The CIA and a Greater Albania: The Origins of the US Role in the Balkans
Introduction: The Missing Link
Why did the US support the separatist and terrorist so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, or UCK in Shqip), which sought to create an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo based on ethnicity? Why did the US sponsor a criminal and illegal separatist movement that sought to ethnically cleanse non-Albanians and create an independent state of Kosova? Why was the US supporting and sponsoring the re-establishment of a fascist-Nazi Greater Albania that Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini had initially created?
When did the US begin to play a role in Kosovo? Did the US role in Kosovo begin with the arming and training of the KLA terrorist group which began a separatist war for the creation of a Greater Albania in 1998? Did the US role in Kosovo begin in 1989 when the Yugoslavian government curtailed Albanian control and domination of the province because Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanians were being murdered and driven out of the province? Did US involvement in Kosovo begin with the death of Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980? Did it begin in 1981 following Albanian riots in Kosovo that sought to create an ethnically pure Albanian Kosova “Republic”?
Did US support for the terrorist KLA emerge sui generis in 1998 as a response to the alleged genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated against Albanians by the Slobodan Milosevic regime? What is the missing link or connection between the Greater Albania created by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and US support for the KLA/UCK?
The recruitment of the former Nazi-fascist members of the Balli Kombetar by the CIA and MI6 in 1948 in order to engineer a regime change in Albania provides the origins and roots for US involvement in Kosovo and the creation of a Greater Albania or Ethnic Albania. The Balli Kombetar had been an ultra-nationalist, right-wing Greater Albania movement that had been created specifically to retain Kosovo as part of a Greater Albania. The issue of Kosovo and a Greater Albania was central to the Balli Kombetar movement. Operation Valuable/Fiend established the US government and CIA connections to the former Nazi/fascist leaders of Greater Albania, the Balli Kombetar, who are the forebears and precursors of the KLA Movement. Operation Valuable/Fiend by the CIA and MI6 provides the missing link between the Greater Albania of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and the Greater Albania created by the US, NATO and EU in the 1990s.
Regime Change in Albania
The first major paramilitary operation by the CIA in the Cold War took place in Albania. The secret CIA operation was conducted in conjunction with British MI6 and was known by the codename Operation Valuable, or as BG/FIEND by the CIA. The operation was conceived by British intelligence to depose the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha. It was one of the first attempts at “regime change” during the Cold War in the “denied areas” or “captive nations”.
There were several reasons why the UK sought to achieve a regime change in Tirana. It was meant as a “rollback” action, to deprive the Soviet Union of a client state. Strategically, Britain sought to deny the USSR naval bases on the Adriatic coast, which threatened British and US control of the Mediterranean. Britain was a naval power and securing sea lanes was of paramount concern. The operation was to consist of inserting UK and US trained commandos into Albania to organize guerrilla groups who would mount a coup that would overthrow Enver Hoxha. For the CIA, it would be “a clinical experiment to see whether large roll-back operations would be feasible elsewhere.”
Direct British and American involvement in Albania and the Balkans began with their support of anti-German and anti-Italian resistance and guerrilla groups during World War II. The goal was to undermine the German and Italian occupations. This necessitated supporting Communist resistance groups. In Albania, the US and UK supported the Communist movement headed by Enver Hoxha. Why did the US and UK support Communist groups which were determined to set-up Communist regimes? The policy was: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Winston Churchill stated that the only criteria of support was whether the guerrillas were killing German soldiers.
During the war, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) had armed and advised Enver Hoxha and his guerrilla forces. Now they were determined to overthrow the very regime they had put into power. The first British SOE liaison officers sent into Albania were Lt. Col. David Smiley and Neil “Billy” McLean. Along with Julian Amery, Alan Hare, Peter Kemp, John Hibberdine, and Tony Neel, they were known as “the musketeers”, who backed the Balli Kombetar. They all were right-wing, upper echelon apparatchiks of the British Empire who disdained any progressive or democratic movement. In their own words, they detested anyone or anything that smacked of “progressive ideas.” It was natural that they were the principal backers of the ultra-nationalist, right-wing Balli Kombetar movement.
