Sat, Aug 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Croatian media unmasks spies

INTELLIGENCE OPERATIONS The UK's efforts to bring war crimes suspects to account was dealt a blow after Serbian security services leaked information to tabloids

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British intelligence's -- known as MI6 -- extensive operations in the Balkans were thrown into disarray Thursday after a Croatian newspaper revealed the identities of several alleged British spies and claimed that the Croatian government had given MI6 agents carte blanche to wiretap and conduct undercover operations against Croatian citizens.

The weekly news magazine, Nacional, published the names of four British diplomats it described as important spies. Nacional's claim followed the recent unmasking by a Belgrade tabloid of the chief MI6 officer in Serbia, Anthony Monckton, who has just left the Serbian capital in what was seen as a blow to MI6's activities. Monckton was then named by at least one British newspaper.

Monckton is said to have played an important undercover role in effecting the transfer of Slobodan Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 2001 and in the quest to find the assassins of Zoran Djindjic, the reformist Serbian prime minister murdered last year.

"Monckton was a very effective member of the British embassy in Belgrade," said a well-placed British source, who ascribed the outing of the alleged agents to "rogue elements" in the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian security services who "don't like the Balkans being cleaned up" and who used the local media to pursue grudges. The tabloid published a full front-page picture of Monckton and gave his private phone numbers.

"It's true that the British have been particularly active in the Balkans on the intelligence front. It's a backhanded compliment to be considered a British spy," said the source. "There's usually a bit of fire in these stories."

A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: "We never comment on intelligence matters."

According to the article, MI6 put pressure on the Croatian prime minister, Ivo Sanader, to allow British intelligence to eavesdrop on Croats believed to be in contact with a Croatian war crimes suspect, General Ante Gotovina, threatening that Britain would oppose Croatia's bid to join the EU.

Until April, the British government was the main block to Croatia's EU ambitions, citing the arrest of Gotovina, the third most-wanted man on The Hague tribunal's list and the most-wanted Croat, as the condition for backing the EU bid. Gotovina is still on the run, but Britain dropped its opposition in April when an EU summit invited Croatia to open membership negotiations. The British shift was officially said to be because Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor in The Hague, announced that the Sanader government was cooperating fully with the tribunal. Nacional alleged that the real reason was the green light given to MI6. Agents obtained from Croatian intelligence the names, addresses, and mobile phone numbers of individuals believed to be in contact with the fugitive general and also asked to tap land telephone lines.

The magazine published a picture of a blue Bedford van with Croatian number plates, one of three said to have been brought into Croatia by British intelligence and bristling with monitoring equipment.

Another British source attributed the Croatian allegations to hardline Gotovina supporters within the Croatian security services.

"The UK is the leading country pressing on Gotovina and some people here don't like it," he said.

Earlier this year, Franjo Turek, the chief of Croatian counterintelligence, was fired by Sanader after briefing government officials on alleged British intelligence operations. Last month, another counterintelligence official, Damir Jukica, was fired after publicly criticizing the Croatian cooperation with British intelligence. Zeljko Bagic, a former national security aide to President Stipe Mesic, alleged that British intelligence had recruited a number of prominent journalists in Zagreb and was planting disinformation on the Gotovina case in the Zagreb media.

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