Capital Tirana
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 355
Mobile Codes 66,67,68,69
ccTLD .al
Currency Lek (1EUR = 138ALL)
Land Area 28,748 sq km
Population 2.98 million
Language Albanian
Major Religion Sunni and Bektashi Islam, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity

Spy Book Reveals Operational Details of 1998 CIA Balkan Counter-Terrorism Operation

A Special Report by Director Chris Deliso in Skopje

Buried deep within a comprehensive history of the CIA’s technical wizardry from the Cold War through to today’s war on terrorism are some intriguing, but overlooked disclosures: previously unknown details regarding a sensitive CIA clandestine operation against Islamic terrorists in the Balkans.

Although the country’s name is not specified in the book, an analysis of available data within the larger historical context indicates beyond doubt that the operation occurred in Tirana, Albania in October 1998, in a joint effort with a CIA station in Western Europe, and probably the one in Rome.

The story becomes even more pertinent today considering the ongoing upheaval in Egypt against the longtime government of President Mubarak, and mass escapes of Islamists imprisoned by him. The prominent CIA role in some of those detainments could conceivably provide a motivating factor for future terrorism against American interests. In any case, the implosion of the Mubarak regime means that decades of sensitive intelligence cooperation could be undone, should the country’s security services be infiltrated by hostile parties.

During the 1990s, Albania became a safe-haven for members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda. Their members – some of them fugitives wanted by the Mubarak regime – were drawn to Albania for its proximity to Europe, weak institutions, and the existing presence of a large Islamic charity network which could provide them with “legitimate cover.” Albania thus represented a place of perceived escape; however, the CIA also came to have concerns that American interests in the country were about to be targeted as well- hence the need for an urgent operation.

This CIA Balkan operation is recounted in a fascinating and highly-recommended recent book, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs, from Communism to Al Qaeda (Plume, 2009). It details for the first time how the obscure but effective Office of Technical Services evolved, becoming a vital part of the US intelligence apparatus, with its ever-expanding array of unorthodox spy gear, technology and reconnaissance teams. For the authors, former OTS director Robert Wallace and noted intelligence historian H. Keith Melton, it took several years and much administrative wrangling in order to get permission from the agency to publish this insider’s account of what went on behind the scenes.

While the vast majority of Spycraft is devoted to other matters, the anecdotes concerning Albania make fascinating supplementary reading for those interested in the Balkans, counter-terrorism and understanding the covert tactics of terrorist organizations. The following analysis discusses the revelations that come from the book in both historical context and in terms of the value that can be derived, for pure intelligence understanding, from the episode. Finally, a chronology of key events happening before and after the CIA operation is provided.

Setting the Stage: Key Context for the Operation

The CIA anti-terrorism operation chronicled in Spycraft was just one among many others conducted in Albania since 1995, when several foreign terrorist suspects were arrested and secretly rendered out of the country. These actions had ultimately been necessitated by the reckless and opportunistic policy of the Albanian government in the early 1990s, when then-President Sali Berisha allowed foreign Islamic radicals to establish a foothold in the country, under the tacit support of the then-intelligence chief Bashkim Gazidede. (Following the March 1997 riots and the toppling of Berisha’s government, Gazidede fled to Syria and then Turkey; he returned to Albania several years later and died of natural causes in 2008).

The first round of joint operations occurred in 1995, however, when the Berisha administration was still in power. At the time, the CIA cooperation with a special branch of the SHIK that had been set up to deal with Islamic terrorists infiltrated into the country. A SHIK officer involved at the time, Astrit Nasufi, would years later tell the Chicago Tribune that the unit was essentially run by a US intelligence officer they knew simply as “Mike.”

Among several important developments was the detainment and (temporary) recruitment of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian living in Tirana. Commonly known as Abu Omar, this man would in 2003 be kidnapped off a street in Milan by a CIA team- an audacious abduction caused an outcry among the Italian public, legal threats and, possibly, ruined a surveillance operation that was being conducted by the Italians.

