Tinker, Traitor, Soldier, Spy

Few things that happen in the Balkans come as a surprise to experienced observers. Certainly, last week’s conviction of the Serbian political, military and security leadership by the Hague Inquisition, for the alleged conspiracy to expel Albanians from Kosovo during NATO’s war of aggression, was as predictable as it was nonsensical. Anyone who did not expect this political instrument of Imperial will masquerading as a "war crimes court" to blame Serbia for NATO’s "humanitarian" bombing was either naïve or stupid – or perhaps both.

Nor was it surprising that the Imperial client regime in Belgrade pretended the ICTY had somehow convicted "individuals" (though they just happened to be the deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, two Army generals and one police general), while the opposition’s reaction stopped at harsh words about the verdict.

What did come as a complete surprise was the March 1 revelation by Los Angeles Times that Jovica Stanisic, former head of the State Security (Drzavna bezbednost, DB) during the 1990s, was a CIA asset.

CIA’s "Main Man"

Someone at the LA Times must have decided that the judgment against the Serbian leadership provided perfect timing for the breaking story by reporter Greg Miller, as Stanisic was also facing the Inquisition. Citing several sources in Belgrade, as well as a couple of retired CIA officers, Miller paints a complex portrait of Stanisic. On one hand, he was a key lever of influence the CIA had in Belgrade – yet at the same time, he supposedly organized "death squads" that committed genocide in Bosnia and Croatia, at Milosevic’s orders.

"For eight years, Stanisic was the CIA’s main man in Belgrade," Miller writes. He "shared details on the inner workings of the Milosevic regime. He provided information on the locations of NATO [sic] hostages, aided CIA operatives in their search for grave sites and helped the agency set up a network of secret bases in Bosnia."

Yet he also "never took payment from the CIA, worked with the agency on operations or took steps that he would have considered a blatant betrayal of his boss."

For all that, says Miller, the CIA has "submitted a classified document to the court [sic] that lists Stanisic’s contributions and attests to his helpful role."

Setting up Himmler

Stanisic was arrested in 2003 by the DOS government, during the martial law in the aftermath of the Djindjic assassination. It just so happened that the Inquisition had a "sealed" indictment prepared against him, and made it public then. Stanisic surrendered to The Hague in June 2003, probably thinking the CIA would protect him.

Yet Miller’s article leaves little room for doubt in the outcome of his trial. It describes the courtroom theatrics of American prosecutor Dermot Groome, who played the infamous execution tape as "proof" that Stanisic, acting on Milosevic’s orders, set up "death squads" such as the Scorpions, and oversaw them as they committed atrocities. Miller’s wording of the allegations presents them as proven facts. Take, for example, this segment from the "timeline" included with the main story:

"June-July 1995: Stanisic orders Scorpions to Serb-controlled territory near Sarajevo. Scorpions capture Muslim men and boys fleeing Srebrenica. Scorpions take six male refugees into woods and execute them, videotaping the killings."

From this detail it ought to be obvious that the fix at The Hague is already in, and that Stanisic’s fate is sealed. Stanisic is clearly painted here as some sort of Serbian Himmler, whose "special units" are a direct analog of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. It is a brazenly transparent reductio ad Hitlerum, but the Inquisitors don’t care. For even though the pro-Imperial media in Serbia have already acknowledged that the unit involved in the videotaped killings was not related to the Special Operations Unit (JSO, the "Red Berets") that Stanisic did establish – in 1996 – when has the Inquisition allowed something so paltry as facts to get in the way of a good verdict?

Another phrase of Miller’s supports this assessment:

"Court officials said it was unclear whether the document would be of significant use to the Stanisic defense, or would come into play mainly in seeking a more lenient sentence if he is convicted."

Spinning the Spy

Also convinced that Stanisic was angling for a lighter sentence was Goran Petrovic, another ex-DB director (under the U.S.-installed DOS regime), who tried to spin Stanisic’s involvement with the CIA as "institutional cooperation" – something quite innocuous, even desirable. In an interview with the Belgrade daily Politika, Petrovic argued that it was "nonsense" to claim Stanisic worked for the CIA out of hatred for Milosevic.

Except if he had actually bothered to read Miller’s piece, he would have surely noticed the part where CIA’s station chief in Bosnia, Doug Smith, claimed that Stanisic "intensely disliked Milosevic. He went off on how awful Milosevic was."

So Petrovic’s claim that "he saw cooperation with this great agency as something useful for the country, and anyone with an ounce of brainpower would have done the same" sounds more like a manufactured justification for what he and his DOS bosses had been doing since 2000.

The Banality of Treason

It is an open secret that Washington was behind the creation of DOS, a rag-tag coalition of opposition parties that claimed victory at the polls in September 2000, and organized riots to oust Milosevic from power on October 5 that year. Not only were DOS activists "trained" in Hungary, at workshops organized by the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy, the coalition was outright funded by the oblivious U.S. taxpayers, sometimes even with "suitcases of cash" carried across the border (see the NY Times article analyzed here).

It was DOS that arrested Milosevic and illegally transported him to The Hague in 2001, and eventually rounded up all the former government officials and likewise sent them to the Inquisition, ostensibly to be tried as "individuals."

DOS officially ceased to exist at the end of 2003, when ex-partner Vojislav Kostunica defeated them in the polls. Just last year, however, Kostunica was ousted from power by the Democratic Party, the mainstay of DOS, now led by Boris Tadic.  In addition to being the party boss, Tadic is also the President of Serbia; and in that capacity he has repeatedly pledged to do "anything" for the Big Brother in Washington.

Stanisic may be the Serbian equivalent of Kim Philby, but compared to the people running Serbia since 2000, he barely registers. Nor is he the first high-ranking official of the Milosevic era to have collaborated with the CIA. Momcilo Perisic, former Army general and later a member of DOS, was working for the Agency since 1997. At that time, he was the Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff. Perisic and his CIA handler were arrested in March 2002.

Now for the most interesting "coincidence": both Stanisic and Perisic were sacked by Milosevic around the same time in 1998, when Serbia was facing a terrorist campaign of the "Kosovo Liberation Army." Could it be that Milosevic fired them because he doubted their loyalty? And could it be that Washington launched the air assault in March 1999 at least in part because the CIA was no longer pulling the strings in Belgrade? Oh, and the fact that Stanisic was working for the CIA totally invalidates the "old maps" excuse used when the Chinese Embassy was bombed during the war.

Sic Semper

If there is one thing the Empire hates more than governments that resist, it’s the governments that collaborate, then change their minds. Just look at the list of U.S. clients who ended up done in by Americans, from Diem in Vietnam to Saddam Hussein. There’s a lesson in this for current client regimes of Washington, of course, but also to those who haven’t yet thrown in their lot with the Empire.

As for Stanisic, he will most likely receive as much gratitude and consideration as the other infamous Serbian collaborator, Biljana Plavsic – that is, none whatsoever. But he will not be condemned as a traitor in Serbia itself, not as long as the current government holds sway.

For there is an old English ditty, attributed to Sir John Harrington (1561-1612) that applies here: "Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.