Ironically and quixotically, they were forced to arm and support the Communist LNC Movement and Enver Hoxha. This was an absurd result. But the game was all about power. British and American intelligence operations in the Balkans make sense on the rationale that they were based on realpolitik, or power politics. The US and UK objective was to obtain pliant puppets and satellites and stooges in the Balkans. During the war, it was only the Communist forces that were perceived as fighting the German and Italian occupation forces. Part of this misperception was due to Communist sympathizers and double-agents such as H.A.R. “Kim” Philby who consciously and purposefully sought to create this image of the Communist resistance as the only genuine resistance against the Germans. So absurdly the US and UK were forced to support the very Communists that they later would attempt to overthrow through regime change. It was a short-term marriage of convenience necessitated by the fact that the major enemy that the US and UK faced at the time was Germany. It was a matter of priority.
The US even sent aid and weapons to a Communist country. Following the 1948 split between Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslav government requested through CIA channels that the US provide arms to Yugoslavia, fearing an invasion by the USSR. Frank Lindsay, the Office of Policy Co-ordination (OPC) deputy to Frank Wisner, recalled: “Tito was the man for the West to back… We sent him five shiploads of weapons.”
The US and UK were also determined to keep the Communist guerrillas in Greece from taking power. Operation Valuable/Fiend was also a diversionary operation meant to deny bases for Greek Communist insurgents and to divert Soviet or Communist resources away from Greece.
In Italy, the first successful CIA operation was to sabotage the national elections in 1948 where the Communists were favored to win. The US and UK supported “democracy’ only when it meant that anti- or non-Communists would win.
A primary concern for both the British and US governments was the presence of Soviet advisers and potential Soviet naval and submarine bases on the Albanian coast. For Britain, always a colonial and imperialist sea power, securing sea lanes to British colonies, such as India, was paramount. Soviet submarines and destroyers in the Albanian port of Valona threatened British control of the Mediterranean, an important sea route to India, the largest British colony, and to the Suez Canal and the oil of the Middle East. Albania under Hoxha established close ties with the Soviet Union and neighboring Yugoslavia following the war. There were even plans to form a Balkan federation which would have included Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria. Soviet advisers were reported to have arrived in Albania at this time.
Outright military clashes between Albanian and British forces began on October 22, 1946 when two British navy destroyers, Saumarez and Volafge, were damaged by mines in the three-mile-wide Corfu channel. The British destroyers sustained heavy damage while 43 men on board the vessels were killed. Britain retaliated by retaining ten million pounds of gold which the Albanian government had deposited in the Bank of England during the war. In April, 1946, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled against Albania, but the Albanian government refused to accept the judgment. There was unrelenting hostility between Albania and the UK that preceded the launch of Operation Valuable.
British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin approved the MI6 operation to overthrow the Hoxha regime in February, 1949. The chief of MI6, Stewart Menzies, was not enthusiastic about the paramilitary operation but saw it as a way to appease the former SOE “stinks and bangs people.” The Albanian regime change was a rollback operation meant to “detach” Albania, a “captive nation”, from the Soviet bloc. Strategically, the UK and US objective was to establish a strategic presence on the Balkan peninsula. The British wanted the US to finance the operation and to provide bases. Senior British intelligence officer William Hayter, who chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), came to Washington in March with a group of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) members and Foreign Office staff that included Gladwyn Jebb, Earl Jellicoe, and Peter Dwyer of MI6 and a Balkans specialist. They met with Robert Joyce of the US State Department’s Policy and Planning Staff (PPS) and Frank Wisner, who was the head of the Office of Policy Co-ordination (OPC), which was administered by the CIA. Wisner had been an attorney who had represented the financial interests of wealthy Albanian refugees who had been members of the Nazi-fascist collaborative group, the Balli Kombetar. So there had also been a monetary connection between US intelligence and the former Nazi/fascist Albanian Balli Kombetar members.
The strategic goal was to establish a foothold on the Balkan peninsula. Before this could occur, the Soviet-backed Hoxha regime had to be overthrown. According to Wisner, the Albanian operation was to be “a clinical experiment to see whether larger rollback operations would be feasible elsewhere.” Amery revealed that the British planned to recruit Balli Kombetar insurgents in the regime change against the Hoxha government. He outlined his plans for the proposed operation to the military commander of the Balli Kombetar, Abas Ermenji.
On May 20, 1949, Harold Perkins, the director of the Special Operations Branch, Neil McLean and Ermenji flew to Rome to meet with Midhat Frasheri, the wartime leader and founder of the Nazi/fascist Balli Kombetar, to discuss the operation. Frasheri was supportive of the operation. Amery believed that “clandestine operations directed at Hoxha would lead to a major uprising” the success of which would “depend on the million odd Albanians living in the Yugoslav Kosovo region.” So Kosovo was always crucial to the planners and organizers of Operation Valuable/Fiend.
