Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

NATO Westar Operation Reveals Bosnian Croat Spy Net

NATO's huge haul of spying equipment captured in raids on Bosnian Croat offices, points to a massive surveillance operation targeting the international community and war crimes investigators. Croatia's secret service denies everything.
By Janez Kovac

The Croatian National Intelligence Service (HIS) has rejected SFOR claims that it has been working to sabotage the international effort to rebuild and reunite Bosnia.


In a statement issued last weekend, HIS denied it has been actively working alongside Bosnian Croat agents to undermine the Dayton agreement through clandestine operations targeting the War Crimes Tribunal, the Office of the high representative and SFOR itself.


The charges were made at a dramatic press conference in Sarajevo called by SFOR's deputy commander Lt. Gen. Charles Henry de Monchy, when he made public evidence collected following a raid in west Mostar, headquarters of the Bosnian-Croat leadership.


The material presented to journalist contains evidence of criminal and illegal activities of the Bosnian Croat and Croatian secret services and already represents one of the biggest, if not the biggest spy affairs in Bosnia ever.


Hundreds of NATO soldiers, supported by armored vehicles, helicopters, lawyers and paramedics raided four different office buildings in Mostar on October 14, confiscating truckloads of material, including entire computers, floppies and CDs, documentation and mobile phones. The buildings raided included the local TV station, Erotel.


The operation triggered immediate tensions in the Bosnian Croat-held part of the divided town and saw several hundreds Bosnian Croats gathering on the street to demonstrate against the NATO-led Stabilization Force. One of the demonstrators suffered a broken leg in a brawl with French peacekeepers.


Despite huge media interest, NATO and other western officials kept their lips tight and for more than two months avoided any explanations aside from few terse, generalized statements. "The aim of Operation Westar was to disrupt anti-Dayton activities of the Bosnian Croat secret service, the SNS, and to discover illegal activities of the Croatian National Intelligence Service," according to De Monchy.


Revelations of the "Westar" operation also represent the second biggest blow to Croatian and Bosnian Croat hard-liners since the recent death of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, and threaten to effect chances the ruling Croatian and Bosnian Croat parties will have in the Croatian elections in January and in Bosnian ballot in April.


Talking to reporters in Sarajevo, Lt. Gen. De Monchy said that the four buildings raided were believed to be offices of Bosnian Croat Intelligence Agency, SNS.


During the operation, SFOR confiscated total of 42 computers containing over 200 gigabytes of information, 328 floppy discs, hundreds of compact discs, more than 10,000 documents, sophisticated pirate encryption software, etc. Findings also included CDs with pornography, equipment for counterfeiting of credit cards and mobile phone chips.


According to SFOR, SNS appeared to be selling pornography, false credit cards and phone chips on black market either as an exercise in fund-raising for the agency, or to line the pockets of private individuals. More shocking however was discovery of papers presented to reporters, which appear to document four different intelligence operations, carried out by the SNS in south and central Bosnia.


Main target of the four operations, Grom (Thunder) Munja (Lightning Bolt) Puma and Panther, was the work of international organizations like SFOR, UN, Office of the High Representative and especially the UN War Crimes Tribunal, or ICTY. SNS was also interested in the Bosnian Muslim Intelligence Agency, AID, as well in the work of embassies from some Islamic countries.


The evidence appears to show SNS attempts to spy on and infiltrate these organizations in order to monitor their work. Detailed operation planning, evident from the presented documentation, showed that SNS was monitoring phones, radios and even hotel rooms and offices of some of the international organizations.


In addition, the Bosnian Croat Intelligence Agency was especially targeting and recruiting local Bosnian Croats found working for international organizations, in order to get first-hand information.


The material confiscated included documents, letters and memorandums of understanding signed between SNS and two Croatian secret services, HIS and SOS, which appear to prove that Croatian intelligence agencies have been operating on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


"These activities are of a great concern to SFOR," De Monchy said, underlining that other international organizations were included in SFOR operation and jointly condemn operations interrupted by "Westar" action.


Evidence presented to journalists is only a part of some of the 10 percent of material that was analyzed so far, said De Monchy and stressed that investigation and analysis of discovered material continues.


In relation to possible further revelations, SFOR reserves the right to undertake "further measures" if necessary, NATO officials said giving no details about what "further measures" could include. Meanwhile, that documentation that was already investigated and analysed, has already been presented to local Bosnian authorities who should now initiate legal procedures against responsible persons.


NATO officials have so far refused to explain the extent to which SFOR is involved in intelligence and counter-intelligence operations in Bosnia.


Until now, the usual line put out has been that NATO-led peacekeepers are allowed to undertake all legal actions against forces which obstruct the implementation of the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia.


However shocking, the material so far released by SFOR shows little in the way of evidence that SNS were actively managing disrupting the work of the international organizations tasked with implementation of the Dayton Agreement.


The material points the finger only at passive intelligence gathering and surveillance - something that kind of comes normal for a spy agency. Selling pornography and counterfeiting of credit cards and phone chips fits among criminal activities but also have very little to do with Dayton.


This leads some local and international analysts to believe that the Westar operation was a part of the international strategy, which is aimed against hard-liners and extremists both in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.


While it has never been officially confirmed, developments in the past year showed the international community is definitively taking a tougher and more aggressive approach towards ruling national parties in Croatia and Bosnia, apparently hoping that opposition parties could finally take over the power in the elections scheduled in both countries in the year 2000.


While there has been some speculation about the timing of the revelations, coming two months after the raid itself and yet fast on the heels of President Tudjman's death, SFOR insists that the findings were made public only after a full investigation was made and a proper analysis completed.


However, some informed sources believe NATO and SFOR top brass would have preferred to have said and published nothing, but dealt with it quietly instead. In their own statement, Croatian security chiefs maintain: "Contrary to suggestions made by the deputy Chief Commander of SFOR... the activities of HIS have always been transparent and (have) significantly contributed to the security of peace troops...


"HIS has been delivering and still delivers vital information that is crucial for the security of IFOR, SFOR and NATO in BH." Zagreb maintains that its security service is looking for ways to remove suspicion that it is working to destablise Bosnia and offered to have Croatian top officials meet with SFOR Commander Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Adams to remove all "misunderstandings" caused by Operation Westar.


Janez Kovac is a pseudonym for an independent journalist from Sarajevo.