Leader of Serb death squads ‘was top CIA agent’
SERBIA: Gabriel Ronay
Sunday Herald (Scotland)
March 22, 2009
THE LATE President Milosevic’s secret police chief and organiser of Serb death
squads during the genocidal ethnic cleansing of disintegrating Yugoslavia was
the United States’ top CIA agent in Belgrade, according to the independent Belgrade
The claim that from 1992 until the end of the decade, Jovica Stanisic, head
of Serbia’s murderous DB Secret Police, was regularly informing his CIA handlers
of the thinking in Milosevic’s inner circle has shocked the region.
Stanisic is said to have loyally served his two masters for eight years. He
is facing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
In the terrifying years of Yugoslavia’s internecine wars, he acted as the willing
“muscle” behind Milosevic’s genocidal campaigns in Croatia, Kosovo
and Bosnia, including Sebrenica.
According to the charges he faces, Stanisic was “part of a joint criminal
enterprise that included former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and other
Dermot Groome, The Hague’s chief prosecutor, has specifically accused him of
sending in the Serb Scorpion and Red Beret death squads into the states seeking
independence from Belgrade. Stanisic has pleaded not guilty.
Like in a Cold War spy thriller, Serbia’s secret police chief met his CIA handlers
in safe houses, parks and boats on the river Sava to betray his master’s action
plans. He provided, it is claimed, information on the whereabouts of Nato hostages,
aided CIA operatives in their search for Muslim mass graves and helped the US
set up secret bases in Bosnia to monitor the implementation of the 1995 Dayton
This has raised awkward questions for Washington. With Stanisic providing chapter
and verse of the genocidal slaughter of Croats, Bosnians and Albanians from
the early 1990s, should President Clinton have cut a deal with Milosevic at
Dayton, Ohio, ending the Bosnian war on such equitable terms for the Serbs?
Or, using Stanisic’s evidence, should the Americans not have unmasked Milosevic
and Radovan Karadzic, the then head of Republika Srpska, as genocidal war criminals
and demanded their surrender?
From his prison cell at The Hague, Stanisic countered the charges facing him
with an aide memoir portraying himself as “a person who had sought to moderate
Milosevic and had done a great deal to moderate the crisis”.
In an unusual move, the CIA has submitted classified documents to the court
that confirm Stanisic’s “undercover operative role in helping to bring
peace to the region and aiding the agency’s work. He helped defuse some of the
most explosive actions of the Bosnian war.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, William Lofgren, his original CIA
recruiter and handler, now retired, said: “Stanisic provided valuable information
from Milosevic’s inner circle. But he never took money from the CIA, worked
with the agency on operations or took steps that he would have considered a
blatant betrayal of his boss.”
Thus the judges at The Hague are having to judge a man who allegedly sent the
Scorpion death squads to Srebrenica to “deal” with men and boys fleeing
the UN-protected Muslim enclave, while working with the CIA trying to end Milosevic’s
The way the CIA apparently viewed their Belgrade “asset” is revealed
in an interview with Balkan Insight, a little known south-east European publication.
The emerging picture is a quaint reflection from a hall of mirrors. Greg Miller
of the Los Angeles Times, writing about the links between the CIA and the Serb
secret police chief, is quoted as saying: “As I said in the LAT story,
the CIA do not see Stanisic as a choirboy. When you talk to people who work
in espionage, this is often the case.
“Because of the nature of that job, of that assignment, they are working
with people who do not have unblemished records, it would be difficult for them
to be effective if they only worked with people who had unblemished records.
“People in Belgrade who have been following the career of Jovica Stanisic
would say that this was a guy who was an expert in his field; he was a highly-trained
and highly-effective spy. His motivation may have been that he wanted to know
what the United States was up to.
“He did not believe that Milosevic was taking the country in the right
direction – so he wanted to influence events. He saw himself as an important
guy who could pull strings behind the scenes to make things happen in Belgrade.”
Stanisic apparently did so on his own terms, while trying to remain a loyal
Serb. He did not succeed.
Now he is having to account for his actions as Milosevic’s loyal lieutenant
at The Hague.
Stanisic Case ‘A Classic Espionage Tale’
03 March 2009
by Branka Trivic
Journalist Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times speaks to Balkan Insight about
the “classic espionage tale” of how the trusted chief of Slobodan
Milosevic’s intelligence service, Jovica Stanisic, was in fact working with
the CIA in the 1990s.
Miller’s story in the LA Times made headlines in Serbia and the Balkans.
He got a lead into the story from intelligence sources in Washington, who told
him that the CIA submitted confidential documents in Stanisic’s war crimes trial
in The Hague listing Stanisic’s contributions and attesting to his “helpful
Miller says that the CIA got involved not because they want the charges against
Stanisic dropped, but because they “are interested in having a fuller
account of Stanisic’s role presented, because they regard the case against
him at ICTY not necessarily as inaccurate but as incomplete.”