Recruiting Albanian Nazis and Fascists
The recruitment for Operation Valuable/Fiend consisted of 40 per cent from the Balli Kombetar, 40 percent from the monarchist Legalite or Legaliteti, and the rest from other Albanian factions. Midhat Frasheri (1880-1949) was a founder and leader of the Balli Kombetar (National Front). He was a known Nazi and fascist collaborator committed to creating a Greater Albania that would include Kosovo-Metohija. He initially fled to Turkey after the war to escape war crimes charges and prosecution as a Nazi-fascist collaborator, then moved to Italy. He later settled as a refugee in London. He was brought to New York City by the US to lead the émigré Albanians. He died suddenly, however, on October 3, 1949 of a heart attack at the Lexington Hotel in New York.
Frasheri had initially approached the US Ambassador in Rome in 1947 proposing to bring 50 Albanian former pro-Nazi, pro-fascist refugee leaders to the US to allegedly combat Albanian Communist infiltrators in the United States. That same year, the Hoxha regime had made a request to the Italian government that Albanian collaborators and war criminals be extradited to Albania. Many of the Albanian BK leaders were interned in Italian camps at the time. Fearing extradition, Frasheri sought US help.
The plan was initially rejected by the US State Department because many on Frasheri’s list of 50 were on a 1948 publication by the Albanian government which identified them as major Nazi-fascist collaborators and war criminals. The State Department held that it did “not believe it would be appropriate” to allow the BK entry into the US because it would “sooner or later occasion embarrassment to this Government.” These BK members “had collaborated with the Germans and Italians in the war.”
The way the US government got around these restrictions was by creating “private organizations” and “fronts” which would provide “plausible deniability” because official sanction and connections could be concealed. The privatization ploy was effective in organizing former Nazi and fascist war criminals by the US and UK governments during the Cold War. It was part of a larger US government scheme known as Bloodstone which recruited “collaborators” and “war criminals” for covert operations, “émigré liberation projects”. Carmel Offie was one of the major organizers. Hasan Dosti was brought to the US in April, 1949, although he lacked a passport. Dosti was to set up an Albanian National Committee in Exile. On May 12, Robert Joyce obtained a passport for Midhat Frasheri to enter the US based on the rationale that it was in the “national interest”. So Frasheri was granted a US visa, due to the efforts of Robert Joyce, the US State Department liaison with the CIA.
Frasheri brought with him Mustafa Merlika-Kruja, the former fascist premier of Greater Albania from 1941 to 1943 who advocated the genocide of the Kosovo Serbs, Hasan Dosti, a Justice Minister in the fascist regime, and Kosovar Muslim Xhafer Deva, who had been instrumental in the creation of the Nazi Skanderbeg SS Division that systematically murdered Kosovo Serbs and which had rounded up Kosovo Jews who were subsequently murdered in the gas ovens at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Kosovar Deva was directly responsible for the deportation of the Jews and their subsequent deaths. These former Albanian Nazis and fascists established the CIA-financed National Committee for a Free Albania. Among other things, this group recruited Albanian refugees who were sent on failed infiltration missions in Albania. The British double agent Kim Philby oversaw Operation Valuable/Fiend and kept the Soviets and the Hoxha regime apprised of the clandestine operations. Many of these Albanian recruits were captured and tried as spies and imprisoned or executed by the Communist Enver Hoxha regime.
One person’s war criminal is another person’s freedom fighter. This is clearly exemplified by the US and UK position on alleged Albanian war criminals and collaborators such as those of the Balli Kombetar. Enver Hoxha recalled making official requests that Albanian war criminals and collaborators be turned over for trial, but the US and UK refused his requests:
We made official requests to the British and American governments for the extradition of war criminals, not only Albanians, but also Italians and Germans, who had stained their hands with blood in Albania and were now under their jurisdiction. Contrary to the declarations and the joint commitments of the allies during the war and the decisions which were taken later on this question, they turned a deaf ear and did not hand them over to us. On the contrary, they kept the chiefs in luxury hotels, while they trained their ‘fighting men’ in Rome, Munich, London, Athens and elsewhere.