Before apparently leaving Albania and discontinuing his cooperation with the SHIK, Abu Omar provided a few precious bits of intelligence. These included information on Egyptian Islamic Jihad figures in Tirana, and terrorist branches in the UK, Germany, and Italy; in the latter, most significant was Milan’s Islamic Cultural Institute, at the time a base for mujahedin operations in Bosnia. (Soon after these revelations, Italian police raided the premises).

The second major round of CIA-SHIK operations occurred in 1998, a year after the country had descended into anarchy following the collapse of crooked pyramid schemes. The Berisha government was toppled and the rival Socialists took power in July 1997. At the same time, tensions between ethnic Albanians and the government in neighboring Yugoslavia were being felt, as a new militant group – the “Kosovo Liberation Army” – stepped up its operations. The Albanian diaspora in America and elsewhere intensified lobbying efforts, eventually winning the support of diplomatic figures such as Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, and diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

However, the intelligence community was more skeptical. For example, an October 1998 report from the Office of the DCI Interagency Balkan Task Force noted that “…US mass media propaganda vociferously attacked Milosevic and Serbs… [is] so blatant that it evoked letters to the editor from uninvolved readers for the obviously slanted coverage”.

For the CIA, politics was secondary to the business of providing security. In June and July 1998, several months before the operation documented in Spycraft, two raids on foreign extremists were conducted with the help of the SHIK and Albanian police. According to a subsequent Washington Post investigation of August 12, 1998, these raids netted “…a bag of faked documents and official Albanian government stamps needed to get past customs and police checkpoints [and] certify legal documents” at the home of a foreign “religious scholar,” Maged Mostafa. For the CIA, a prime security danger in Albania had always involved forgery and misappropriation of official identity documents, and these developments only reinforced this understanding.

The Post article noted that several suspects arrested in June and July 1998 were employed by Islamic charities associated under an umbrella network, bankrolled by the Kuwait Joint Relief Committee. Funded by private Kuwaiti citizens and interests through a Kuwaiti bank, the KJRC managed several charities including the Islamic Revival Foundation, which ostensibly aided “poor Muslim families and orphans in Albania.”

Headquartered in Tirana, it had established a strong presence in 1994. Since that year it had been led by Muhamed Hasan, one of the men arrested in the July 1998 operations. In late 1998, then-intelligence chief Fatos Klosi would attest for media that Osama bin Laden himself had visited Albania to organize his charity network in 1994.

Following the arrests, Muhammed Abdul-Kereem, director of the IRF’s orphan assistance program, stated for the media that “we are not taking advantage of the humanitarian assistance to make some other things.” After Hasan was detained, he was replaced at the IRF by Sudanese national Ibrahim Meki, who had “directed the [charity’s] educational institute for several years.” This institute was described in the August report as comprising four buildings “…surrounded by a high wall topped with barbed wire, [with] a sign on its guardhouse stating that only five cars are allowed to pass the gate, including four listed as holding Kuwaiti diplomatic license plates.”

In 2008, Meki (in his same job capacity) would be expelled from Albania, along with Egyptian national Abdulaziz Muhamed, director of a charity called Goodness of Kuwait, and Mamun Awad, director of the Islamic Vakf Society. Taken together, this would seem clear proof that together with bin Laden, Kuwaiti groups during the 1990s and at least until 2008 have directly sponsored extremist activities in Albania.

Further, for the Post report in August 1998, the institute’s general secretary, Sulejman Kurani, attested that its teaching staff hailed from Sudan, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, adding that $80,000 had been donated by the charity to help “refugees” in the northern town of Tropoje- “a town that also is a key locus of arms stockpiling and smuggling by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the guerrilla group fighting to win Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic,” according to the newspaper. This mountainous region was (and is) the stronghold of Sali Berisha, then leader of the opposition Democratic Party.

