A KLA fighter
© kitklarenberg.comA KLA fighter
On March 24th, this journalist exposed how London was at the forefront of efforts to launch a ground invasion of Yugoslavia, during NATO's illegal March - May 1999 bombing campaign. Mercifully, that noxious project never came to pass, but declassified files show there was a further, secret component of Britain's war effort in Kosovo. MI6 covertly sought to manipulate public opinion at home and within Belgrade via wide-ranging propaganda campaigns, manufacturing consent for President Slobodan Milosevic's indictment for war crimes, removal from office, and more.

NATO's criminal bombing of Yugoslavia was launched, and sustained, upon atrocity propaganda. Claims Belgrade's forces were perpetrating a modern day Holocaust abounded throughout, despite the alliance's air assault ostensibly being launched to prevent such carnage. Western officials' calculations of civilians slaughtered by the Yugoslav army grew ever-wilder. At one stage, a NATO spokesperson asserted 100,000 were dead. When Yugoslav officials were prosecuted over the conflict by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), this total was revised down to a vague "hundreds".

At every step though, the Western media reported as gospel whatever nonsense NATO and Western government officials asserted, while framing the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) - a sadistic, civilian-targeting CIA and MI6-backed jihadist militia with whom the Yugoslav army was truly at war - as courageous freedom fighters. As we shall see, the BBC, working in close conjunction with British intelligence, was an eager belligerent in this information war.

This blitz included a completely bogus Panorama "documentary", featuring false eyewitness testimony of heinous atrocities, purportedly committed by Belgrade's forces. Its effects were devastating, by design. The sordid episode's relevance to future US and British proxy conflicts, in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere, couldn't be clearer, or graver.

'Editorial Control'

On April 29th 1999, Michael Pakenham, then-head of London's Joint Intelligence Committee, dispatched a memo to John Sawers, Prime Minister Tony Blair's "foreign policy advisor", who in 2009 was appointed MI6 chief. It discussed clandestine "work with the media" since NATO's aerial assault on Belgrade erupted five weeks earlier, beginning with a section on "broadcasting to the Serb people."

The BBC and MI6 were said to have "put substantial effort into increasing news broadcasting" to Yugoslavia, and neighboring Albania and Macedonia, since the bombing started. Due to local government restrictions on foreign media during the war, the pair was investigating methods of ensuring broadcasts into Belgrade weren't interrupted. US propaganda outlets Radio Free Europe and Voice of America had already identified methods of doing so, and "offered to share their facilities with the BBC."

Kosovo Media Project
Yet, the pair's "heavy output" meant whatever remaining airtime was made available to the British state broadcaster - such as "the middle of the night" - "would be unattractive". The BBC "would thus prefer to set up their own arrangements." One option was to bombard Yugoslav audiences with propaganda via CNN and Sky News. The memo observed that, "relatively few Yugoslavs have satellite dishes," therefore denting the reach of British Satellite News, branded London's "global fake news network" by academic propaganda expert David Miller.

Still, Pakenham wrote, "in times of crisis, word spreads fast," meaning even a small initial impact could have a resultant multiplier effect locally, due to a "thirst for news". In any event, British Satellite News was still managing to broadcast regular news packages, over which the Foreign Office - read: British intelligence - had "editorial control", into Belgrade via Montenegro. The Yugoslav republic was at that time led by corrupt autocrat Milo Djukanovic, who covertly coordinated his political activities with British intelligence.

Earlier that month, a memo authored by MI6 officer Julian Braithwaite observed Montenegrin media was ideal to "broadcast criticism of Milosevic," as "its powerful transmitters reach deep into Kosovo and Serbia." He urged Downing Street to express "visible and immediate support to Djukanovic," as "we need to demonstrate that reform pays, and we look after our friends." This could take the form of Blair giving an interview to local news outlets, explaining "why we do not hold Montenegro responsible", while announcing "assistance" for Djukanovic.

Elsewhere in Pakenham's memo, he noted the US was broadcasting propaganda into Yugoslavia from a plane, flying low above the region. Embarrassingly, "personal contacts" in Belgrade suggested to him "it has not gone down well." Derisively dubbed "NATO TV" locally, it was "regarded as a joke" by viewers, "partly because the Serbian accent of the presenter is poor." By contrast, internet-based propaganda campaigns were considered "a success story."

Official Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence webpages publishing information on the Kosovo War, translated into Serbian, were attracting "at least 1,000 hits a day from Yugoslavia." Pakenham suggested there would be "other hits from Yugoslavs on which we cannot put even an imprecise figure." At the start of April, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook authored "a special internet message to the people of Serbia," and a second was being considered.

