For many, the war in Bosnia in the 1990s was an event where bane, unthinkable opposites often found symbiosis: journalism and propaganda, fairness and subjective bias, objectivity and selective reportage, spiritual piety and murder of innocents… The aim was to make the version of history Sarajevo’s Muslims, indeed Muslims across the world, were alleging an accepted dogma among the policy makers in the West.
In his new book, Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al Qaeda, and the Rise of Global Jihad, author John Schindler, a veteran intelligence officer for the ultra-secret National Security Agency (NSA), warns of the dangers of half-truths politicians and journalists flaunt about Bosnian war and admits that, had he not been a spy, he would swallow the Bosnian Muslim propaganda without indigestion.
“[L]ike so many others who followed the Balkan conflagration with a mix of horror and attraction, deep down I wanted Sarajevo’s version of the truth to be reality,” writes John Schindler.
With the luxury of being in the front seat of the information flow and a spy himself who gathered the information first hand by traveling to Bosnia on numerous occasions, the author John Schindler challenges established beliefs about Bosnia and warns America of its wanton cheer leading for the claims on history Muslims make: What Afghanistan has been to Al-Qaeda in the 1980s so is Bosnia in the 1990s, a battleground where Jihadists perfected their terror tactics then used them on America on 9/11.
“It is no coincidence,” writes the author “that since the mid-1990s a distressing number of the most wanted terrorists around the globe turned out to have cut their teeth in the Bosnian crucible.”
The two out of the 19 hijackers on the 9/11 airplanes are veterans of the Bosnian Jihad and served as soldiers in the Bosnian Muslim army.
“Disillusioned and embittered by the gross shortcomings of our ‘best and brightest’ and nearly everything they said about Bosnia, I swore to tell the real story someday, when I was free to do so,” says Schindler. “The time is now.”
The risk that John Schindler, the author, now faces is the fate of academics that ventured to challenge the prevailing dogma about Bosnia.
Cees Weibes, for example, has long been shelved as undesirable by the editors of major media houses because of his findings, similar to Schindler’s, that Bosnia may have been a civil war from a perspective of a Westerner but for the Islamic world and Muslims of Bosnia, that war was Jihad, a holy war to spread Islam. By contrast, policy makers write odes about authors like Noel Malcolm whose half-truths about that Bosnian conflict have turned up, among other places, in senile ranting on theories of Statecraft by once sane Margaret Thatcher.
“I took an oath to protect [America’s] secrets to the grave. I am confident that when the U.S. government sees fit to declassify and release its impressively full archive of intelligence about Bosnian war and the Balkan Jihad, decades hence, this account [of his book] will be confirmed and amplified,” writes undaunted Schindler.
Today, John Schindler is a professor of strategy at the Naval War College.
Q: National Security Agency, the NSA, was able to eavesdrop on phone conversations military men like Mladic had in Bosnia. You worked for the NSA. Describe what you did in little more detail then you have in your book?
A: I cannot comment on operational intelligence matters. As I say in my book, I spent the better part of a decade with NSA, working mostly Balkan issues, specifically counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.
Q: Are there any other NSA officers that share similar view as you do on Bosnia?
A: I think it’s safe to say that many, probably most, of the U.S. intelligence professionals who have seen Balkan issues up-close are quite aware of the extent of the Islamist terrorism problem in Bosnia and elsewhere.
Q: Your book has a long inventory of media spin that ignored Bosnian Muslim Jihadi activities which, as you cite, CIA did report to Clinton. Why did Washington deliberately chose to believe media lies instead of evidence of its own CIA spies?
A. Why policymakers choose to ignore the counsel of intelligence agencies is ultimately a question of politics, not espionage. Jim Woolsey, CIA director 1993-1995, has explained that intelligence warnings about Bosnia, specifically the mujahidin, were ignored by the White House. Why that happened, you would have to ask Pres. Clinton and V/Pres. Gore.
Q: Briefly, what did Woolsey report and how has that impacted your analysis?
A: Woolsey’s perspective is covered in my book, but in essence it took a skeptical view of any efforts to find “good guys” in the Bosnian civil war, and was attuned to the mujahidin threat, far more than the policy level was.
Q: Al Gore was convinced that Bosnian Serbs were the enemies of the West so the converse, that Bosnian Muslims are friends, should hold true. Yet 2 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 are veterans of the Bosnian Jihad. What’s wrong with Al Gore and folks he got jobs in the State Department?
A. I think media views of the Bosnian war – carefully packaged by Sarajevo to appeal to Western intellectuals and politicians – had a corrosive effect from the start, and American politicans (mainly but not exclusively Democrats) bought into the SDA view of that civil war, and didn’t bother to ask obvious questions.
Q: What are some examples of the careful packaging?
A: I don’t think it’s coincidental that during the 1992-95 war, the SDA-run government in Sarajevo hired some big-name PR firms in Washington DC, which proved successful at selling the pro-Sarajevo view of the conflict to the U.S. public, particularly via CNN.
