not only with the gangsters themselves. Europe's Geopolitical Drug Watch revealed the extent of the illegal automobile enterprise by highlighting the arrest of the president of the Albanian central bank for driving a stolen car while vacationing in Italy.
The clans continue to thrive because political deterioration in Albania has created an ideal working environment for the illicit traffic. Organized crime thrives on a weak government, a lack of antidrug legislation, poorly equipped police forces, a cash-based economy, and fragile banking regulations. Albania has all of these.
It is not just Albania that has these fine qualities. As Serbian authority was being eroded in Kosovo, Kosovo increasingly developed as a haven for smugglers and lawlessness. To be sure, the international forces moved into Kosovo, and they we were well-equipped, but the authorities who had been attempting to deal with the smuggling have seen their efforts undercut.
Communist rule isolated Albania for 47 years. With its mottled patterns of corruption and abuse, Albania is still trying to shed its Communist skin. After becoming a democracy in 1991, Albania attempted to establish a market economy as well. The economy collapsed in 1997, following the dramatic failure of a series of pyramid schemes backed by government assurances of corporate viability, and has not yet recovered. The economic plunge led to rioting and looting—a general fog of lawlessness that has not yet dissipated and seems to be getting thicker. Corruption extends to the very top, so much so that the Albanian parliament has been dubbed the "Kalashnikov parliament" because of its apparent indifference to organized crime and close ties to weapons dealers.
Albania's weak political system has not provided government offices the tools to fight the fares. Thwarted by powerful interests, parliament was slow to pass antidrug legislation, while there was a lack of political will to enforce the measures it did enact. The Albanian police are ill-prepared to stem the smuggling tide. They are poorly equipped and trained, and divisions such as the financial crime unit are staffed by people lacking the necessary qualifications. The police also do not receive strong support from the other branches of government; rarely were the arrested tried and sentenced by the courts. Corruption flourishes in a country demoralized by low wages, unenforced legislation, and leadership that was for sale. Many police officers were simply paid off not to enforce the laws.
The humanitarian aid flowing into Albania as a result of the Kosovo war has arrived in this governance vacuum. The intended recipients have not always been the beneficiaries. Much has been diverted and sold by top officials and their relatives at usurious prices. Meanwhile, as a result of the Kosovo war, the Albanian government has already spent its entire annual budget. The government is broke and broken. In contrast, the fares are pulling in money hand over fist and expanding their operations, using their human smuggling network to further tie into criminal operations.
Of course, the Albanian network exists far beyond Albania and the Balkans; criminal elements can be found within the diaspora of ethnic Albanians throughout Europe and in North America. It is worth recalling the role of Albanian gangs in the Channel ports, described above.
The consequences of organized crime's insidious penetration of the Albanian government continue to reveal themselves. As President Clinton and the G-8 nations look to the future and turn their focus on reconstruction efforts, at the top of the list should be laying the foundation for a stronger society in Albania, underpinned by the rule of law. Washington needs to move beyond the limited options of dollar diplomacy and Tomahawk missiles—the foreign policy elixir of the past six-and-a-half years. Dollars and missiles have treated the symptoms but not the source of Albania's political and economic malaise. The United States must ensure that it provides the majority of decent Albanians with the tools to better help themselves. And in doing so, it must embrace transparency and accountability in the use of humanitarian and reconstruction funds to prevent a repeat of the rampant looting occurring in Russia. The end of military action cannot be the end of interaction.
It would be tragic, if in winning back Kosovo, the West loses Albania to the mafia.
It is not just Albanian proper that may get lost -- it is "Greater Albania" that is at risk. The West has, in violation of international law and over the objections of Russia and Serbia, just handed Kosovo over to narcoterrorists-cum-government leaders in newly-independent "Kosova", and the United States government continues to push a policy that favors narcotraffickers and smuggling, as well as Islamic extremist terror. With "Kosova" independent, this "successful" policy will inevitably lead to more crises in the Balkans, and the dismemberment of more Balkan nations in favor of Albanian organized crime.
Although this two-part series has ended, we will continue our study of this matter in upcoming posts. In particular, we will examine the ties between Albanian organized crime, and the US Senator from Arizona and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain -- and, we will look at why Macedonia and perhaps Montenegro are likely the next dominoes to fall in the Balkans, should McCain (or Democrat rival Senator Hillary Clinton) be elected.
I leave you now with an image from a webpage entitled McCAIN AND THE KLA CONNECTION by Justin Raimondo, February 25, 2000: