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Part II: Investigating an intelligence service in the shadows.
The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, Christopher Dell, declined repeated requests for an interview, as did officials at the State Department in Washington. They also declined to respond to written questions.
Most people who spoke to GlobalPost about SHIK, its activities and its ties to the U.S. government spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to face repercussions.
“It was sponsored by the CIA,” said a former senior U.S. official in Kosovo, who believes that SHIK turned into an organized crime organization. “At the beginning there were about 16 chosen by hand ― trained, equipped and outfitted and doing good things … but what it turned into was a method to maintain control of the crime and the politics in Kosovo.”
The former American official said SHIK was still supported by the United States and is “stronger now than it’s ever been, quite frankly.”
“The U.S. has been involved in training both SHIK and Kosovo’s security structures,” the Western diplomat with knowledge of the region said.
A former SHIK operative who no longer lives in Kosovo confirmed that he had been trained in the United States and Germany by American intelligence officials.
“[Veseli] had direct links with the American and English intelligence,” said Florin Krasniqi, a former KLA fundraiser and now a member of the Kosovo parliament. “Anything Americans and English wants, he gave them, on a plate … Kadri Veseli was financed, supported, supplied by these agencies.”
Veseli was friendly enough with U.S. officials to be invited to at least one, possibly more, Fourth of July barbecue celebrations at the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, according to three sources, including one who saw him at the celebration. Veseli did not dispute that he attended Fourth of July celebrations at the embassy, although he would not directly confirm his presence there.
There is strong indication that American officials knew of the suspicions of SHIK’s alleged involvement in targeting political opponents, even as the United States and other NATO countries were providing support for SHIK.
An intelligence report dated 2004 notes that Thaci associate and former KLA commander Xhavit “Haliti with Kadri ‘SALI’ VESELI, chief of KshiK prepared a ‘Black List’ of moderate politicians who were intimidated by KshiK and PDK supporters.” It is not known who in the American government has seen the report but the well-informed Western diplomat confirmed that officials in Washington had seen the report. (The report is marked “Secret Rel USA KFOR and NATO,” which is standard Pentagon code for “Secret – Releasable to the United States and NATO.” KFOR is the NATO force in Kosovo.)
The same intelligence report states: “KShiK has strong links with a number of Kosovar criminal organisations and derives much of their funding from illegal activity … KShiK also uses intimidation tactics to obtain funding from companies.”
Another intelligence report, this one authored by the German intelligence agency, the BND, in 2005 states, in German: “The SHIK developed its present form in the second half of 1999 in PRISTINA on THACI's initiative. THACI and [former KLA leader and prime minister Ramush] HARADINAJ, among others, used it to recruit suitable candidates for the Kosovar police service and the TMK [the Kosovo Protection Corps, an emergency response force comprised mainly of former KLA soldiers]. In reality, the service is primarily involved in spying activities, intimidation, and physically eliminating democratic forces.”
In accusing Syla and SHIK ― and by implication, Thaci and Veseli ― of complicity in the political murders he has confessed to, Bllaca is striking at the heart of Kosovo’s power structure and reputation. There are no more powerful political figures in Kosovo than Thaci, a close American ally who has been received at the White House and has hosted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pristina.
If Bllaca is convicted, he will likely go to prison for many years. He nevertheless seemed remarkably upbeat. He was clean shaven, had a new haircut and joked with the Italian soldiers guarding him. His motives are hard to fathom.
If he is driven by his guilt at killing a man then his relaxed, quick-wittedness entirely masks a tormented soul. Some analysts have guessed that Bllaca is driven by fear, rather than guilt, and decided that the only way to save his own life was to turn himself in and seek a plea agreement. Indeed, in the interview with GlobalPost, he spoke of a falling-out with SHIK several years ago and how he believes there is now a price of 100,000 euros on his head.
Veseli, one of Bllaca’s targets, believes that Bllaca did kill the man he claims to have killed. But it was not as a member of SHIK, Veseli said.
“Maybe he is now mad,” Veseli said, shrugging his shoulders.