Newsbud Exclusive- The 2016 Balkan Spy War: NATO & CIA on the Offensive

Why Serbia has become the center of the recent spy and covert activities by both Western & Russian intelligence agencies


History has shown that intensive spy and covert activities by intelligence agencies in a given geographic region precede and precipitate dramatic political changes. Often, these changes involve violent confrontations and the wide-spread destruction of lives and property. Ordinary civilians suffer the most, while the external actors who direct spy and covert efforts and whose interests the changes represent profit handsomely. Their geopolitical influence expands while extensive natural and human resources come under their control. Just as they have selected those who started the war, they also select those who make the peace. Frequently, these are the same people.

This scenario was played out quite clearly in the wars following the Yugoslav break-up in the 1990s. Those who were in charge in the warring republics during the descent into chaos also led the newly-independent states for years after the fighting was over. This was done with the blessings of the Western political leadership and intelligence community.

The cynical guiding idea was that these leaders, old as they were, would soon die in one way or another (the ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milošević died in the Hague prison under suspicious circumstances), and would be replaced by more pliable, younger individuals.

In contrast, the interests of the vast majority of the Balkan peoples were hardly taken into consideration by the Western elites and spymasters. By selecting, supporting, and directing those at the top of the Balkan political pyramid, they thought that the rest could be kept quiescent and obedient by the propaganda-entertainment complex, and that the rhetoric of democracy and the rule of law (which nowhere exist in reality) would do the trick politically.

And perhaps they would have succeeded in this strategy, had they been more patient and not so arrogant in demanding immediate gratification. They brutally pushed for rapid NATO expansion and for setting up the U.S.-NATO military installations in the Balkans. This led to the war over Kosovo which now, 17 years after the NATO attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is still seething with unresolved political tensions.

Not even all NATO member states recognize Kosovo's independence and when the leaders of Kosovo Albanians visit NATO headquarters, there are no political functions written next to their names.[1] It is surprising that the opponents of NATO have not more extensively utilized and amplified this political contradiction within NATO itself.

In any case, out of all the ex-Yugoslav states, it is only Serbia that has officially codified the policy of stayed out of NATO. This is why Serbia has become the center of the recent spy and covert activities by both Western and Russian intelligence agencies. In other words, Serbia represents the most prominent frontline in what I call the 2016 Balkan spy war.

Spies, Spies Everywhere

It all started in earnest in early September 2016. The Belgrade media reported that the Serbian Security Information Agency (BIA) arrested a person who was suspected of being an agent of the Croatian Military Security Agency (VSOA).[2] His name was Čedo Čolović and he was a retired officer of the military of Republika Srpska Krajina, the ex-Serbian enclave within Croatia. Republika Srpska Krajina was de facto independent from 1992 until Summer 1995 when it was destroyed by the Croatian army, heavily assisted by the U.S.-NATO military and intelligence structures, and tens of thousands of Serbian civilians were violently expelled from Croatia.

The news reports alleged that Čolović worked for the Croatian intelligence in order to avoid being indicted for war crimes commiteed during Republika Srpska Krajina's existence. To save himself, he appears to have sold out his friends and colleagues. His spying activities led to at least nine ex-officers being charged for war crimes by the Croatian courts. Soon after the arrest, Čolović confessed that he was indeed a spy and was promptly convicted of espionage by the Belgrade High Court and sentenced to three years of imprisonment.[3]

What strikes the eye immediately in this case are two things. First, Čolović was arrested by the Serbian civilian intelligence agency, even though he dealt with the issues of military nature and Serbia also has the military intelligence agency called the Military Information Agency (VOA). One wonders what the VOA leadership and personnel were doing and why they were not the ones discovering and arresting Čolović. This definitely looks like a serious professional failure. In addition, it substantiates rumors that the Serbian military is closer to the U.S.-NATO military and intelligence community than the Serbian public is led to believe by the official narrative.

That there are some serious issues within the VOA is also proven by the fact that just a month after Čolović's arrest the chief of VOA, general Slavoljub Dabić, went into retirement, and was replaced by his deputy, colonel Zoran Stojković.[4] There are also indications that Stojković is only a transitional figure. This may signal that the pro-NATO forces within the Serbian military are losing out.

The second interesting issue concerning the Čolović case is the lightness of his sentence. In which country of the world would one get only three years of jail time for the espionage that appears to have compromized nine people and lasted for years? Obviously, something else is at issue here. No doubt Čolović agreed to spill the beans on everything he knew about his employer, the Croatian Military Security Agency (VSOA).