However, when in July “euphoric” SHIK agents told the local press that the CIA had been involved in the terrorist round-up, al-Qaeda and its supporters were enraged. Several of the men had been rendered to Egypt, where they were reportedly tortured by the authorities. On August 5, a statement co-signed by al-Qaeda promised retaliation for the Albania raids. Two days later, terrorists attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring over 5,000.

On August 20, President Clinton launched symbolic missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan. However, while those attacks had occurred in Africa and been masterminded from Azerbaijan, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad’s perceived desire to attack American and other embassies returned the CIA’s attention to Albania, where after the attacks embassy staff had been relocated to a compound outside Tirana.

Soon thereafter, another SHIK operation resulted in the detention of one man believed to be planning an attack on the embassy; however, another one escaped. This is when the present story begins.

Planning the Operation: Ingenuity, Assessment and a Bit of Luck

Planning for a detailed operation to find and apprehend the second plotter began in the days immediately after the bombings, when a high-level CIA team visited Tirana to liaise with the SHIK. Despite the significant results achieved in previous operations, the CIA knew that the entire terrorist network established in Albania had not yet been uprooted, and that the operative at large could pose a future threat. However, to make sure nothing went wrong, and to limit further damaging exposure, they would have to come up with a foolproof plan that would disguise Agency involvement.

The exciting account given in Spycraft (pages 343-347) regarding how the CIA team planned its October 1998 Albania operation combines a little bit of everything: deception and stratagems, technical artistry, the use of covert devices, game-planning for various scenarios and so on. Almost ironically, in planning and the unexpected result, it is bookended by the use of two very different concealment devices.

Crucially, the narrative is enlivened with the first-hand testimony of the former OTS officer who led the technical preparations, Brian Mint. The testimony he provided to the authors indicates a combination of factors. First was a situational assessment, and analysis of the psychology and motivations of the at-large suspect, believed to be “a primary al-Qaeda forger who specialized in altered travel documents.” The OTS technical team became involved when wiretapped communications indicated contacts between the suspect and known terrorist cells “in Western Europe.”

The individual (who had apparently gone underground after the capture of his comrade) was married to a local woman, who claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts when asked by police. For the CIA, this man was a valuable target, as his capture “…could produce a wealth of intelligence through the identification of the alias identities of other al-Qaeda operatives along with exemplars of their passports, driver’s licenses, and other travel documents.” Indeed, as the authors recount, “finding the other terrorist became an obsession for the handful of case officers and techs.”

Since the Tirana terrorist underground, and the charities that sustained it had been so severely damaged by police actions since 1995, the CIA officers knew that accessing cash would be a problem for the fugitive. The intercepted communications revealed that al-Qaeda was using “a female cutout” (that is, a courier or go-between). This woman was identified and, in order to find the suspect, the CIA team needed to find a way to follow her in order to locate him.

The idea of combining technology with concealment via public mail was a risky but potentially brilliant method of gaining access to the fugitive without arousing suspicion. “According to Spycraft, “…the concept involved implanting a tracking device as well as an audio transmitter in a package sent to the cutout who could reasonably be expected to deliver it to the target.”

Brian Mint, overseeing the mission, was more skeptical that it could work than was the (unnamed) case officer, who enthused, “we know [the suspect] needs money… he’s gotten funds from Western Europe before and he’s looking for more. You put money in some package with tracking and audio devices and we can get him.”

Despite the inherent challenges, the case officer’s idea prevailed, and a team of technical experts was hastily assembled. While the CIA had long experience in creating myriad unique secret devices over the years, this one required a particularly ingenious design, in that it had to be a “double concealment” object. That is, the device sent through the mail would have to appear innocent enough to pass through the mail, and have not one but two secret cavities- one for the money that they hoped the terrorist would find, and the other for the electronic tracking equipment that they hoped he wouldn’t.

Acquiring and Modifying the Device

The next step, according to the book account, came when a technical officer “was dispatched to look for suitable concealment hosts.” The CIA team believed that “European tourist trinkets” would offer the best option, “since an inexpensive ‘gift’ would not be alerting to customs officials or others handling the item during transit.” Further, the intended recipient “would likely assume the gift was more than it appeared based on its point of origin.”

