Saturday, August 11, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole, Part 2

At the end of Part 1, I pointed out that the Clinton Administration's decision to support Islamic terrorists in the Balkans was not by chance. This is significant, because the same dynamic is in play right now during the 2012 Presidential election campaign.

According to a May, 2002, report by the Library of Congress Federal Research Division, entitled A Global Overview of Narcotics-Funded Terrorist and Other Extremist Groups, when the KLA converted to the KPC (see Part 1), many of the KLA's personnel and weapons went somewhere else. KLA criminals, now legitimized by their positions in the KPC, had additional power and opportunity to further criminal endeavors. However, others formed newer, smaller terrorist groups, receiving money from the KLA's support pipeline. These groups included the National Liberation Army (NLA), which tried to get ethnic Albanians from the southernmost regions of Serbia adjacent to Kosovo incorporated into Kosovo. A successor group, the Albanian National Army, known by its initials in Albanian AKSh, continued an insurgency on behalf of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, where Albanians were one quarter of the population.

Eventually, a rivalry broke out between the AKSh and remaining elements of the NLA. Picking up with an excerpt from the report (pgs 82-83):

According to a February 2002 report in the Daily Telegraph and the Macedonian daily Nova Makedonija, Western police records and United Nations reports confirm that the leaders of the AKSh and the NLA are involved in large-scale smuggling of weapons, human beings, narcotics, and other goods. Money from those transactions is used to finance terrorist activities in Macedonia and Kosovo. Narcotics, reportedly the most important of the smuggled items, are moved through what is known as the Balkan Drug Route, which begins in Afghanistan and passes through Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, and Italy to reach markets in Western Europe. An alternate route goes from Afghanistan into Western Europe via Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Slovenia. Primary locations for the exchange of drugs for guns are Kumanovo and Skopje (both in northern Macedonia), which are points along the Balkan route to which weapons are smuggled. From those cities, weapons move into Kosovo.201

In September 2001, the Canadian Centre for Peace in the Balkans reported that Osama bin Laden was channeling profits from the sale of narcotics arriving in Western Europe via the Balkan Route to local governments and political parties, with the goal of gaining influence in Albania or Macedonia or both. The report theorized that Macedonia presents an ideal target because of its large Albanian minority (about one in three Macedonians is an ethnic Albanian) and its strategic position between east and west, along the new pipeline proposed between Burgas (Bulgaria) and Drac (Albania).202

In the same period, the Washington Times reported that bin Laden was the "biggest financial supporter" of the NLA, which has received $6 to $7 million from that source to supplement its narcotics income in supporting terrorist activities. In January 2001, the Stratfor intelligence organization reported that bin Laden had contributed and trained fighters for the KLA, citing the strategic importance of this link for the operation of his terrorist network in Europe. That report quoted the Albanian intelligence service as calling Albania the most important transit point for Islamic militants into Europe. In 1999 and 2000, Albania arrested ten individuals identified as Islamic terrorists.203

A February 2002 report in the Herald of Glasgow noted that al Qaeda had acted as a middleman in the movement of heroin from warehouses in Afghanistan via Chechen mafia conduits and into the Balkan narcotics pipeline. (The Taliban had prohibited the growing of poppies but had not confiscated the large stores of heroin already existing, and in fact profited from the heroin trade by taxing growers and dealers.) Al Qaeda took a percentage of the drug profits for this service.204 Between 1996 and 1998, the volume of drugs confiscated by Italian police from Albanian dealers in Italy rose from 5,500 kilograms to 23,000 kilograms.205

According to a February 2002 report, former KLA guerrillas and Albanian liberation extremists have used profits from their participation in Taliban-sponsored narcotics smuggling to re-arm themselves after the disarmaments that occurred from 1999 to 2001. The new arms, estimated to be worth about $4 million, include SA-18 and SA-7 surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing down Macedonian helicopters.206 According to a subsequent report, "the weapons were paid for by Albanian criminals with the proceeds of selling Afghan heroin on the streets of a dozen European capitals."207