When we know that the VSOA is a NATO member intelligence agency and has worked in close cooperation with the Pentagon and the CIA for two decades (and is in fact their forward anti-Russian intelligence shield in the Balkans), the secrets that Čolović told the Serbian intelligence could be significant indeed. Hence he got only three years, instead of a life sentence, which is the typical sanction for the spies who have been caught red-handed, such as, for instance, the KGB-SVR mole within the CIA, Aldrich Ames.

The CIA Exposed

It could be that the information provided by Čolović soon led to a more significant arrest. On October 15, 2016, the same Serbian intelligence agency (BIA) which arrested Čolović also put behind the bars a high-level official from the Serbian Ministry of Interior alleging that he had been passing on confidential and secret information to the CIA operatives in Belgrade. This official, whose name has not yet been released publicly, is charged for spying on the Serbian minister of interior Nebojša Stefanović and for reporting on the movements and activities of the Serbian police forces.[5] It appears that he was arrested in a public park after he delivered a set of documents to his CIA handler.

It is very likely that this official is only one among several individuals involved in the same ring of CIA informants and this is probably why his name has been withheld. Therefore, one should not be surprised by additional arrests in the coming weeks and months. This will obviously depend on whether the Serbian and the U.S. goverment come to some sort of mutually acceptable compromise on many issues that divide them, of which the most significant and the least likely to be resolved any time soon is the issue of Kosovo indepedence. However, the issue of the Serbian goverment's refusal to impose sanctions on Russia is also not far down on the same list.

The U.S. Embassy in Serbia and the ambassador Kyle R. Scott declined to comment on the arrest and the allegations of spying.[6] This is the standard operating procedure in cases like this. I also expect that the U.S. intelligence officer who handled the arrested Serb official has already left the country.

The whole situation, however, was soon complicated by the political events in the neighboring Montenegro.

The Montenegro Election Day “Surprise”

Montenegro held parliamentary elections on Sunday, October 16, 2016. In several earlier articles, I have extensively chronicled the corrupt and criminal nature of the Montenegrin government led by the prime minister Milo Djukanović.[7] I have also written on Djukanović's status as one of the key players in the network of the U.S.-controlled leaders in East-Central Europe. This is why it was to be expected that the Western intelligence community would do all it can to make sure that its willing puppet Djukanović and his political party remain in power for another four years.

Considering that objective public opinions polls were showing extensive popular discontent with the status quo and that several strong and credible options were available in the political opposition, Djukanović and his mentors had to come up with something “extraordinary” in order to put pressure on the undecided voters either to stay home or to vote for him. This had to be done in addition to the already established ways of rigging the election through the faulty voter registration lists and more or less blatant voters' bribery.

In accordance to this plan, in the early afternoon on the election day, while the voting was in full swing, the police (under the control of Djukanović) announced that they arrested a group of 20 people under suspicion that they were planning a violent takeover of the Parliament building and the arrest of Djukanović himself.[8] At the same time, the software applications Viber and WhatsUp, which many Montenegrins use for daily communication, were blocked. As a result of the climate of fear and uncertainty thus created, the voter turnout fell sharply and this severely limited the chances of the opposition's winning the election. In the end, the opposition fell 2 seats short of the necessary parliamentary majority, thus enabling Djukanović's chosen sucessor to begin the talks on setting up a new government.

Obviously, the whole idea that a group of 20 people, including women and underage individuals, could accomplish what was described by Djukanović's supporters as “a coup d'etat” was ridiculous. The fact that this was an unmistakeable covert operation conducted by Montenegrin intelligence operatives in cooperation with one or more NATO intelligence agencies was soon exposed when most of those arrested were let out of prison without being charged for anything and those few that remained, including the alleged leader of the group Bratislav Dikić, a retired police general and former chief of the Serbian gendarmes, turned out to have a history of friendly relations with the Montenegrin authorities.[9]

In addition, Djukanović immediately sought to cement his shaky and shady electoral victory by accusing the Russian military intelligence agency (GRU) of planning, organizing, and trying to execute the supposed coup. This is exactly what his NATO intelligence mentors wanted: to keep him in power, while taking yet another propaganda shot at the supposedly aggressive and dangerous Russian behavior in Europe. Of course, the subservient Western mass media was there on hand to spread Djukanović's blatantly false conspiracy claims far and wide. The British newspaper Guardian, for  instance, was in the forefront of this propaganda blitz.[10]