Thus, although it is not stated in the book, it seems clear that this phase of the operation involved dispatching the technical officer to the Western European city from where the item would need to be mailed- and to find something appropriately touristy to match that place.

The account given in Spycraft does not indicate how much time elapsed between the brain-storming sessions that planned the operation and this subsequent field research. It should not have required more than a few days however. The point of origin where the object was acquired can be deduced both by the 1995 revelations of Abu Omar, about the existence of affiliated terrorist cells in Italy, Germany and the UK, and by the description given of it in Spycraft: a wooden wall plaque with a metallic plate, engraved in outline with the image of an Italian cathedral and words reading ‘Saint Susanna.’ Considering that the ancient Church of Santa Susanna is one of the most famous in Rome, it is highly likely that this plaque was acquired and mailed from that city to Tirana.

However, before this souvenir could be sent, it had to be modified by the techs. After carefully removing the metal faceplate, they carved out a cavity in the center of the plaque “large enough to hold small-denomination bills worth several thousand dollars.” A special note scrawled in Arabic was added, telling the intended recipient “brother we are with you. Hopefully this will get you by until we’re able to contact you again.” Refastening the plaque with a strong adhesive, that could nevertheless be removed with some twisting, the techs then carved out the final touch- “a second compartment at the edge of the plaque large enough for electronics and batteries for two weeks of continuous transmissions.”

Sending and Receiving the Device

This two weeks of battery life was an issue of paramount importance; sent through the regular mail, the package could take as much as a week to arrive in Albania (that is, if it did not first arouse suspicion of postal workers or customs officials on either end, or simply get lost). The team would have to hope for the best- and, that the package would be almost immediately brought to the suspect’s location, otherwise the batteries could die and all their effort be for naught.

The note in Arabic had been necessary, in order to avoid arousing suspicion from the receiving party. But the team also sought to enhance the perception of legitimacy by mailing the device in a package “with labeling to give it the appearance of originating with the European terrorist cell, reads Spycraft. Since terrorist cells quite sensibly do not advertise themselves as such, it seems likely that the authors are hinting that the “labeling” referred to here pointed to an Islamic charity or other front company which would not arouse outside suspicion, but which would be known to the recipient for what it was.

This would mean that the CIA had not only identified the terrorist entity in question (again, probably based in Rome), but that they had either acquired some of its stationery or had been able to acquire an example of it to work from in order to create a reasonable forgery.

And, of course, in order for the whole mission to work at all, the team would have had to assume that the recipient in Albania would be unaware that the apparently sending organization had been compromised to such an extent. (Note that the book does not mention who personally delivered the package to the post office, or if that was an area of concern during the planning stage).

After the package had been sent, the OTS team got to work in Tirana, preparing its specially-equipped vehicles with audio tracking and surveillance equipment devices. All they could do was wait for the pieces of the plan to fall into place; as team leader Mint recalled, “all we knew was the address of the person we thought was the cutout… if that assumption was wrong, the operation ended. Further, we didn’t know if we would be able to keep our van with the audio receiver within the transmitting distance of the bug. We did what we could and hoped for the best.”

The CIA team enjoyed good luck. The package made it safely through the mails, and arrived at the address of the woman who was correctly identified as being the al-Qaeda courier. After being observed opening the package, she “read the Arabic-language note, and fifteen-minutes later, with the package tucked under her arm, began walking across town.”

The Operation Unfolds

At this point, the dual-concealment device tracking operation took on cinematic dimensions. The suspicious courier, not tipped off to anything untowards but still wary, was observed undertaking a “basic surveillance detection run,” states Spycraft. Making various stops, backtracking on certain streets, “she boarded a bus that took her into one part of town, changed buses, and headed to a different section.” However, the surveillance team – said to have been “unobtrusively” following behind – kept track of the courier with the package and “was eventually led to a neighborhood known for a militant Islamic presence.”

