The Eternal Flame
by Dejan Anastasijevic
How the old state security service, now called Security and Information Agency (BIA), managed to save its structure and cadres after Milošević’s downfall, and how in its efforts to save itself it brought everything else to the edge of disaster.
The commemoration of the third anniversary of 5 October [fall of Milošević] has allowed another date to pass unnoticed. According to the recommendation of the commission investigating the late Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić’s security (otherwise known as the Korać commission), the Serbian ministry of the interior and the BIA were supposed to complete by 7 October their work on establishing the responsibility of those who, by omission or commission, allowed the premier to be assassinated. By failing to meet this date the government showed it had no intention of disturbing these pillars of Milošević’s regime.
This is not a matter of removing a few rotten apples, but of something far more important. Despite solid evidence that nearly all of the fifteen men charged with direct involvement in Đinđić’s assassination were employees or long-standing agents of BIA, and despite clear proof that large sections of BIA were involved in the attempted murder of Vuk Drašković and the actual murders of Ivan Stambolić and Slavko Ćuruvija, there is no sense of a need to do anything to reform the BIA. The sum total of the promised reforms made after 5 October, such as the change in the service’s official name, and its detachment - with a few small changes at the top - from the ministry of the interior, cannot be taken as abjuring the past. We are after all speaking of an organization which for decades served as the favoured instrument of political control and repression, and which under Milošević became fully criminalized. The diagnosis presented here aims not to illuminate dark secrets of the earlier period (there is already plenty of available evidence on this score), but to explain how the Agency survived almost untouched after 5 October 2003 by using the usual instruments from its arsenal: lies, manipulation, blackmail, assassination - all this under the veil of secrecy, in the name of national interest.
In order to understand the story it is necessary to outline the Agency’s structure, which Milošević bequeathed to his successors on stepping down from power. At that time the Agency had 5,000 employees, somewhat less than today, and was organized, as it still is, in ten departments each divided into sectors. On 5 October the Agency was headed by Radomir Marković, whose deputy was Nikola Ćurčić and whose aides were Franko Simatović Frenki, Branko Crni and Miloš Vilotić. There is no need here to concern ourselves with the purpose and composition of all the ten departments; we will concentrate on the most important ones: the First, the Second, the Third and the Tenth.
The First, concerned with counter-intelligence, was headed by a man called Stojanović; the Second, dealing with intelligence, was led by Miša Nikolić; the Third deals with the so-called internal enemies, who in Milošević’s time embraced all the opposition: its head on 5 October was Milan Đurović, whose subsequent career is most interesting. The Tenth has a cryptic name - agency for operations and instruction- and its chief was Radiša Roskić, another interesting personality. The Tenth department is a kind of agency within the agency, having its own structure for surveillance and wiretapping (the others must use the services of the Seventh, the technical department), and its job among other things is the protection of republican officials and members of the diplomatic service, as well as the supervision of the other departments. ’Along with the Third, the Tenth has always been treated as the dirtiest part of the Agency, because thanks to its autonomous status it is used for all sorts of dirty work’, a well-informed source told Vreme. He added that it was the personnel of this Tenth department who were used for surveillance and logistical preparation in connection with the attacks on Drašković, Stambolić and Ćuruvija. Roskić himself was responsible to Nikola Ćuričić, Marković.s deputy. It should be said that the existence of the Tenth department gives the lie to statements made by the BIA bosses that the Agency was not responsible for protecting Đinđić, on the grounds that the Sixth department, which in the old days used to ensure the security of leading politicians, had been taken from the BIA and added to the ministry of the interior. The fact is that counter-intelligence protection, which is more important than security guards, since its job is to warn of and not just prevent assassinations, was and has remained the task of the Tenth department.
Apart from the division into departments, an equally important aspect of the Agency’s organizational structure is the network of horizontal centres, which in Serbia means towns. The most important, of course, is the Belgrade centre, which on 5 October was headed by Milan Radonjić, who was charged with the attempted assassination of Drašković - though later freed. His deputy was Veselin Lečić, later security officer in the Unit for Special Operations (JSO). At the head of the First, the counter-intelligence centre, was Goran Živaljević, now deputy chief of BIA; while his counterpart in the Second was Miša Milićević, now head of BIA. At the head of the Third was Stevan Basta, a witness for the prosecution in the case against Marković, who has admitted that he took part in tailing Drašković on the eve of the assassination attempts on the Ibar road and in Budva.