“As I said in the story, they did not see Stanisic as a choirboy,”
Miller told Balkan Insight.
“When you talk to people who work in espionage, this is often the case.
Because of the nature of that job, of that assignment, they are working with
people who don’t have unblemished records, it would be difficult for them
to be effective if they only worked with people who had unblemished records.”
“People in Belgrade who have been following the career of Jovica Stanisic
would say that this was a guy who was an expert in his field; he was a highly
trained and highly effective spy,” Miller said. “I think his motivation
may have been that he wanted to know what the United States was up to, he didn’t
believe that Milosevic was taking the country in the right direction —
so he wanted to influence events. I think he saw himself as an important guy
who could pull strings behind the scenes to make things happen in Belgrade.”
Miller said that “in 1993, at CIA prodding”, Stanisic “pressured
Ratko Mladic to briefly stop the shelling of Sarajevo. He later went on to work
with the CIA trying to locate and help rescue NATO troops in Bosnia who had
been taken hostage in 1995. He was trying to influence the people inside the
Milosevic regime. He became something of a conduit to the United States, which
obviously did not have good relationships with the government in Belgrade. At
times they would make their case to Stanisic, they would issue warnings to him,
they would say: if your government continued to do this, then this is how we
are going to respond. And he would work inside the government in Belgrade to
try to make sure that it didn’t happen. He became, as somebody put it
to me, a sort of an action agent — somebody who was willing to listen
to the warnings of the West and work inside his own government to try to influence
the outcome, so that the crisis could be contained.”
Miller said Stanisic “was providing information about what was happening
inside the government there at the time when the United States was desperate
for that information” but had also “established certain boundaries.”
“He was never what you would call a CIA asset, he was never a paid agent
of the CIA He never accepted assignments from the CIA. He was involved in sharing
information with the Agency, but he kept it on his terms. I think it’s
safe to say that he was not in agreement with Milosevic and that there was always
conflict between these two people, but at the same time he was a loyal Serb.
I don’t think he wanted ever to betray his country or his government.”
His case was very complicated, and everything was in shades of gray, Miller
“That’s sort of a classic tale of espionage.”
Miller said retired CIA operatives had on occasion visited Stanisic in hospital
in The Hague “but it’s not like … they are communicating with
him every day or even every week”, but rather more of a relationship with
“somebody from their past that they keep in touch with.”
“He was never completely an agent for them, he was never a paid asset,
so the idea that they (CIA) would somehow tried to give him a new identity and
whisked him to safety may not have occurred to them,” Miller said. “And
I don’t know whether they anticipated that he was going to find himself
in this much trouble. I mean it was five years after he was fired by Milosevic
before he was finally indicted and sent to the Hague, so I am not sure that
they thought that this would ever happen. I don’t know that Jovica Stanisic
thought that this was going to happen to him”
Source URL: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/17102/
Serbian spy’s trial lifts cloak on his CIA alliance
As Milosevic’s intelligence chief, Jovica Stanisic is accused of setting up
genocidal death squads. But as a valuable source for the CIA, an agency veteran
says, he also ‘did a whole lot of good.’
By Greg Miller
March 1, 2009
Reporting from Belgrade, Serbia — At night, when the lawns are empty and
the lamps along the walking paths are the only source of light, Topcider Park
on the outskirts of Belgrade is a perfect meeting place for spies.
FOR THE RECORD: Timeline
of the Jovica Stanisic case
War crimes: An article March 1 in Section A about Serbian war crimes defendant
Jovica Stanisic reported that prosecutor Dermot Groome said that Stanisic’s
actions to help the CIA and counter Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic underscored
his power. Groome was not commenting on the relationship between Stanisic
and the CIA, but on Stanisic’s efforts to save lives during the war. Also,
the article said that Georgetown is in Virginia. It is a Washington, D.C.,
It was here in 1992, as the former Yugoslavia was erupting in ethnic violence,
that a wary CIA agent made his way toward the park’s gazebo and shook hands
with a Serbian intelligence officer.
Jovica Stanisic had a cold gaze and a sinister reputation. He was the intelligence
chief for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and regarded by many as the
brains of a regime that gave the world a chilling new term: “ethnic cleansing.”
But the CIA officer, William Lofgren, needed help. The agency was all but blind
after Yugoslavia shattered into civil war. Fighting had broken out in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Milosevic was seen as a menace to European security, and the CIA was desperate
to get intelligence from inside the turmoil.
