Spies, Lies, and Fear

The Bosnian "Threat" to Empire

Bosnia was in the headlines again this week. On Monday, police from both the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation raided a Wahhabi village in the north of the country. And on Tuesday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair spoke of Bosnia as one of the "principal challenges to stability in Europe" in 2010.

While Blair’s description of the conditions in Bosnia was more or less accurate, he never explained why Bosnia’s inner turmoil is considered a threat to Europe (much less the U.S.). It wouldn’t be the first time Washington or Brussels got Bosnia wrong, of course, but the way Blair’s remarks were reported is nothing short of scandalous. Same can be said about reports of Monday’s raid.

Poor Innocent Jihadists

During the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s, a number of foreign jihadists – veterans of the Afghanistan war as well as new recruits – came to the country to fight for the Bosnian Muslim cause. Western governments that supported the regime in Sarajevo turned a blind eye to this. Still, one of the provisions in the U.S.-drafted peace treaty was that all "foreign fighters" would leave the country. While some jihadists did leave, others – facing charges of terrorism at home – chose to remain. Issued Bosnian citizenship by the grateful Izetbegovic government, they married local women, and settled in villages whose Christian inhabitants were killed or expelled during the war. One such village is Gornja Maoca (formerly Karavlasi), in the north of the country.

For years, Bosnian law enforcement and international intelligence and security outfits have kept an eye on the village, whose inhabitants followed the Wahhabi form of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia. One of the investigations focused on the terrorist recruitment of Muslims living in Europe, and the trail led straight to Maoca.

Of course, official Sarajevo vehemently denies there are any terrorists or terrorist sympathizers in Bosnia. But just a few years ago, one senior American official said that the "international community" was well aware of them, and preferred to leave them be.

Not that anyone who read or saw the coverage of Monday’s Maoca raid in the mainstream Western media (e.g., the BBC) was told of any of this. The raid was simply reported as the biggest police operation since the war, against a "conservative Muslim" village inhabited by "Bosnian" practitioners of Wahhabism.

Creative Paraphrasing

There was exactly zero mention of Islamic terrorists in Bosnia in the portion of Dennis Blair’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Feb. 2. However, "persistent ethnic tensions in Bosnia" apparently present the "biggest challenge to maintaining stability in Europe" (both quotes by AP).

Here is how AP reporter Melissa Eddy presented Blair’s testimony:

"Blair said Bosnian Serbs has been reversing some of the changes included in the accord as part of efforts to seek more autonomy for their ministate. This, Blair said ‘is contributing to growing interethnic tensions.’ At the same time the Bosnian Muslims and Croats want to abolish the country’s division so it can progress toward EU membership, Blair said."

Trouble is, he didn’t.

This day and age, it isn’t hard to locate the actual text of the testimony [.pdf]. Here is the relevant passage:

"I remain concerned about Bosnia’s future stability. While neither widespread violence nor a formal breakup of the state appears imminent, ethnic agendas still dominate the political process and reforms have stalled because of wrangling among the three main ethnic groups. The sides failed to agree on legal changes proposed jointly by the EU and the US at the end of 2009, undercutting efforts to strengthen the central government so that it is capable of taking the country into NATO and the EU. Bosnian Serb leaders seek to reverse some reforms, warn of legal challenges to the authority of the international community, and assert their right to eventually hold a referendum on secession, all of which is contributing to growing interethnic tensions. This dynamic appears likely to continue, as Bosnia’s leaders will harden their positions to appeal to their nationalist constituents ahead of elections this fall."

Notice that Blair didn’t actually mention Muslims or Croats, or their supposed desire to centralize the country in the name of progress. And he certainly did not claim the Serbs were challenging "changes included in the accord" (meaning, presumably, the Dayton Accords that ended the civil war in 1995), but rather "reforms" introduced by foreign viceroys in the years since. These reforms, the Bosnian Serb leadership argues, actually violate the Dayton accords. They may have a point, too.

So, while the AP story actually quotes a phrase Blair did utter, the rest of that passage is a very creative paraphrasing of his remarks, to say the least.

In contrast, a UPI report quoted Blair accurately, and even contained a mention of the Maoca raid. However, its reporter didn’t make a connection to the portion of Blair’s testimony that clearly applies to the residents of the village formerly known as Karavlasi. Speaking of "networks of Islamic extremists in Europe" (p. 10 of the testimony), he said they "represent a continued threat because of their access to fighters and operatives with training in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia; the presence of active facilitation networks in Europe; and European nationals’ relative ease of travel to the United States."

Isn’t Bosnia in Europe, to the point where its internal politics are somehow a threat? Yet there is no mention of Bosnia in the context of Islamic extremism. The omission is simply screaming, "These are not the jihadists you are looking for. Move along!"

This Is Intelligence?

Blair’s description of the messy political predicament in Bosnia is more or less accurate. The belief that a strong central government is the only way Bosnia can enter NATO or the EU is mistaken, but it is actually held both by the Empire and the Bosnian Muslims. Not the Croats, though – they generally desire more autonomy from the Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo. One Croat NGO is even campaigning for a referendum on secession.

But how is this a threat to the EU, or Europe, or the U.S.? If "neither widespread violence nor a formal breakup of the state appears imminent," what seems to be the problem? Complaining about how "ethnic agendas" dominate Bosnian politics is tantamount to bemoaning the wetness of water. Yet no mention is made of militant Wahhabis peddling al-Qaeda recruitment videos, for example.

Similarly, nothing is said of Albanian threats of renewed violence in Kosovo, the occupied Serbian province the U.S. considers an independent country. No, the perceived threat comes from Serbian refusal to recognize the "independence" of its occupied province, or "frequently" turning to Moscow for "political backing and economic support." That makes no sense, unless U.S. spies perceive every failure to unconditionally obey as a threat to the world "order" Washington has sought to impose through the sheer strength of willpower (and bombs). Which, come to think of it, they probably do.

Of course, upon reading the full text of the testimony (some 46 pages) it becomes obvious that the U.S. intelligence community sees threats everywhere – from al-Qaeda to cyberspace, every civil war in Africa, oil and gas pipelines, even "climate change"!

Apparently, being the self-styled sole superpower means constantly living in fear.

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.