One must not forget the Red Berets [JSO], the Agency’s striking fist, which supplied the assassins of Drašković and Stambolić. Its head was Milorad Ulemek Luković (Legija), who reported directly to Simatović and Marković. Legija’s deputy Đušan Maričić Gumar has been charged, together with a few of his friends from the same unit, with Stambolić’s murder; his security officer was Milorad Bracanović, who was first arrested and then released during Operation Sabre [following Đinđić’s assassination]. None of the above-mentioned leaders of the BIA, with the exception of Marković and Gumar, ended up in prison, and many of them have been promoted during the past three years.
Whisky, tears and compact discs
Although before 5 October part of the Agency had built bridges to the succeeding government, on the day Milošević fell there was a sense of fear and confusion. ‘We did not know what would happen’, says one of the Agency’s former high officials. ‘Many people failed to turn up for work. In some offices people cried, while in others they drank whisky.’ Some did not waste any time: as early as the morning of 6 October, which was a Friday, Nikola Đuričić gathered together his faithful and presented them all with four-room apartments; the relevant documents back-dated and already deposited in the proper archives. On the Saturday they got down to the more important task of destroying documents that might embarrass the Agency’s bosses and their friends. While Serbia nursed its hangover, the incinerators of the Security Institute were working at full speed - and they continued to do so for another three days. Put to the flame were documents on the surveillance of ‘domestic enemies’, on blackmail and bribes, on ‘friendly cooperation’ (informers), along with so-called ‘packages’ containing raw transcripts and information on individuals not formally under investigation. Vreme sources insist that the number of documents scheduled for destruction was so large that not all could be fed into the ovens, so they had to be burnt in the Institute’s courtyard and the nearby park. For example, a truck loaded with documents weighing some five tons arrived from a smallish town in southern Serbia. The action was quick and systematic: out of all centres in the republic of Serbia, only two small towns in Vojvodina retained complete archives. Great care was taken to protect informers, whose files were kept in the safes of the heads of departments, sectors and centres. The earliest data on the current central register of the Agency’s informers belong to January 2001.
No one will ever know how many documents were burned. Given the new government’s confusion, Marković and his men had plenty of time to cover up their tracks with back-dated orders concerning the ‘regular and planned’ destruction of surplus documentation. As a result, when the new government finally consulted the archives, it appeared that all was in order and that nothing was missing. When, several months later, the ministry of the interior generously allowed citizens under certain conditions to consult their own dossiers, it turned out that with a few exceptions no one in Serbia had been surveyed, bugged or informed on.
Half a century ago Mikhail Bulgakov cleverly noted that ‘manuscripts do not burn’, and he was right. The fact that an enormous proportion of the important documents was burned does not mean that copies were not saved in time and transferred to private archives. There is the interesting case of two compact discs containing sensitive information on Koštunica, Đinđić, Čović and dozen of other prominent oppositionists, illegally copied and taken from the archives. These discs were responsible for the arrest in 2001 of Rade Marković and his close associates Ćurčić, Radonjić and Crni. The case against them was first quashed and then taken to the regional court in Belgrade, where it remains. The proceedings are needless to say closed to the public, and the accused, including Marković, have been released on bail.
The destruction of the documents permitted many of those worried about their future to catch their breath, though not to relax. It was necessary to convince the new government that the Agency was not only loyal to it, but also indispensable. After a brief period of seeming inactivity, the Agency returned to its normal mode and began sending reports to state officials in the same way it had done before. Informal channels were at the same time used to establish particular relations with individual leaders of DOS - and to postpone the formation of the new government. Thus Rade Marković established close ties with Koštunica and Legija with Đinđić, most likely on the basis of a prior agreement. Individual leaders were fed with ‘personal’ information about what other leaders said privately about them, while information based on allegedly non-existent dossiers started to appear in selected tabloids where many of the former employees of the Agency’s former director Jovica Stanišić, dismissed in October 1998, work. One of these is Zoran Mijatović, former head of the Belgrade centre of the republican security service, who subsequently played a crucial role in saving the Agency.