'Clobba Slobba'

More sinisterly, a dedicated Cabinet Office "Coordination Group" was compiling a "long list" of Yugoslav internet users, and "some agencies" were "developing ways of exploiting it effectively without any British hand showing." The Group more widely was concerned with disseminating word of "Serb brutalities" in Kosovo, and "abuse of power of the Milosevic family and his cronies" into Belgrade, "in a way which does not show British fingerprints."

As such, the Coordination Group tasked British embassies in Yugoslavia's neighbouring countries "to feed material into local media for unattributable publication, [which] would be read by some Serbs." Two articles on the Group's core propaganda themes had already been disseminated in this manner. Pakenham promised "there will be more." The same material was furthermore "made available to NATO." Meanwhile, the Group was "trying to arrange for an Interpol investigation to be started into Marko Milosevic."

On top of the Yugoslav President's son, the Group "compiled a list of Serbs outside the Milosevic family who are regime members or supporters important to Milosevic personally, on which it is now looking for usable information on corruption and other publishable behaviour." This hunt was foreshadowed in Julian Braithwaite's memo, which stated Blair's notorious spin doctor Alistair Campbell wanted to brief the British press "that Interpol is about to publish an arrest warrant" for Marko.

Media propaganda against Serbia
Meanwhile, The Sun was "ready to send the paparazzi after him." Then the crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire, it boasted a daily circulation in the tens of millions. British newspaper frontpages, and reporting more generally, throughout NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia almost unequivocally cheered the illegal campaign's success, jingoistically tubthumping for ever-greater aggression. Yet, the declassified files show that the BBC and MI6 propaganda outburst was necessary precisely because the airstrikes were an abject failure.

In Braithwaite's missive, he complained that Britain's efforts to "convince military commanders and public opinion to turn against Milosevic" were entirely counterproductive. Serbs were "rallying round the flag" and "a blitz mentality" had set in locally. "Anger, bitterness and betrayal" were "common emotions" among his personal contacts in Belgrade. "Many staunch opponents of Milosevic" resolved to support the President, "while their country" was "under attack."

Furthermore, the destruction of a prominent bridge in Novi Sad, "Serbia's most liberal city", had alienated local inhabitants, and "Belgrade's pro-Western intelligentsia," making "pro-Western policies and connections unfashionable" in Yugoslavia. "This is a problem for us", Braithwaite lamented.

'Real Evidence'

British intelligence got the opportunity to turn Yugoslav citizens, in particular pro-Western liberals, against Milosevic - or try to - by portraying Belgrade's forces as engaged in genocide against Kosovo Albanian civilians, at his direct order. This was provided by retransmitting an April 28th 1999 BBC Panorama "documentary" into the country, via "local television stations" in neighbouring states, "whose programmes can be received in Serbia."

The Killing of Kosovo was never repeated, and cannot be viewed in full online today. All that remains is an official transcript from the time. In the program, multiple interviewees, including Wesley Clark, who oversaw NATO's bombing, and Kosovo Albanian refugees, accused Milosevic of personally orchestrating the violent, "wholesale expulsion" of innocent civilians from the province, deploying rampaging Yugoslav security and paramilitary forces for the purpose, who left a vast trail of massacred innocents, razed villages, and gang rape everywhere they went.

The tales of atrocities relayed by refugee talking heads in the program were almost invariably as lurid as they were ludicrous. One told the BBC she "heard" that Yugoslav forces "caught 20 young women and girls," then executed "most of their husbands...in front of their eyes." The surviving women were reportedly forced to "serve" Belgrade's troops "as if they were their wives" - "they had to serve them during the day and sleep with them at night."

Meanwhile, several interviewees said they personally saw "Serbs" commit rape and mass murder, of their friends, relatives and neighbors. Unbelievably though, they were not only allowed to live to tell the tale, but sent safely over the border to Albania. There, as Yugoslav forces would've well-known, NATO, Western journalists, and rights groups waited in profusion, ready to amplify their stories to the world. Other talking heads spoke of roads soaked with blood, littered with dozens of corpses.

Kosovo was at that time subject to intensive, daily NATO reconnaissance flights. Nothing resembling any of the scenes described has ever emerged. Strikingly, Panorama elsewhere cited grainy, barely discernible "satellite imagery" of "what appears to be" mass graves in the province, provided by the military alliance. Why the program producers didn't ask NATO if those satellites had detected anything to corroborate their interviewees' tales isn't clear.