There was a dynamic interplay between the rise of the KLA and the rise of the ethnic Albanian cartels based in Kosovo. From Heroin Heroes, from January/February of 2000:

The ascent of the Kosovar families to the top of the trafficking hierarchy coincided with the sudden appearance of the KLA as a fighting force in 1997. As Serbia unleashed its campaign of persecution against ethnic Albanians, the diaspora mobilized. Hundreds of thousands of expatriate Kosovars around the world funneled money to the insurrection. Nobody sent more than the Kosovar traffickers -- some of the wealthiest people of Kosovar extraction in Europe. According to news reports, Kosovar Albanian traffickers launder $1.5 billion in profits from drug and arms smuggling each year through a shadowy network of some 200 private banks and currency exchange offices. A congressional briefing paper obtained by Mother Jones indicates: "We would be remiss to dismiss allegations that between 30 and 50 percent of the KLA's money comes from drugs."

Elements of the KLA associated with criminal cartels - the so-called "15 families" - quickly became the best-equipped forces the KLA could field. In turn, they leveraged the KLA's ties with the West into increased business opportunities for the Albanian cartels. As the influence of the cartels increased, the KLA and its daughter organizations became better-funded and better-equipped.

In Congressional testimony on December 13, 2000, Frank Cilluffo had this to say (The Threat Posed from the Convergence of Organized Crime, Drug Trafficking, and Terrorism):

During the NATO campaign against the former Yugoslavia in the Spring of 1999, the Allies looked to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to assist in efforts to eject the Serbian army from Kosovo. What was largely hidden from public view was the fact that the KLA raise part of their funds from the sale of narcotics. Albania and Kosovo lie at the heart of the "Balkan Route" that links the "Golden Crescent" of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the drug markets of Europe. This route is worth an estimated $400 billion a year and handles 80 percent of heroin destined for Europe.

The ethnic Albanian cartels were sitting along the route of a drug trade worth $400 billion per year. On top of that, there was trafficking in arms and other commodities. Returning now to A Global Overview of Narcotics-Funded Terrorist and Other Extremist Groups (pgs 83-84):

Beginning in the 1990s, the "official" network of organized crime in Albania has grown and become more sophisticated. In a January 2001 report, British-based criminologist Vicenzo Ruggiero said, "joint ventures between southern Italian organized crime and groups operating in Albania are frequent, and such partnerships are imposed by local criminal entrepreneurs who expect to be given a percentage of the profits earned by their Albanian counterparts." According to Italian prosecutor Piero Luigi Vigna, Albanian groups have found a specific niche in the growing multinational organized crime network: "Albanian criminal groups fulfill the functions of a kind of service agency, establishing, for the management of clandestine immigration toward [sic] Italy, ties with the Chinese mafia and with its Turkish and Russian counterparts." Thus cooperative agreements and the development of specific roles appear to be replacing traditional bloody territorial rivalries between crime groups from various nations (most importantly for the Balkan and Adriatic regions, groups from Albania and Italy).208

Trafficking in human beings is an expanding activity for this international network. According to the International Organisation for Migration, the Balkans is a major route (and source) for trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation. The organization characterizes such trafficking as "the fastest-growing crime in the Balkans."209 Albania's geographical position and its chaotic political situation mean that it plays an important role in such trade. One factor in the expansion of this commerce has been the presence in the Balkans of foreign soldiers, who in 2000 accounted for 80 percent of the profits of brothels in Kosovo and Bosnia.210 Many women are moved across the Albanian border into the coastal tourist areas of Greece. Reportedly, the young women of entire villages in Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Romania have been forcibly moved into this system, many with the promise of reaching Western Europe. Corrupt police in Albania have aided this practice, even escorting women through the country.211 The port of Vlore, characterized as "lawless" in 2001, has been the home port of a large fleet of boats that have smuggled hundreds of thousands of immigrants and tons of drugs across the Adriatic Sea into Italy, and thence into the rest of Western Europe.212

By the end of the last century, the ethnic Albanian cartels were the quintessential middlemen: they had connections with Turkish cartels moving heroin, South Asian Islamic cartels producing heroin, Russian cartels, Chinese cartels... they had connections with ethnic Italian cartels in Europe and in the US, though the Albanian groups were taking market share, sometimes by contracting out for the Cosa Nostra, sometimes by simply muscling in.

