Spy Book Scandal

No book in recent history has caused as much controversy in Bosnia as the very innocently titled Cuvari Jugoslavije (The Guardians of  Yugoslavia), by Ivan Beslic, which was released in Sarajevo in early November.

The Guardians of Yugoslavia is comprised of top-secret documents from the Bosnian branch of the former Yugoslav State Security Service (SDB), and a list of 1,350 names of informants and operatives active from 1970 until 1990.

According to the book, those listed were responsible first of all for keeping tabs on Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), Bosnian Croat, and Bosnian Serb nationalists living in the country and abroad. Many of those listed were journalists, writers, and members of religious institutions and universities.

The work is a four-volume set. Two volumes deal with Bosnian Croat agents and informants, one with Bosniaks, and a fourth with Bosnian Serbs. According to the book, some 60 percent of the alleged informants and operatives were responsible for spying on people and institutions inside Bosnia and Herzegovina, while some 30 percent kept tabs on the diaspora. The remaining 10 percent kept an eye on the country’s economy.

The book’s author, Beslic, was born in the region of Herzegovina, in the town of Posusje. Beslic claims that the SDB had been spying on him and his family for some time after he refused to become an informant. In 1979, under constant pressure, he says, he decided to move to the United States.

There he joined a radical organization of Croatian nationalist émigrés. In Chicago, he opened a private business through which he financed the Croatian organization. In August 1991, the FBI arrested him on charges of buying illegal weapons that had been stolen from U.S. military bases. Beslic was later sentenced to 30 days in prison, five months of house arrest, and three years of probation, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service [now the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services]. He was then expelled from the United States.

And now he says he wants everyone to know who their real friends and enemies were. “The time has come for the public to hear what the communist regime was doing to mostly ordinary people. The public has to know,” Beslic said in Sarajevo during the promotion of his newly released book. But here in Sarajevo, hardly anyone believes that Beslic’s motives were so simple and benign.

According to Beslic, SDB had many collaborators inside institutions of higher education, including professors, teaching assistants, members of student associations—even cafeteria workers and doormen.

Professor [and former Deputy Prime Minister] Vojislav Seselj—[founder and] leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS)—is listed as one of the highest-ranking agents in intellectual circles. Earlier this year [2003], Seselj voluntarily turned himself in to the Interna-tional Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, where he faces charges of war crimes.

The book also names Suljo Borovina, a professor at Sarajevo University’s political science faculty, as an operative. According to the book, Borovina’s code name was “Professor.” In a Nov. 18 interview with Transitions Online (TOL), Borovina denied the book’s allegations, saying that everything is a fabrication, including the information contained on the alleged data chart (a personal information form supposedly signed by all agents and informants).

“That form is full of false information: my address, date of birth, marital status, and the institution in which I work. And above all, it wasn’t signed,” Borovina said. He also pointed out that in a different document published in the book, his code name was not “Professor,” but “Tara.”

When he read the book, Borovina said he realized that he had become an unwitting informant—when his former colleague signed him up as a cooperative without his knowing. “This was a man with whom I had spoken several times, about studies and the political situation in Yugoslavia. I had no idea he was an SDB agent,” Borovina said.

Another political science faculty professor, Mustafa Festic, is also listed as an operative, code-named “Michigan.” Like Borovina, Festic says that most of the information on his chart is false.

“In 1985—when I supposedly became an SDB cooperative—I and several other professors traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a long seminar,” said Festic, speaking to TOL on Nov. 18. “My personal information chart, which I never filled in, says that I am a sociologist by profession, though I am actually an economist. They made that mistake because most of the people at the seminar were, in fact, sociologists.” Festic’s information chart was also unsigned. Both Borovina and Festic have said they plan to sue the book’s author and publisher.

Jozo Jozic, a former SDB chief, told TOL that most of those named as operatives and informants, like Borovina, weren’t even aware they were working for intelligence. And many of those named weren’t working for the SDB at all, despite the dossiers on them.

Jozic said it was easy for people to unwittingly become SDB informants. You always had to be careful about whom you did favors for. If a friend or relative asked you to deliver some documents to a third party, for instance, and that friend or relative happened to be an SDB member (a fact you would not have been aware of), you automatically would become an informant yourself, with your own dossier. “People were using other people close to them all the time to fulfill their agent and informant duties,” Jozic said.

What intrigues the public most is how the author got his hands on the classified documents in the first place. During the promotion of his book, Beslic said only that he had obtained the documents from “certain friends” in the Croatian diaspora.

Beslic said he had set out to get hold of the top-secret documents in early 1990, with the help of radical Croats in the United States. “We contacted several former SDB officials who might have those documents in their possession. We paid a lot for those documents,” he said.

But two former high-ranking wartime Bosnian intelligence officials say Beslic is simply lying. They told the weeklies Slobodna Bosna and Dani that the documents had, in fact, been stolen from SDB’s offices in Sarajevo.

The documents published in Beslic’s book had been archived in Sarajevo until March 1992, a month before the war began in the city, according to these officials. Though some of the documents were destroyed, the majority of them, including those published in Beslic’s book, were kept on microfilm in the SDB offices.

Slobodna Bosna and Dani accused Branko Kvesic, then SDB boss, of illegally transferring the classified documents to Mostar in Herzegovina, whence they somehow ended up in Beslic’s hands. During the war, Kvesic was the highest-ranking security official with the Bosnian Croat militia, the Croat Defense Council.

In a statement for the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz on Nov. 7, Bakir Alispahic, Kvesic’s assistant before the war, said that Kvesic was responsible for the removal of those documents. Alispahic, the former Bosnian interior minister and former director of the Bosniak Intelligence Service, confirmed that the documents had been stolen in the spring of 1992 by Kvesic and several other lower-ranking SDB officials.

“We indicted Kvesic...but he was never prosecuted,” Alispahic said, adding that it was a shame that the top-secret documents had been published. Jozic, who succeeded Kvesic as SDB chief, repeated Alispahic’s accusations.

“I knew that Kvesic had moved the microfilm containing information on the entire SDB network in Bosnia to Mostar,” Jozic said. “Most likely he gave Beslic some of the documentation.”

The legal status of the top-secret documents has sparked more controversy. Legal experts say the book has been published in violation of several laws. According to the Archive Law, documents labeled “top secret” cannot be published for at least 50 years after their creation.

Senka Nozica, one of Sarajevo’s top defense lawyers, told TOL on Nov. 18 that Beslic has violated not only the Archive Law but also the laws on the protection of personal information.

“Those laws have existed in Bosnia for a long time and they should know about them,” Nozica said. “I am sure that they knew about those laws, but the publicity and money [from the book sales] were more important.” According to Nozica, all those named in the book have the right to sue the publisher, whether the information published about them is true or not. But she’s not so optimistic that they would leave the courtroom satisfied.

“Despite the harm done to them by publishing their full names, code names, and their duties, they will probably not be satisfied by the court. The process would take too long, and the author has already earned a lot of money,” she said.

The publicity, whether negative or positive, is not likely to die down soon. The Guardians of Yugoslavia has already become the best-selling book in Bosnia’s postwar history. Beslic printed 2,000 copies, all of which sold (at about US$120) in less than a week.

Beslic has promised to publish a second book that will contain the names of the rest of the informants and operatives. There is allegedly a total of 5,500. The next book, he promises, will be even more scandalous than the first and will include the names of current high-ranking politicians and members of religious institutions.