The new leaders were faced at this time also with two simultaneous crises that delayed the formation of the new government and that had to be solved quickly. At the start of November 2000, less than a month after Milošević’s fall, a rebellion broke out at about the same time in practically all Serbian prisons. Many argued at the time that this was not accidental. ‘The rebellions were set off by the heads of the state security service, using the prison governors and their men, with the aim of burning all documents about the prisoners and about outside firms that worked for the prisons. The idea was to destroy evidence of the dirty dealings that took place inside the prisons. At the same time the intention was to portray the new government as incompetent,’ an unnamed source from the ministry of justice told Glas Javnosti (8 November 2000). The fact is that Rade Marković, who toured the prisons in the company of human rights activists, played a key role in calming down the prisoners. Whether he had also played a role in setting them off was never investigated. The other great crisis was the armed [Albanian] rebellion in the south, which also broke out in November 2000. Here too Marković played a crucial role, touring the front in the company of Legija and a whole array of brand-new officials. It naturally turned out that the two were indispensable for calming the situation.
The reform trick
Despite all these problems, DOS managed to form a government on 27 January 2001 headed by Zoran Đinđić. Dušan Mihajlović was made minister of the interior, while Rade Marković was dismissed and imprisoned. The Agency acquired new leaders: Goran Petrović became its head and Zoran Mijatović was appointed his deputy. Little was known of Petrović, except that he came from the relatively uncorrupted Fifth department concerned with analysis. Mijatović was brought out of retirement, from Nedjeljni telegraf. It is said that late premier Đinđić approved these appointment after having asked the two whether they would be able to solve the dark cases from the past, above all the attempted or successful assassinations of Ćuruvija, Drašković and Stambolić, and having received a positive answer.
The Petrović–Mijatović tandem did indeed start to investigate some of these affairs, but without solving any of them. Their true concern was to save the cadres. As a source told Vreme: ‘The idea was to blame everything on Marković and Milošević, so that the rest would appear blameless.’ This involved taking Marković from the Central Prison for a supper with Mihajlović, Petrović and Mijatović, with the idea of persuading him to testify against Milošević. It did not work: Marković not only rejected the offer, but subsequently also denied everything which up to then he had admitted during the investigation. ‘He saw he was dealing with unserious people, and decided to keep his mouth shut.’, our source tells us.
If one looks at the cadre structure during the Petrović-Mijatović period, one can see that there was no serious reform. Most of the old cadres were switched around, but kept at the same or similar posts. For example, Milorad Bracanović, the above-mentioned security officer in the JSO, was made head of the Seventh department responsible for wiretapping; his place in the JSO was taken by Milan Radonjić’s deputy Veselin Lečić. Some of the compromised cadres were transferred from Belgrade to centres in the interior, while others were moved from there to Belgrade. A good illustration of this simulated reform is the correspondence which took place in April 2001 between Vuk Drašković’s lawyer and the Serbian government involving Lečić and Živaljević [see below].
As for the JSO, one should recall minister Mihajlović’s complaint to Nedjeljni telegraf on 22 April 2001: ‘I wish to deny that this unit [the Red Berets, JSO] took part in assassinations, that it was Rade Marković’s death squad. Legija is being victimized because on 5 October he sided with DOS. I wonder whether his crime was to refuse to obey the order to shoot at the people?! Instead of being supported and praised by all democrats, he’s being made a target.’ This was after Legija had amused himself by burning down a disco in Kula. A month later, after a similar incident in the Stupica club, Legija was pensioned off, but not penalized in any way. He proceeded to choose his own targets, one of whom was Zoran Đinđić.
Crises continued into the period of Petrović and Miljatović. In June 2001 Zoran Ristović (Priko), a former member of the JSO, was killed; on 3 August the former member of Arkan’s guard and Agency employee Momir Gavrilović was shot. Both murders remain unexplained. There were also the Perišić affair, the business of the break-in at the Serbian government’s communications office, and to crown it all the final split between Koštunica and Đinđić. The split weakened the government, but not the Agency. Its members now saw their chance to strike back.
Rebellion and Petty Trickery
In November 2001, after the arrest of the Banović brothers and their extradition to The Hague, the JSO staged a rebellion. At the insistence of Legija and his friends, Petrović and Mijatović were relieved of their posts in the Agency, and transferred to the intelligence service of the ministry of foreign affairs. Andrija Savić, who made his career in JUL [Mira Marković’s party], was appointed the new chief, while the above-mentioned Milorad Bracanović, Legija’s close friend, became his deputy. What happened next is well known: murders and hostage-taking became commonplace; the price of heroin dropped to its lowest point; and a war broke out between the Zemun and Surčin mafia clans, culminating in the destruction of the ‘Defense Road’ company in December 2002. Much was written about this during Operation Sabre, when it appeared that the state was determined to break free. But like so many things since 5 October, it was only an illusion.