So on that midnight stroll, the two spies carved out a clandestine relationship
that remained undisclosed: For eight years, Stanisic was the CIA’s main man
in Belgrade. During secret meetings in boats and safe houses along the Sava
River, he shared details on the inner workings of the Milosevic regime. He provided
information on the locations of NATO hostages, aided CIA operatives in their
search for grave sites and helped the agency set up a network of secret bases
At the same time, Stanisic was setting up death squads for Milosevic that carried
out a genocidal campaign, according to prosecutors at the International Criminal
Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which was established by the U.N. Security
Council in 1993 to try those responsible for serious human rights violations
in the Balkan wars.
Now facing a trial at The Hague that could send him to prison for life, Stanisic
has called in a marker with his American allies. In an exceedingly rare move,
the CIA has submitted a classified document to the court that lists Stanisic’s
contributions and attests to his helpful role. The document remains sealed,
but its contents were described by sources to The Times.
The CIA’s Lofgren, now retired, said the agency drafted the document to show
“that this allegedly evil person did a whole lot of good.” Lofgren,
however, doesn’t claim to disprove the allegations against Stanisic.
“But setting the indictment aside,” he said, “there are things
this man did that helped bring hostilities to an end and establish peace in
Through his attorney, Stanisic, 58, declined to comment, citing the tribunal’s
ban on communications with the media. But Stanisic has pleaded not guilty, and
denies any role in creating the squads or even being aware of the crimes they
The CIA’s effort puts it in the unusual position of serving as something of
a character witness for a war crimes defendant. The agency declined to comment
on the document. Because its contents are classified, the letter could be considered
by the court only in closed session. 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.
Prosecution dubious of Stanisic claims
This account is based on dozens of interviews with current and former officials
of U.S. and Serbian intelligence agencies, as well as documents obtained or
viewed by The Times. Among them are official records of the Serbian intelligence
service, and a seven-page account of that bloody period that Stanisic wrote
while in prison in The Hague.
In that memo, Stanisic portrays himself as someone who sought to moderate Milosevic,
and who worked extensively with the CIA to contain the crisis.
“I institutionalized cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community
in spite of the notoriously bad relations between our two countries,” Stanisic
writes. That collaboration, he continues, “contributed significantly to
the de-escalation of the conflict.”
The chief prosecutor, Dermot Groome, says that Stanisic’s actions to help the
CIA and counter Milosevic only underscore the power he had. In his opening argument,
Groome said that the “ability to save lives is tragically the very same
authority and the very same ability that [Stanisic] used . . . to take lives.”
Belgrade still bears the scars of war. Bombed-out buildings are scattered across
the Serbian capital, including a charred concrete structure on Knez Milos Street
that used to be the headquarters for Serbia’s State Security Service.
Stanisic used to occupy the corner office on the top floor. In his prime, he
was in charge of 2,000 employees. He wore dark suits and sunglasses, a Balkan
James Bond. His nickname was “Ledeni,” Serbian for “icy.”
Stanisic joined the Yugoslav service in 1975, when the country was still under
the communist rule of Josip Broz Tito. He was never regarded as an ideologue
or rabid nationalist. But he had a rare aptitude for espionage.
“Stanisic was not an ordinary intelligence officer,” said Dobrica
Cosic, a writer and former dissident who was president of Serbia in 1992 and
1993. “He is an intellectual, not a radical policeman. He was educated
and skilled, and he knew how to organize that service.”
Because of those skills, Milosevic made Stanisic his top spy, despite long-standing
distrust between the two.
Milosevic had come to power by exploiting Serbian nationalistic fervor and
religious animosity. He cast himself as the Serbs’ protector, a posture that
resonated powerfully with people who still mark the day their ancestors were
defeated by Ottoman Turks, who were mostly Muslim, in the 14th century.
In 1991, as ethnic violence escalated, Milosevic ordered the creation of secret
paramilitary units, with names like Red Berets and Scorpions, that would roam
the Balkans. They wore unmarked uniforms, were led by thugs and committed some
of the worst atrocities of the war.
As the trial got underway last year, Groome showed photos of Stanisic posing
with members of the special units. He played audio of intercepted communications
in which Stanisic appears to refer to the units as his “boys.”
At one point, Groome introduced a videotape showing images of Muslim men and
boys — their hands bound with wire — being led into the woods and shot, one
by one, by members of the Scorpions.
“Jovica Stanisic established these units,” said Groome, an American
lawyer. And Stanisic made sure “they had everything that they needed, including
a license to clear the land of unwanted people, a license to commit murder.”
CIA saw no evidence of war crimes
Former members of the State Security Service dispute those allegations. “We
were doing our jobs, according to the law,” said Vlado Dragicevic, who
served for years as Stanisic’s deputy. “We never committed acts of genocide.
On the contrary, we were trying to stop that.”
CIA officers who served in the region said that they had assumed Stanisic was
no choirboy, but they never saw evidence that he was involved in war crimes.
Instead, they viewed him as a key ally in a situation spinning rapidly out of
From early on, Stanisic was eager to cement his relationship with the CIA.