Xhafer Deva, who was from Kosovo, had been the Kosovar Albanian Muslim Minister of the Interior under the Italian fascist-sponsored Greater Albania. Deva lived in the United States after the war. He died in 1978 in Palo Alto, California. Hasan Dosti had been the Minister of Justice in the Italian-sponsored Greater Albania regime. He lived in Los Angeles, California in 1988. Mustafa Merlika-Kruja had been the Albanian premier of Greater Albania from 1941 to 1943. He died in 1958 in New York. Rexhep Mitrovica was an Albanian official in the Nazi German-sponsored Greater Albanian government in July 10, 1944, when Germany had re-occupied Kosovo and Albania..
The number of Jews killed in Greater Albania during the Holocaust is estimated at 591. Albanians played a major role in the Holocaust. Many of the leaders the CIA and MI6 recruited for Operation Valuable/Fiend were directly involved in the murder of the Jews of Greater Albania.
The Balli Kombetar (BK) or National Front was founded and led by the former Albanian diplomat Midhat Frasheri and Abas Ermneji. The BK was set up essentially to retain Kosovo as part of Albania after the war. This was the defining platform of the BK Movement, the annexation of Kosovo. The BK was a right-wing, ultra-nationalist Greater Albania movement, which was anti-monarchist and thus regarded as “republican”. This became a propaganda selling point for the former BK members after the war by their American and British spook handlers/minders. The BK was made up primarily of Tosks with their main area of support in the Valona region of southern Albania. Unlike the Communist National Liberation Movement headed by Enver Hoxha and the Zogist monarchist Legalite Movement headed by Abas Kupi established in November, 1943, the Balli Kombetar was unique in that its platform consisted of retaining Kosovo as part of the Axis-created Greater Albania.
The war-time collaboration of the Balli Kombetar with the German and Italian forces was well-documented. In a December 17, 1943 SOE report, Brig. E.M. “Trotsky” Davies acknowledged that the Balli Kombetar and the Zogist groups “are co-operating with Germans, who are exploiting them with arms in large quantities, setting them to guard main roads, police towns, and lead patrols thus freeing the German troops.” He further noted that the Balli Kombetar had consistently refused to fight the German occupation forces: “I consider the Allies’ attitude should be made public forthwith, showing quislings, traitors and non-resisters to Germans will receive appropriate punitive treatment from the Allies in due course.” The musketeers themselves conceded that the BK nationalist “collaborate with the Germans.” Three weeks after making his report, Davies was ambushed by a pro-Nazi BK group in Albania. Moreover, the German emissary in Tirana had acknowledged that there had been “direct collaboration with the BK.”
In the July 1944 R and A report L38836 by the OSS on Albania entitled “Political and Internal Conditions”, it was stated that “Xhafer Deva, Rexhep Mitrovic and Midhat Frasheri are with the Germans….Anti-semitic measures are being adopted now. A captured SS document “revealed that Deva had been responsible for the deportation of ‘Jews, Communists and partisans’ to extermination camps as well as for punitive raids by the SS Skanderbeg Division. The small mountain territory had few Jews, so relatively few were captured and killed.” Christopher Simpson, in Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and its Effects on the Cold War, noted that relatively few Jews were captured and killed but “not for lack of trying by the Balli Kombetar organization and the Albanian SS” which had orchestrated “a series of anti-semitic purges that rounded up about 800 people, the majority of whom were deported and murdered.” At the Wannsee Conference, the Germans listed only 200 Jews in Albania. Moreover, the Italian occupation was chiefly responsible for the so-called rescue of Albanian Jews by their intervention. Deva was also accused of responsibility for “the Tirana massacre” which occurred on February 4, 1944, carried out by the German Gestapo “in collaboration with the Albanian gendarmerie.” By the summer of 1944, units of the Balli Kombetar were “integrated into the German command.”
When the Germans occupied Kosovo and Albania following the Italian surrender in 1943, they lacked the manpower to control Greater Albania. What the Germans relied on was “political conciliation,” that is, gaining Albanian support for the German occupation by promising them fulfillment of their Greater Albania illusions by ensuring them that Kosovo would be part of a Greater Albania. The Germans appealed “to the type of Albanian nationalist and republican represented in the Balli Kombetar.” The German forces created a Regency Council to govern Greater Albania, which consisted of Lef Nosi, Anton Harapi, and the pre-war Prime Minister Mehdi Frasheri, the brother of Midhat Frasheri, the leader of the BK. The German occupation forces also created an Albanian army which was under the leadership of General Prenk Previsi and a gendarmerie under Xhafer Deva, the Minister of the Interior from Kosovo. The German occupation authorities also sponsored the creation of the Second League of Prizren and put Deva in charge of it as the president. The Germans expanded the Kosovo Albanian four armed battalions in the SS Division Skanderbeg in 1944, which fought against the Communist LNC, the Yugoslav partisans, and systematically murdered Kosovo Serbs and which rounded up Kosovo Jews who were subsequently murdered.