Q: Instead of a Muslim-Croat deal, would a Croat-Serb deal in Bosnia, in your opinion, been a better way to end the war in Bosnia?
A. With hindsight, that would appear something worth exploring, particularly considering the Al-Qaida factor; however, I don’t believe this was ever seriously considered by any Washington powers-that-be.
Q: Bosnia Dayton Peace Accords follow similar contours of the demands that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in its official communiqués had been advocating. Did OIC manage Bosnian Jihad in any way, the peace deal, post-Dayton…?
A. The SDA-run government in Sarajevo was certainly in close contact with the OIC, and took a great deal of Saudi money; but I think the U.S. Government, led by Dick Holbrooke, were the real power-drivers of the Dayton Accords.
Q: Your book is clear that Saudi Arabia and Iran split their Jihad activities in Bosnia: Iran sent Jihad men and training, Saudis paid for it. How much in control are these two today?
A. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia maintain an unhealthy influence in Bosnia, though less overtly than in the 1990s. Today it exists mainly through jihadi fronts and cut-outs for Islamic secret services and terrorist groups.
Q: What are the examples of these fronts and cut-outs?
A: Classic examples of jihadi fronts would be things like al-Haramayn, the Saudi High Commission, the International islamic Relief Organization, the Islamic Red Crescent, et al, most of which are (or were) secretly funded by Saudi Arabia or Iran, or both.
Q: What’s the deal behind recent “security” deals Iran has signed with various Balkan countries, including Serbia?
A. This is certainly an issue of concern, and I cannot fathom why any Balkan government would seek security or defense deals with Tehran, given the nature of the Islamic Republic’s leadership and support for terrorism.
Q: What are Teheran’s interests in the Balkans?
A: Iran has consistently sought to increase its influence in Europe, both in radical Islamic circles and more generally. Certainly Bosnia in the 1990s was their epic success.
Q: What strategic gain did West get by occupying Kosovo in addition to Bosnia?
A. Had anyone other than Milosevic been in power in Belgrade, I doubt that Operation Allied Force would have happened. As a result of Milosevic’s deep unpopularity in the West, few Americans or Europeans were willing to listen to Belgrade’s viewpoint, namely that the UCK was a terrorist group deeply enmeshed with drug-dealing and transnational crime, as Kosovo slid into crisis and war in 1998-99. Hence we have enduring Western occupation of Kosovo, which will likely continue indefinitely and which most Western governments – particularly the American, which is badly stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan at present – would happily end if they could without risk of major bloodshed. It is by no means impossible that we will see a second Kosovo war – this time with NATO fighting against the Albanians to protect the Serbs and other minorities. As for strategic gain, I see none, save the fact that defeat in Kosovo did cause the end of the Milosevic regime.
Q: Is there evidence of Iran, Saudi influence in Kosovo as in Bosnia? Is there a strategic danger to have Bosnia and Kosovo, both Islamic, in such uncontrolable proximity?
A: I think it’s safe to say that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have found it tougher to ‘sell’ their radical product in Kosovo than in Bosnia, since while Kosovo has radical Islamic circles, which are a cause for concern, there isn’t a major political party like Bosnia’s SDA, which at its foundation was a coterie of Islamist radicals with long links to the Muslim Brotherhood and other international jihadi groups. The rise of a religiously radical major party in Kosovo would be a very ominous development, but is unlikely at present.
Q: The parallels between Hitler’s Mien Kampf and Izetbegovic’s Islamic Declaration is striking: both are a detailed outline for forthcoming carnage. How original is Izetbegovic’s ideology and why are policymakers driven not to believe these blunt statements of carnige?
A. Izetbegovic’s Islamic Declaration isn’t very original; it’s a collection of recycled Islamist thought, mainly Middle Eastern in origin – the sort of things that most Bosnian members of the Young Muslims believed during the Tito period. Izetbegovic just wrote it down. I cannot understand why Izetbegovic’s writings, which were clearly Islamist in tone and content, have been dismissed for decades, it’s something of a mystery to me, and an unfortunate one.
Q: Is there any reference in Izetbegovic’s work that violence should be the means for Islamization? Did he want to Islamicize the West?
A: Izetbegovic was very careful to write in general terms that did not specifically advocate violence, as that would have gotten him arrested by the Yugoslav secret police (which happened in 1983 anyway). He was always quite circumspect in discussing specifics about his religious-political program, a subterfuge that served him well.
Q: Did the Bosnian Mufti Ceric belong to the organization Young Muslims? What is their degeree of influence? How much connection is there between the clergy and terror in Bosnia?
A: Ceric is too young to have been an actual member of the Young Muslims, but his views are certainly close to Izetbegovic, Sacirbegovic, et al. The original Young Muslims, young men in the 1940s, are now dead or quite elderly. While most of the Islamic clergy in BiH has stayed away from terror, not all have, and one need look no further than Imam Hasan Cengic to see the classic intersection of crime, corruption, and terrorism in Bosnia.