There, the woman disappeared into a two-story home behind a walled compound. A short while later, she came out again- this time without the package. What the authors describe as “local security” – most likely, Albanian police units – established a 360-degree perimeter “while the techs set up a listening post in a nearby house within range of the transmitter.”

This last detail is especially interested, though not explained further in Spycraft. Since an American covert surveillance team laden down with sensitive electronics cannot just walk into a private home in a foreign country (not to mention, at the exact moment it becomes operationally necessary to do so), it seems that the Albanian intelligence service must have previously selected a technical safe house in this “rough neighborhood.” It also means that they had somehow kept it from being discovered by local radicals. And thus the structure would likely have also possessed a back entrance or some similarly low-key area for the team to get in without incurring visibility and suspicion.

At the same time that the technical staff began picking up chatter from “several people” opening and discussing the package, an assault team of local police was assembled. The surveillance team then picked up scratching sounds from the plaque’s metal facing being removed; “the techs and case officers wanted to cheer as the concealment passed its first test. The target has recognized that the souvenir was more than it appeared and found the cavity concealing the money.” The team kept listening throughout the afternoon and into evening. And then something went wrong.

The Police Assault- and a Final Concealment Revealed

Stating that “the terrorist’s voice suddenly became agitated and his wife sounded emotional,” Spycraft explains that the technical officers surmised the suspect had detected surveillance on the perimeter while planning to leave the house. However this reason is not definitively claimed. There is also no mention of what happened with the “several” people – assumedly, more than two – initially described). “Then the techs heard the distinctive sound of a weapon being cleared and a round chambered.”

With this stark warning in mind, the Albanian special police prepared for an after-dark assault. After dark, and with the house gone absolutely silent, they stormed the building, concentrating on the second-floor apartment where they believed the suspect to be hiding.

However, a quarter-hour search revealed nothing, and the OTS time was stymied. “Either he managed to slip through the security around the house or he was still in there, hiding somewhere,” recalled team leader Brian Mint, who authorized a continued search. Yet after another hour, the police had found nothing, and the suspect’s wife claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts.

Believing that the operation had come to an end, the CIA officers entered the building to at least retrieve their concealment device, which “they found opened underneath the bed of the second-floor apartment.” It is not stated whether the suspect had discovered the second concealment cavity with the tracking device- if so, this would have clearly been the reason for his agitation a few hours previously, in which case the Albanian perimeter security officers would not have been the reason for the second change in the suspect’s demeanor and decision to arm himself.

Yet just as the OTS team was preparing to leave, “pistol shots and burst from automatic weapons fire came from the kitchen, followed by loud noises.” Apparently, the assault commander had returned to the apartment kitchen for a final look: “either curiosity or policeman’s instinct prompted him to move a small washing machine from against the wall. As he struggled with the surprisingly heavy appliance, a cavity between the back of the machine and the wall was exposed.”

The action then reached its final crescendo: “at that moment the armed terrorist, who had been hiding inside the washing machine, fired a single shot that hit the commander in the chest. Another nearby officer returned fire, recounts the book. “The terrorist rolled out of the machine and continued to shoot until he was killed with a burst of automatic fire from the assault team.”

The final strange irony of the account given in Spycraft concerns that the unfortunate terrorist had himself long been aware of the existence and use of concealment devices- the authors add:

“Closer inspection revealed that the working elements of the washing machine had been removed to create a hiding place just large enough for one person. Access to the concealment was obtained by removing the loosely attached tin backing and crawling through to the cavity.”

The operation was thus concluded, and was considered a success. Unlike during the disastrously publicized operations of a few months earlier, reads Spycraft, “press reports the following day made no mention of the Agency’s operational or technical role in the action, though the assault team along with the wounded commander, received deserved accolades. The OTS techs were satisfied to have played an unpublicized role in removing another terrorist from the seemingly endless war.”