One key are of expansion was the use of women for forced prostitution. Thousands of international peacekeepers in the region made for a captive audience with needs that the Albanian cartels would be happy to meet. Women did not remain in the Balkans; they got passed on to Italy, to the Middle East, to any place with a willing buyer. Better than narcotics, which were sold and then consumed, women were essentially "rented", then sold on to new buyers; the fact that a woman had been previously "rented" generally had only marginal impact on her value, so she could be bought, forced to work as a prostitute, then sold to another pimp, with nearly all her earnings as a prostitute being net profits.

Of course, whole people were not the only commodity; the Albanian cartels also trafficked in body parts. From leaked UNMIK documents dated 2003:


Beginning in mid-1999 (and possibly earlier), between 100 and 300 people were abducted and taken by truck and van to detention facilities in or near the northern Albanian towns of Kukes and Tropoje. Most of these people were Serbian men from Kosovo taken captive between June and October 1999. Beginning in August 1999, some of these captives (24-100) were transferred from northern Albania to secondary detention facilities (private homes and rough industrial compounds) in central Albania, mainly near the town of BUrrel (or Burreli), about 110 kilometers southwest of Kukes. Captives were also moved to detention facilities near Peshkopi, about 50 kilometers east of Burrel.

The captives taken to central Albania were again moved, in small groups, to a private house south of Burrel that was set up as a makeshift clinic. There, medical equipment and personnel were used to extract body organs from the captives, who then died. Their remains were buried nearby. The organs were transported to Rinas airport near Tirana (approximately 75 kilometers southwest of Burrel) and flown abroad. Other captives taken to the house/clinic near Burrel included a smaller number of females from Kosovo, Albania and eastern Europe. The last delivery of captives to the house/clinic was reorted in spring or early summer of 2000.

In addition to captives taken to Albania alive, an unknown number of bodies of Serbian civilians killed in Kosovo were transported to Albania and buried in remote locations.

This summary is based on interviews with at least eight sources, all ethnic Albanians from Kosovo or Montenegro who served in the Kosovo Liberation Army. Four sources directly participated in the transport of at least 90 ethnic Serbs and others to detention facilities in northern and central Albania. Of these, three sources delivered captives to the house/clinic south of Burrel, two sources claim to have participated in the disposal of human remains near the house and one source claims to have participated in the delivery of body parts and/or organs to Rinas airport near Tirana. None of the sources witnessed the medical operations.

According to all sources, the transports and surgical procedures were carried out with the knowledge and/or active involvement of mid-level and senior KLA officers as well as doctors from Kosovo and abroad. THe operation was supported by men with links to Albanian secret police operatives of the former government of Salih Berisha.

The report gives a specific location.

Google imagery of the area shows little of interest:

To be sure, not everyone associated with the KLA was involved in all of this, or even knew of it. Of the people who were involved with it, some did what they could to at least not participate, and a few later came forward to tell what they knew - hence, the reports to the international community.

Similarly, most of the people in the Albanian diaspora who contributed money to the cause felt, and with good reason, that they were helping ethnic Albanians defend themselves against Serb excesses. Some heard rumors of alleged illegal activities, but understandably dismissed these as hostile propaganda.

But, at the top, the key players knew what was going on: they controlled a criminal empire, with ties going from the poppy fields in South Asia to the streets of Western Europe and the United States. The value of the heroin trafficking alone was $400 billion, but add in the value of the arms, the women who were forced to work as prostitutes and then sold on to new pimps, and the other contraband, and this was a big criminal empire.

And, a big criminal empire needed political protection - protection which it could afford to buy.

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