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Yugoslavia: Dutch Srebrenica Report Reveals Role Of Western Intelligence Services In Bosnian War

  • Alexandra Poolos

Some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in the UN safe haven of Srebrenica in 1995. A five-year investigation into the role of Dutch peacekeepers in the massacre was published earlier this month and quickly triggered the resignation of the entire Dutch government. A major component of the Dutch report focusing on the role of Western intelligence in the Bosnian war has, however, gone relatively unnoticed. Among other findings, the inquiry reveals U.S. involvement in an illegal weapons-smuggling pipeline to Bosnian Muslims and evidence of how better use of intelligence resources might have averted the Srebrenica tragedy.

Prague, 26 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- For five years, Professor Cees Wiebes of Amsterdam University had unrestricted access to Dutch intelligence files. He was granted top security clearance to all records related to the Bosnian war, and high-level military officials were ordered to answer his every question.

Wiebes' research did not stop in the Netherlands. He also conducted hundreds of interviews with current and former Western intelligence officials, including James Woolsey, the former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The result of Wiebes' work was published as part of the report issued two weeks ago by the Netherlands Institute of War Documentation. The report sought to examine the role of a 110-strong force of Dutch peacekeepers deployed to protect the UN safe haven around Srebrenica in 1995. On the Dutch watch, some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were taken from the enclave and massacred by Bosnian Serbs.

Wiebes' research focuses on the role intelligence information played in the massacre and in the Bosnian war in general. His work reveals a variety of intelligence miscues and abuses during the war, from the Dutch contingent's refusal to accept offers of intelligence by other Western countries to the role U.S. covert operations played in supporting illegal weapons smuggling to Bosnian Muslims.

Wiebes told RFE/RL that, in his view, the most shocking finding of his research was the lack of intelligence information used by the Dutch peacekeeping mission in Srebrenica. He said the Dutch had no real intelligence information of their own, but refused to accept help from the United States in monitoring the activities of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica.

"There was an American proposal by the CIA to better [the Dutch] situation in that they asked the Dutch to smuggle into the enclave with Dutch soldiers eavesdropping equipment. The offer was repeated five times by the Americans, but refused over and over again by the Dutch out of fear of being compromised, or with a more or less what you call a 'blue-helmet' mentality, in the sense that the United Nations doesn't do anything regarding intelligence gathering," Wiebes said.

Wiebes said the U.S. help could have allowed the Dutch to have maneuvered into an "excellent information position," with the ability to eavesdrop on Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslim communications. Wiebes said the U.S. also wanted to share satellite and U2 surveillance imagery with the Dutch.

Would this intelligence have allowed Dutch peacekeepers to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica? Wiebes said this question can never be answered. He said it was naive, however, for Dutch peacekeepers to have thought they could maintain security without proper information on the activities of each side.

"If you are in a peacekeeping operation, you need intelligence. What are the warring factions going to do? Is the embargo violated? Do they compromise the cease-fire? This is something which has not been worked out very well. I think in the future the UN or peacekeeping operations should seriously think about this aspect," Wiebes said.

But Wiebes said the United Nations has no unified intelligence strategy for its peacekeeping operations. "The root [of the problem] is in the UN itself, which is not willing or accepting to do anything about intelligence. That's understandable because if you work with intelligence -- the UN is 150-plus nations -- so you're never sure if the intelligence you share with the UN is being compromised or leaked away."

Wiebes' research also examined operations conducted by various secret-service agencies, including the activities of the U.S. Defense Department and CIA. According to Wiebes, the Pentagon maintained secret alliances with Islamist groups and Middle Eastern countries in an effort to assist the Bosnian Muslims. The Pentagon has not commented on Wiebes' findings.

In particular, Wiebes described a weapons pipeline through Croatia, in which countries like Turkey, Iran, and various Islamist factions funneled arms to Bosnian Muslims. Wiebes said the Pentagon, which was responsible for monitoring the UN arms embargo against Bosnia, often rerouted its surveillance aircraft when planes carrying smuggled arms in violation of the UN embargo landed in eastern Bosnia.

"This operation was done mainly by Arab countries and also Turkey. But the Americans were aware of that, but turned a blind eye. For instance, when mysterious flights landed in Tuzla in eastern Bosnia, then you saw that the American AWACS [surveillance planes] on station did not see anything at all. The flights from Iran Air arrived in Zagreb," Wiebes said.

Wiebes' investigation goes a step further and implicates the U.S. in suppressing UN reports about Iran Air flights arriving in Croatia. He also pointed to reports of a fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft allegedly used to carry illegal arms into eastern Bosnia. The planes are American-made.

Richard Aldrich is an intelligence historian at Nottingham University in England. Aldrich told RFE/RL that reports have circulated for years about possible U.S. participation in illegal arms smuggling to Bosnian Muslims. But he said that Wiebes' research is surprising for the "scope and scale" of Pentagon involvement it reveals. "The American contribution to this operation was particularly important because American intelligence was important in enforcing the embargo. It was American AWACS aircraft that were required to police the skies to prevent this thing from going on in order for the UN embargo to stand up. But, of course, that gave the Americans the possibility to 'lift' the embargo whenever they wished," Aldrich said.

Aldrich said other states also flouted the arms embargo. He said Israel, Ukraine, and Greece funneled arms and support to the Bosnian Serbs.

In general, Aldrich said, Wiebes' research includes "remarkable material" on covert operations, signals interception, human agent, and double-crossing in what he calls "one of the dirtiest wars of the new world order."

"It was an intelligence theme park. The Ukrainians are there. The Russians are there. Mossad is there. The Saudis are there. All the European services are there. All sorts of groups that one might regard as freedom-fighter groups or terrorist groups are there. Multiple American agencies are there," Aldrich said.

Aldrich said the broader lessons of the Dutch report show that covert intelligence operations can both defuse and inflame bitter conflicts. He concluded that the major question remaining is whether the UN can supersede the individual motivations of countries involved in conflicts by developing its own intelligence agency for peacekeeping. He called it a "vexing question" with no real answer yet.