The Concealment Operation: Final Assessments and Thoughts

There are several lessons that can be drawn from an assessment of this operation, relevant for both historians and intelligence practitioners. A study of both what actually did happen – and what could have happened differently – is instructive in our understanding of both disciplines.

For historians, the major conclusion that can be drawn from the account given in Spycraft is that Islamic radical networks present in Albania in the late 1990’s were highly organized, employed professional means of evading surveillance, and were well-armed. Their heightened levels of suspicion – justified after years of being hunted by police – were nevertheless not completely foolproof.

Another important point is that the Albanian police and intelligence services were enthusiastic and cooperative with the CIA in attempting to rid their country of the terrorist scourge. That they were capable of assisting with the operation, maintain secrecy, follow the courier, and execute the operation was quite an achievement, considering that the SHIK had been essentially reconstructed and retrained for barely over a year, at the time. It is also quite remarkable considering the considerable distraction presented by preparations for an imminent NATO intervention in Kosovo, and the concomitant preparations for Islamic charities to bring hundreds of new people into the country from all 1998 onwards.

For intelligence practitioners, every facet of the operation – from conception to conclusion – is relevant. First, the operational leader had to be convinced of the feasibility of sending a concealment device through the mail and it appears that it was only the enthusiasm of the case officer that won him over. Had it failed along the way, it was not likely to have been attempted again, at least not in the same theater of operations. The CIA would then have had to conceive of another way of accessing the individual- something that could have grown more difficult as further time passed.

And, had the tracking equipment been detected by the courier or suspect, not only would a covert foreign intelligence role have been assumed, but also the Islamist organization on the sending side would have been made aware of the deception- something that would certainly have caused communications with the Albanian cell to cease.

It might also be noted that the sheer physicality of the concealment device marks it as an essentially 20th-century tactic, meaning it might not even be considered today when there are many new and different means of communication and access to funds than existed at that time.

While the operation was generally successful, the fact that the suspect had been killed instead of taken alive was unfortunate. After all, one of the key goals stated in Spycraft was that the suspect could, if taken alive, “produce a wealth of intelligence through the identification of the alias identities of other al-Qaeda operatives along with exemplars of their passports, driver’s licenses, and other travel documents.” Since he was killed in the police raid, however, these secrets died with him- though certainly the police would have recovered some documents or other data of importance.

The only lingering mystery left from the account given in Spycraft lies with the use of the word “several” to describe the number of individuals heard conversing within the house by the technical officers, once the concealment device arrived. Since this adjective implies the presence of more than two individuals, it is a bit odd that the rest of the account mentions only “the terrorist” and “his wife.” It is not possible that the crucial third party could have been the female courier, since she had left before the team heard conversations.

We are then left with an enigma: either the adjective “several” was mistaken, or other individuals were present in the house and had either somehow escaped before the police raid, remained in hiding during it, or been killed as well and just not mentioned. None of these are likely. For the third to be the case would have to mean that other individuals killed were either unexpected “collateral damage” that could provoke embarrassment if revealed, or such high-value targets that they could not be revealed even in passing. This mystery remains unresolved in the book’s account.

Appendix: Chronology of Events

The following events provide a timeline within which context can be established for the specific operation analyzed above, while also illustrating in general the intriguing convergence – and sometimes divergence – of global security events and US foreign policy of the time.

January-March 1997: The collapse of massive pyramid schemes leads to widespread anarchy in Albania, leaving over 2,000 dead and toppling the government of Sali Berisha.

April 1 1997: Caretaker Prime Minister Bashkim Fino announces the immediate suspension of the SHIK (Shërbimi Informativ Kombëtar/National Intelligence Service); its director, Islamist-supporting Bashkim Gazidede and his deputy, Bujar Rama, both resign.

May 30 1997: Arben Karkini is named new director of the SHIK.

July 1997: Fatos Klosi replaces Karkini as head of SHIK, following Socialist Party victory in July 1997 parliamentary elections forces Berisha government into opposition. Numerous personnel associated with the old regime are removed.

