KLA finances war with heroin sale
By Jerry Seper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Kosovo Liberation Army, which the Clinton administration has embraced and some members of Congress want to arm as part of the NATO bombing campaign, is a terrorist organization that has financed much of its war effort with profits from the sale of heroin.
Recently obtained intelligence documents show that drug agents in five countries, including the United States, believe the KLA has aligned itself with an extensive organized crime network centered in Albania that smuggles heroin and some cocaine to buyers throughout Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States.
The documents tie members of the Albanian Mafia to a drug smuggling cartel based in Kosovo’s provincial capital, Pristina. The cartel is manned by ethic Albanians who are members of the Kosovo National Front, whose armed wing is the KLA. The documents show it is one of the most powerful heroin smuggling organizations in the world, with much of its profits being diverted to the KLA to buy weapons.
The clandestine movement of drugs over a collection of land and sea routes from Turkey through Bulgaria, Greece and Yugoslavia to Western Europe and elsewhere is so frequent and massive that intelligence officials have dubbed the circuit the “Balkan Route.”
Mr. Clinton has committed air power and is considering the use of ground troops to support the Kosovo rebels against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Last week, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, called on the United States to arm the KLA so ethnic Albanians in Kosovo could defend themselves against the Serbs.
Mr. McConnell and Mr. Lieberman introduced a bill that would provide $25 million to equip 10,000 men or 10 battalions with small arms and anti-tank weapons for up to 18 months.
In 1998, the U.S. State Department listed the KLA — formally known as the Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves, or UCK — as an international terrorist organization, saying it had bankrolled its operations with proceeds from the international heroin trade and from loans from known terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
“They were terrorists in 1998 and now, because of politics, they’re freedom fighters,” said one top drug official who asked not to be identified.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in a recent report, said the heroin is smuggled along the Balkan Route in cars, trucks and boats initially to Austria, Germany and Italy, where it is routed to eager buyers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Great Britain. Some of the white powder, the DEA report said, finds its way to the United States.
The DEA report, prepared for the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumer’s Committee (NNICC), said a majority of the heroin seized in Europe is transported over the Balkan Route. It said drug smuggling organizations composed of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians were considered “second only to Turkish gangs as the predominant heroin smugglers along the Balkan Route.” The NNICC is a coalition of federal agencies involved in the war on drugs.
“Kosovo traffickers were noted for their use of violence and for their involvement in international weapons trafficking,” the DEA report said.
A separate DEA document, written last month by U.S. drug agents in Austria, said that while the war in the former Yugoslavia had reduced the drug flow to Western Europe along the Balkan Route, new land routes have opened across Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The report said, however, the diversion appeared to be only temporary.
The DEA estimated that between four and six metric tons of heroin leaves each month from Turkey bound for Western Europe, the bulk of it traveling over the Balkan Route.
A second high-ranking U.S. drug official, who also requested anonymity, said government and police corruption in Kosovo, along with widespread poverty throughout the region, had contributed to an increase in heroin trafficking by the KLA and other ethnic Albanians.
The official said drug smuggling is “out of control” and little is being done by neighboring states to get a handle on it.
“This is the definition of the wild, wild West,” said the official. “The bombing has slowed it down, but has not brought it to a halt. And, eventually, it will pick up where it left off.”
The heroin trade along the Balkan Route has been of concern to several countries:
The Greek representative of Interpol reported in 1998 that Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians were “the primary sources of supply for cocaine and heroin in that country.”
Intelligence officials in France said in a recent report the KLA was among several organizations in southern Europe that had built a vast drug-smuggling network. France’s Geopolitical Observatory of Drugs said in the report that the KLA was a key player in the rapidly expanding drugs-for-arms business and helped transport $2 billion worth of drugs annually into Western Europe.
German drug agents have estimated that $1.5 billion in drug profits is laundered annually by Kosovo smugglers, through as many as 200 private banks or currency-exchange offices. They noted in a recent report that ethnic Albanians had established one of the most prominent drug smuggling organizations in Europe.
Jane’s Intelligence Review estimated in March that drug sales could have netted the KLA profits in the “high tens of millions of dollars.”
The highly regarded British-based journal noted at the time that the KLA had rearmed itself for a spring offensive with the aid of drug money, along with donations from Albanians in Western Europe and the United States.
Several leading intelligence officials said the KLA has, in part, financed its purchase of AK-47s, semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, handguns, grenade launchers, ammunition, artillery shells, explosives, detonators and anti-personnel mines through drug profits — cash laundered through banks in Italy, Germany and Switzerland. They also said KLA rebels have paid for weapons using the heroin itself as currency.
The profits, according to the officials, also have been used to purchase anti-aircraft and anti-armor rockets, along with electronic surveillance equipment.