Mass burial site near Izbica, Kosovo
Relevantly, while the bombing was ongoing, British journalist Audrey Gillan interviewed many Kosovo Albanians in a refugee camp in Macedonia, in search of "real evidence" for the monstrous claims of mass rape and murder in the province emanating from Western officials. She found none. A nameless OSCE source told her they suspected the KLA "had been persuading people to talk in bigger numbers, to crank up the horror so that NATO might be persuaded to send ground troops in faster."

Nevertheless, BBC host Jane Corbin did ask some tough questions. Namely, "will Mr. Milosevic ever be brought to justice?", and "how can NATO negotiate a settlement with a man they have openly called a war criminal?" She firmly informed ICTY chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, "your credibility is on the line...people must stand trial, those at the very top, to make your job worthwhile at all." Elsewhere, she demanded assurances from Robin Cook that the Yugoslav President would not be granted amnesty in exchange for peace.

'Patriotic Duty'

The ICTY answered the BBC's call on May 24th 1999, indicting Milosevic for war crimes, and crimes against humanity, in Kosovo. Mysteriously, not a single "eyewitness" featured in Panorama's program appeared at his resultant trial, and the "documentary" was not entered into evidence. No wonder - proceedings would've been an even bigger disaster for NATO then. As it was, the tribunal incinerated Western narratives of what transpired in the province, and why the alliance had to "intervene".

Multiple Yugoslav officials testified that not only was there no plan to displace, let alone genocide, Kosovo Albanians, the army had strict instructions to prevent refugee flows, while protecting civilians from KLA attacks and conscription. In some cases, the separatist militia forcibly recruited children. An army colonel, suffering severe health issues due to NATO's illegal use of depleted uranium, told the ICTY he'd urged citizens to stay after the bombing began, but assisted those who wished to flee. He contemporaneously recorded in his field diary:
"There is nothing sadder than watching a column of poor people who are moving from their homes on someone's instructions...Soldiers are the way they are; they give juice and cookies to children in passing."
Kosovo Albanians forced to flee by the KLA
Kosovo Albanians forced to flee by the KLA
Those "instructions" were given by the Kosovo Liberation Army itself. One of the group's operatives, who "[filmed] the plight of displaced Albanian civilians with a video camera" for Western consumption, admitted to The Guardian in June 1999 that "KLA advice, rather than Serbian deportations" prompted the exodus. His account is corroborated by ICTY testimony of Eve-Anne Prentice, a mainstream British journalist almost killed in a May 1999 NATO airstrike, while travelling through Kosovo:
"Ordinary civilian ethnic Albanians...had been told it was their patriotic duty to leave because the world was watching. This was their one big opportunity to make Kosovo part of Albania...NATO was there, ready to come in, and anybody who failed to join this exodus was somehow not supporting the Albanian cause...They were frightened of the bombing, they were frightened of the KLA, they didn't really want to leave their homes."
Fear of "being killed or injured" by NATO bombing was, per Prentice, "justified". While in Kosovo, she "saw many civilians dead and injured, many ordinary homes that were bombed by NATO." These anxieties were greatly amplified, she explained, by the military alliance's illegal assault intensifying over time, its aircraft terrorisingly flying ever-lower overhead. School facilities, apartment blocks, and other civilian infrastructure were reduced to total rubble in targeted, repeat strikes along the way.

NATO member states were the ICTY's key funders and facilitators. There was no question of the alliance being held accountable for war crimes it committed against Belgrade. "You're more likely to see the UN building dismantled brick-by-brick and thrown into the Atlantic than to see NATO pilots go before a UN tribunal," the US Senate International Relations Committee spokesperson boasted in May 1999. The total number of Yugoslav civilians killed by military alliance bombing that year will likely never be known.

The ICTY did investigate whether NATO's April 23rd 1999 strike on the headquarters of Belgrade's RTS TV, which killed 16 staff and trapped 16 more in rubble for days afterward, constituted a war crime. The Tribunal concluded while the site wasn't a military target, the attack aimed to disrupt the state's communications network, so was still legitimate. It moreover found NATO warned Yugoslav authorities weeks prior RTS may be caught in the crossfire, unless six hours of uncensored Western news reports were broadcast daily.
The ruins of RTS
The ruins of RTS
This would, the alliance argued, make RTS an "acceptable instrument of public information," thus averting its destruction. The ultimatum is rendered considerably more perverse, and duplicitous, given the declassified files reviewed here. All along, NATO and its member states - in particular Britain, leading proponent of Yugoslavia's all-out invasion - had numerous cloak-and-dagger means to transmit whatever they wished into the country they were criminally destroying.

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