At one of his meetings with Lofgren, he turned over a sheaf of documents, including
diagrams of bomb shelters and other structures that Serbian companies had built
in Iraq for Saddam Hussein.
But Stanisic also drew boundaries. He 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.
Over time, Stanisic sought to move his relationship with the agency out of
the shadows. Well after his secret meetings had started, Stanisic persuaded
Milosevic to let him open contacts with the CIA as a back channel to the West.
The midnight meetings in the park gave way to daylight sessions in Stanisic’s
The two spies shared a dark sense of humor. Lofgren liked to wander over to
the window, aim his phone at the sky and joke that he was getting GPS coordinates
for a missile strike.
In the letter to The Hague, submitted in 2004, the CIA describes Stanisic’s
efforts to defuse some of the most explosive events of the Bosnian war.
In spring 1993, at CIA prodding, Stanisic pressured Ratko Mladic, military
commander of the breakaway Serb republic in Bosnia, to briefly stop the shelling
Two years later, Stanisic helped secure the release of 388 North Atlantic Treaty
Organization troops who had been taken hostage, stripped of their uniforms and
strapped to trees as human shields against NATO bombing runs. In his own written
account, Stanisic said he negotiated the release “with the support of agency
That same year, Stanisic tried to intervene when French pilots were shot down
and taken captive. Mladic “refused to admit that he was holding the pilots,”
Stanisic wrote. But “my service managed to discover the circumstances and
location of their captivity,” and shared the information with the CIA and
By then, the Clinton administration was engaged in an all-out diplomatic push
to end the war. Stanisic accompanied Milosevic to Dayton, Ohio, for peace talks,
then returned to Serbia to carry out key pieces of the accord.
It was left to Stanisic to get the president of Bosnia’s Serb republic, Radovan
Karadzic, to sign a document pledging to leave office. And Stanisic helped the
CIA establish a network of bases in Bosnia to monitor the cease-fire.
Doug Smith, the CIA’s station chief in Bosnia, recalled meeting with Stanisic
and a group of disgusted Bosnian Serb officials in Belgrade. As Stanisic instructed
them to cooperate with the CIA, Smith said, the assembled guests “shifted
uneasily in their seats.”
Smith began meeting with Stanisic regularly, including once on a boat on the
Sava. In typically dramatic fashion, Stanisic arrived late at the docks.
“He emerged out of the darkness with bodyguards” and spent much of
the evening talking about his boss, Smith said. “He intensely disliked
Milosevic. He went off on how awful Milosevic was — dishonest and crooked.”
Asked whether Stanisic was capable of committing war crimes, Smith replied,
“I think he would do as little bad as he could.”
At the time, CIA Director John M. Deutch was trying to clean up the agency’s
image by cracking down on contacts with human rights violators. Years later,
the “Deutch rules” were cited as a reason the agency hadn’t done better
penetrating groups such as Al Qaeda.
But Deutch had no problems with Stanisic. He invited the Serbian to CIA headquarters
in 1996, and an itinerary of the visit indicates that Stanisic got a warm welcome.
The Serbian spy chief was taken to hear jazz at the Blues Alley club in Georgetown
and driven to Maryland’s eastern shore for a bird hunt. Deutch even presented
Stanisic with a 1937 Parker shotgun, a classic weapon admired by collectors.
Deutch, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, declined
Stanisic’s expanding ties to the CIA became a source of friction with Milosevic,
who worried that his top spy was plotting against him. In 1998, Stanisic was
The ensuing years were chaotic. After a new campaign of violence against Kosovo,
Milosevic was forced from office in 2000, arrested the next year and taken to
The Hague, where he went on trial for war crimes and died of a heart attack
in 2006. A series of political assassinations occurred amid suspicion that Stanisic
was somehow still pulling the strings.
When Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic — who had sent Milosevic to The
Hague — was assassinated in 2003, Stanisic was arrested and detained for three
months. Then, without explanation, he too was sent to The Hague.
For the last five years, Stanisic has gone back and forth between Belgrade
and the detention center in the Netherlands. His trial was postponed last year
to allow him to return to Belgrade for treatment of an acute intestinal disorder
that according to court records had caused substantial blood loss. If Stanisic’s
health stabilizes, his trial is expected to resume this year.
Stanisic is still seen in Belgrade from time to time, occasionally greeted
by well-wishers. But much of his life has crumbled. He is divorced from his
wife, estranged from his children and spends alternating weeks in the hospital.
“The last time I saw him, he was connected to tubes,” said Dragicevic,
Stanisic’s longtime deputy.
Sometimes Stanisic is in good spirits and talks of prevailing in his case.
But most of the time, Dragicevic said, “he looks like a person who has
“The person who was in charge of so many things, the person who was so
very important and well-known, is now a very lonely one.”