September 22 1997: A former director of the SHIK, Shkëlqim Agolli is found stabbed to death in his Athens home. Albanian media reports that the assassination was done by a Vlorë-based group, Komiteti Shpëtimit (Commission of Salvation), created after the riots.

October 1997: CIA sends a team to Tirana to begin a three-month training course for reforming the SHIK.

February 23 1998: Osama bin Laden issues his first fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill Jews and Christians throughout the world; the order sparks concern among the CIA.

February-March 1998: Albanian SHIK intercepts “chatter” between terrorist groups both within and without the country, including conversations with Egyptian Islamic Jihad members and its leader al-Zawahari.

Spring 1998: SHIK Director Fatos Klosi is called to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia for a briefing on future course of action.

June 25 1998: Egypt issues international arrest warrant for Tirana-based fugitive Shawki Salami Attiya.

Late June 1998: CIA-supported SHIK operation captures Tirana-based extremists Attiya, Ahmed Ibrahim Nagar, Mohammad Hassan Tita (Muhamed Hasan) and Mohamed Ahmed Salama Mabrouk, believed to have been sponsored by Osama bin Laden; however, another suspect is killed and two others escape. CIA recovers significant quantities of internal documents and computer equipment.

July 1998: Following the successful operation, “euphoric” SHIK agents unfortunately leak details of CIA involvement to the media, infuriating al Qaeda and its supporters

July 1998: Two weeks after the raid, another CIA-supported SHIK operation nets two more suspected terrorists.

August 5 1998: al-Qaeda publishes a statement vowing a response to the American-led Albania operation “in a language they will understand.” Statement is signed by bin Laden umbrella group International Islamic Front for Jihad.

August 7 1998: al-Qaeda terrorists attack US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring over 5,000.

August 12 1998: The Washington Post reports that senior US intelligence officials have in the previous few days visited Tirana to discuss the operations, unfortunate media leak and East African embassy bombings with SHIK officials.

August 20 1998: While vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., President Clinton announces success in that day’s ‘Operation Infinite Reach.’ This bombing of an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant is a largely symbolic act that fuels more hatred of America among jihad supporters worldwide.

October 1998: CIA-organized raid executed by Albanian strike force raids EIJ safe house, leaving one suspect dead (operation recounted in Spycraft)

November 29 1998: US embassy non-essential employees in Tirana, removed due to fears of another attack similar to the East Africa embassy bombings, were still being kept from returning to the job, a sign that the whole al-Qaeda network had not been uprooted.

March 22 1999: NATO intervention in neighboring Kosovo begins.

April-June 1999: Thousands of new personnel, and millions of dollars in cash and supplies, enter Albania under the control of Saudi, Kuwaiti, Pakistani and other foreign Islamic charity groups. Liaise with existing charities some of whom have been direct targets of CIA investigations in the past.

June 9 1999: NATO bombing ceases as peace agreement reached, leading Yugoslav forces to withdraw from Kosovo.

June-July 1999: From Tirana, Saudi and Kuwaiti Joint Commissions for Relief in Kosovo fund massive efforts to assist refugees returning to Kosovo. Subsidiary cooperators include groups that will be linked with al-Qaeda later.

July 1999: Following NATO’s victorious Kosovo campaign, a celebratory visit to Tirana by US Defense Secretary William Cohen is cancelled over fears of Islamic terrorists.

November 1999 The SHIK is given a new name, State Intelligence Service (Sherbimi Informativ Shteteror, or SHISH)

August 7 2002: SHISH Director Fatos Klosi, the man who cooperated most closely with CIA, is removed from his position by President Alfred Moisiu; the move, reportedly ordered by the man who had originally nominated Klosi in 1997, Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano, is described in media as being politically motivated.


Interested in more details on covert operations and the technologies behind them? Buy Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs, from Communism to Al Qaeda now!

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