Midhat Frasheri was “the lynchpin” of the plan to send commandos into Albania. The Committee for Free Albania included several collaborators, and alleged war criminals. James McCarger, the first US commander of Operation Fiend, was dissatisfied that Hasan Dosti was part of this group. Dosti had been the Justice Minister of the fascist Italian-sponsored Greater Albania. McCarger stated: “I and several others screamed bloody murder on this. I said, you can’t use somebody with that background, it’s a blot on everybody’s escutcheon.” Dosti was accompanied by “a bevy of Hitler-era stooges” which included the Kosovar Muslim Xhafer Deva “who used the SS Skanderbeg Division in a massacre of Albanian partisans” and to round up Kosovo Jews who were murdered in the concentration camps. There were “voluminous files” in the possession of the US government that documented Deva’s Nazi past. Nevertheless, these objections were dismissed by the US and these former Nazi-fascist Albanian leaders would play a major role in Cold War operations by the CIA. A US intelligence official maintained that Deva was a “pure patriot” and a “person of uncompromising personal honor.” It was held that hiring and training such Nazi collaborators was in the US national interest. There were thus Nazis and there were Nazis. Some former Nazis were of much greater service to the US in the Cold War so their Nazi past was spin doctored away as if by magic.
The National Security Act of July 27, 1947 established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The President Harry Truman Administration created the Central Intelligence Organization (CIA) as the successor to the war-time Office of Special Operations (OSS), which Truman had disbanded in 1945. The CIA was known as the Central Intelligence Group initially when it was headed first by Rear Admiral Sidney Souers and then by Hoyt Vandenberg. Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter headed the CIA from 1947 to 1950, he was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). The CIA was set up specifically as a tool in the Cold War, an independent agency that reported to the President and was overseen by Congressional panels.
In September, 1949, British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin came to Washington to discuss Operation Valuable/Fiend with US government officials. The CIA released a report that concluded that “a purely internal Albanian uprising at this time is not indicated, and, if undertaken, would have little chance of success.” The CIA asserted that the Hoxha regime had a 65,000 man regular army and a security force of 15,000. There were intelligence reports that there were 1,500 Soviet “advisers” and 4,000 “technicians” in Albania helping to train the Albanian army. NATO was concerned that the USSR was building a submarine base at Valona. On September 6, 1949, when NATO met for the first time in Washington, Bevin proposed that “a counter-revolution” be launched in Albania. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson was in agreement. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to use Valona as a potential forward naval base for NATO to establish US control of the Mediterranean. NATO, established as a defensive military alliance of the North Atlantic region, was now committed to launching offensive covert operations against a sovereign nation in the Balkans. NATO member countries agreed to support the overthrow of the Hoxha regime in Albania and to eliminate Soviet influence in the Mediterranean region. Bevin wanted to place King Zog on the throne as the leader of Albania once Hoxha was overthrown.
On October 3, 1949, the first group of 20 Albanian commandos, known as the “pixies’ by SIS, were landed on the Albanian coastline south of Valona, which was the former territory of the Balli Kombetar. This was the start of Operation Valuable/Fiend. The pixies had been brought across the Corfu channel on a British vessel, Stormie Seas. British intelligence officials had trained the Albanians since July on Malta. Albanian government security forces interdicted the commandos, killing four and forcing the others to flee south to Greece.
The US became directly involved in the pixie insertions in 1950. The US recruitment of the OPC commandos was disguised by creating “labor battalions” under US Army command in Germany. Carmel Offie set up Company 400 with the help of Lawrence de Neufville, a CIA “special adviser”. The Albanian recruits were assembled in July, 1950 by Major Caush Ali Bashom, a member of the Balli Kombetar. A Radio Free Albania was set up as well to broadcast CIA propaganda into Albania. In August, 1950, the US air dropped propaganda leaflets over Korca. On November 19, the US airdropped 9 Albanian commandos by parachute drops into Albania. They were either captured or escaped into Yugoslavia. The Sigurimi, the Soviet-trained Albanian secret police, was able to anticipate the landings and to interdict the commandos.<