During this time Savić and Bracanović pretended to be conducting a reform. The service acquired a new name - BIA - and was detached from the police. According to the initial plan, the reform was meant to be completed by 27 July 2002; but this was postponed until January 2003, two months before the assassination of prime minister Đinđić. Under cover of the reform, Savić and Bracanović managed to rid themselves of a large number of uncompromised younger officials, who were replaced by old and trusted cadres from before 5 October. Both were sacked in that same month, but it was too late: after so many rotations, dismissals, retirements and reactivations, it became impossible to separate the chaff from the wheat. In fact, no one is attempting to do this, since the present state of permanent crisis absolutely suits the Agency and its leaders.
During the ten months of their management, the new director Milićević and his deputy Živaljević have been playing the same old game as their predecessors. Called ‘reform and reorganization’, it consists of permanent rotations of the same cadres in order to preserve the Agency’s autonomous status. For example, Radiša Jokić, one of those who shed tears on 5 October, is the current head of the First department. The Second is headed by a close cousin of Public Security chief Sreten Lukić. Miša Nikolić, former deputy of the head of the Belgrade centre, manages the Seventh department (wiretapping). The Tenth department is headed by one Mirko Vujadinović, a cousin of Jovica Stanišić, who excelled in organizing the surveillance of Ivan Stambolić prior to his assassination. He spent the intervening period in the Agency’s office in Savski Venac, an important municipality. The current director of the Belgrade centre is Slaviša Milošević, who headed the First department at the time of Stanišić. And so on.
The report of the Korać commission, which, despite all its weaknesses asked some uncomfortable questions, was the last opportunity to put an end to this petty game of trickery. But nothing happened. Neither the murder of premier Đinđić nor the recent tragedy in Niš has supplied the necessary motivation to recast a service that long ago ceased to serve anything but itself, regardless of the consequences. Countless victims, human and material, have been sacrificed at its altar, and as things stand there will be many more to come.
Rajko Danilović, Dragoljub Todorović and Nikola Barović, the lawyers acting on behalf of Vuk Drašković and the families of Slavko Ćuruvija and Ivan Stambolić, wrote an open letter on 17 April 2001 to the then prime minister Zoran Đindić demanding the following:
‘That the combat unit of the state security service [i.e. JSO] be immediately disbanded, since under and on behalf of the previous regime this unit killed political dissidents and acted as a death squad. The results of the investigation carried out show that members of this state-terrorist organization took part in all the three specified crimes.’
‘That the deputy head of the Belgrade Centre of the state security service (RDB) Veselin Lečić, the head and the deputy head of the Third department Radovan Božović and Steven Basta, the head and the deputy head of the Ninth department Zoran Pavić and Bogdan Tomaš, the inspector for special tasks Goran Živaljević, as well as all members of the Third and Ninth departments of the RDB’s Belgrade Centre who worked in these services in the period between 1 April 1999 and 10 January 2001, be dismissed from their posts; and that the Ninth department of the RDB’s Belgrade Centre be dissolved, it being an organ of the Communist police state and a major instrument of open state terror during Slobodan Milošević’s despotic regime. The named officials and members of the RDB’s Belgrade Centre took a direct part in all the three crimes under consideration, implementing the orders of the individuals who have been arrested and charged with major criminal deeds: the head of the RDB Radomir Marković, his deputy Branko Crni, and the head of the RDB’s Belgrade Centre Milan Radonjić.’
The Serbian government promptly replied with a statement on 18 April 2001:
‘In regard to what provoked the “open letter”, we wish to inform the public that in this case concern is unnecessary. Of the six state officials whose dismissal the authors of the “open letter” propose, five have already been relieved of their duties, i.e. a week after the formation of the government. The authors of the “open letter” could have learned of this by making a telephone call. We are aware of the problems inevitably encountered by radical reforms, but some of these can easily be avoided - for example, by contacting the relevant authorities directly.’
Translated from Vreme (Belgrade), 9 October 2000