The "Foreign Factor" and Nikolai Patrushev

The Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, who shares with Djukanović some of the same covert links with NATO intelligence community, though for the sake of popular support in Serbia he has to pretend otherwise, also played a role in supporting Djukanović's narrative. He stated that there were indeed some “elements of a foreign factor” involved in assisting logistically and financially the group arrested by the Montenegrin police on the election day who all entered Montenegro from Serbia and were Serbian citizens.[11]

The U.S.-NATO controlled media network in Serbia, consisting of the daily newspaper “Danas” and news agencies BETA and B92, with links to the Russian liberal newspaper “Kommersant,” immediately launched the story that, as the punishment for the involvement in the “coup attempt” in Montenegro, Serbia expelled five Russian spies.[12] This story was immediately denied by the Russian government as "a pure invention."[13] However, to make it believable to the general public in Serbia, these U.S.-NATO funded outlets claimed that Nikolai Patrushev, the former FSB chief (1999-2008), who succeeded Vladimir Putin in this position, and is now the secretary of the Russian National Security Council, and who was visiting Serbia at this time, came with the express purpose of freeing the spies.

The story does not hold water because Patrushev's visit, just like any visit of a high-level official of one state to another, was planned much in advance.[14] In my opinion, Patrushev came to Serbia as a replacement for the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, whose October visit was announced months ago, but was then suddenly canceled. The cancellation of Medvedev's trip may have to do with the current power struggle within the Kremlin in which Medvedev's liberal, technocratic faction is losing out and may even mean that Putin is considering Patrushev for the prime minister's position. There is nothing in Patrushev's visit that points to the Montenegrin elections and the alleged Russian involvement there.

However, this is not to say that Patrushev did not discuss important intelligence issues with his Serbian hosts. He proposed that the two countries negotiate a special agreement on national security and other matters that, as he stated, Russia has only with its closest partners, the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.[15] There is no doubt that the conversations with the Serbian leadership also included the status of the Serbian-Russian "humanitarian" center in the southern Serbian city of Niš, which some Western observers consider a possible cover for the Russian military presence in the Balkans.[16] As witnessed by the articles in the U.S. public relations/propaganda media outlets in Europe, such as the Voice of America and Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, this visit caused quite a stir in the Western intelligence community and may have precipitated the mysterious event that happened just two days after Patrushev left.[17]

The Assassination Attempt?

According to the official narrative, on Saturday, October 29, 2016, a person walking in the woods one hundred yards from the Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić's family home in the Belgrade periphery of Jajinci stumbled upon a hidden arsenal of weapons, which included a portable anti-tank Yugoslav-produced weapon "Zolja" (Wasp) and four bombs.[18] The weapons were found not far from the narrow road that Vučić had to take to get to his home. Soon afterwards, the police also located a car which was seen near Vučić's home on the same day with more weapons and even explosives hidden inside. All evidence indicated that Serbia itself was now the object of a covert intelligence operation just as was the case with Montenegro two weeks earlier. In my opinion, the intelligence signature was the same as well.

Obviously, this is a serious matter. Serbia has had a history of high-level political assassinations, the latest being the assassination of the prime minister Zoran Djindjić in March 2003. Independent researchers have linked all these assassinations, even those that happened more than 100 years ago, such as the assassination of the Serbian king Aleksandar Obrenović and his wife Draga, to the activities of the Western intelligence agencies aiming to impose their own geopolitical agenda on Serbia and the wider Balkan space. There is no reason to expect anything different in this case.

The police investigation is still ongoing. There are traces pointing to various criminal networks, but, as in all cases of this nature, criminals are just the executors (and patsies) and the key question is who the planners, organizers, and financiers are. It is reasonable to conclude that they are the ones who are not happy with the present Serbian foreign policy course.

This is not to say that Vučić is not secretly committed to the U.S.-NATO geopolitical agenda as I have argued earlier when I discussed his close political ties to Djukanović. I think that this is precisely why the weapons and explosives were "discovered" before they could cause any real damage.

However, this could also be a warning to Vučić that he is not doing enough to advance the Atlanticist project, that he needs to do much more even if it goes against the interests of the Serbian people, or the "outcome" might be different. Perhaps it is only his speedy acceptance of Patrushev's offer that can save him from becoming the first high-level casualty of the 2016 Balkan spy war.

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Dr. Filip Kovacevic, Newsbud Analyst & commentator, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at







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