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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 14 FEB 1999 22:18:37 GMT


    In spy scandals which disturb the Slovenian public every day, the small fry is getting the dirty end of the stick.

    AIM LJUBLJANA, 3 February, 1999

    The Slovenian daily life is increasingly resembling a permanent movie set which even the makers of the James Bond films would not be ashamed of. (Incidentally, actor Roger Moore, a former agent 007 incarnate, recently visited Ljubljana during a UNICEF performance as children's ambassador.) What is this all about?

    All in all, it seems that repeated stories about arms trade, intelligence and counter-intelligence agents, scandals which constantly entertain the Slovenian readership and are giving a headache to the officials, will never be told to the end despite a dozen of government investigation commissions. In the last three months alone, three commission have been established with the task of resolving this problem. The first was to give an answer to the question why were Slovenian army intelligence agents spying on the Slovenian Ambassador in Sarajevo, the second was to disentangle the charade with the seizure of the Slovenian spying van (mistakenly found) in Croatia, and the third with no less mysterious consignee of 120 tons of weapons which the then Defence Minister Janez Jansa "discovered" in containers at the Maribor Airport in 1993.

    Traces of the Lost Van

    The investigative work of the mentioned commissions gained momentum with a new scandal which broke a year ago when the Croatian policemen, one meter within their territory, caught two officers of the Slovenian Military Intelligence on January 6, 1998. The law enforcement officials legally arrested the uninvited guests and summarily brought them before a magistrate. The caught Slovenian spies claimed that they have missed the Slovenian - Croatian border and in a special vehicle with electronic reconnaissance equipment quite unexpectedly walked into the hands of a surprised Croatian patrol. The agents were soon deported back to their homeland, while the expensive van, which according to some estimates cost as much as ten million German marks, remained on the Croatian side.

    For a whole week the official Ljubljana tried to cover up the incident. And everything was almost neatly hushed up when officer of the Slovenian Army, loyal to Jansa, launched a confidential information about the whole undertaking. Although unconfirmed, the theory about an intentional Slovenian faux pas committed in order to help in a roundabout way Croatia to get spying equipment and a vehicle which it could not buy regularly, explains to a point the incredible Croatian restraint in the media exploitation of the mentioned scandal. That is when the Slovenian opposition, headed by Janez Jansa, filled the media vacuum demanding the head of the then Defence Minister Tito Turnsek, who is a member of the rival Popular Party of the Podobnik brothers.

    Consequently, Turnsek was forced to hold a press conference and answer very unpleasant questions; it was found out that involved uniformed men were released after their interrogation by the magistrate, although the Croatian law envisages 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for espionage. It was also disclosed that the MORS's specially equipped field vehicle was "kept" by Croatia until further notice. Interestingly enough, the Croatian side, i.e. its intelligence service, has been trying for some time to buy that same vehicle, i.e. a German van with special electronic equipment but because of the mistrust of the Western countries towards Croatia and the high price, this deal remained just a wish until the Slovenian intelligence agents committed the fatal mistake.

    Finally, the Slovenian Parliament initiated an investigation which has not yet given an answer to the question - was this just sloppiness or an agreed, planned incident since the Americans have prohibited the sale of the mentioned vehicle to the Croatian Army - or - an unintentional mistake. This dilemma is further complicated by the fact that the equipment was "delivered" to the Croats by the former high officer in the YPA (Yugoslav Peoples' Army) General-Staff who remained in the Slovenian Army after Slovenia's independence in 1991.

    Measured and contradictory information forced journalists to come up with the most incredible scenarios about the background of the adventures with the spying van. Despite all the disgrace, most of the media decided to present to the public a story about local intelligence agents as a Slovenian variant of the soldier Shveik who always makes a mess of things but is always absolutely innocent. So what if the Slovenian spies wandered off into the neighbour's district, especially when compared with colleagues from Serbia with which, according to Ljubljana daily "Delo", Croatia has every day much more serious and grave incidents on its southern border...

    Conflict of the German and American Intelligence

    The other, no less interesting theory presented to the public these days, is that this was no case of "supplying" equipment to the Croats, but a bit different form of Slovenian assistance to Zagreb. Namely, after reintegration of the Danube river valley (Podunavlje), Croatia urgently needed modern electronic equipment with which it could easily intercept Yugoslav military intelligence agents on this side of the Danube river. However, since Croatia is not a member of "Partnership for Peace", super powers did not approve the German supply of the urgently needed equipment to Tudjman's administration. And then, just imagine, the required apparatus simply changed sides. It was quite convenient that not only Ljubljana was an associate member, but also had seven years of experience with supplying arms to its "southern brothers"...Allegedly, that is how the deal was cut between corresponding intelligence services of the two states and an "incident" staged thanks to which the Croats have (temporarily) become owners of the required electronic device.

    The third and, perhaps, the most probable theory which has leaked from the top Slovenian military circles, is in the "Le Carre" style; according to this version Germans and Americans are waging a kind of espionage war on the ground in which the Slovenians and Croats are nothing else but extras. It is common knowledge that, despite their strategic alliance, there are occasional sparks and even conflicts, especially when it comes to their geopolitical and strategic targets. It was known that the Germans have sold (their) communication equipment to the Croatian Army. However, at the same time they have sold spying vans, and what is even more important - codes - to the Slovenian intelligence. The objective of the latter trade was clear - we give you equipment, you give us information. Namely, irrespective of the strategic partnership with Croatia, Germany wants to be well informed of everything Croatia, especially its Army, is doing and planning.

    And that is where the conflict of interests occurred as Croatia is also "covered" by the United States, mostly with the assistance of its spying AWACSs. Germany, which has no similar aircraft over Croatia, depended on the Slovenia's field information. And then the Americans found out that, off its own bat and with its allies from Slovenia, Germany was gathering data on Slovenia's southern neighbour. A swift reaction ensued - the Croatian intelligence agents were tipped off about the route of the Slovenian spies. It soon turned out that during their mission (partly because of the winding road and still undefined state borders) clumsy Slovenian agents wandered off onto the territory considered to be part of Croatia. And the van changed hands. Although it sounds like a story from a James Bond film, the last theory, nevertheless, contains all elements required for a good story - it explains the confusion of the Slovenian side, the restraint of the Croatian side and the silence of the regional powers.

    Be that as it may, the first commission started with serious work. Three persons responsible for the loss of the van were called for interrogation: military intelligence agents Anton Slatinsek and Branko Bezgavsek, as well as their commanding officer Ciril Beljsak. Soon the Commission came to the conclusion that statements of the two agents and their superior differed essentially. As they are all bound by the law to tell the truth, Chairman of the Commission, Mirko Zamernik concluded that these contradicting statements were proof enough that someone was not telling the truth which meant that there was reasonable doubt to suspect them of perjury. These were quite a few of these differences: while agents claimed that they did not have a defined route, their superior said that it was precisely charted and that it was impossible to make a mistake and accidentally drive on the Croatian side at the spot where the incident had occurred.

    The expected thing happened: the two "uncoordinated agents" were dismissed from work by the decision of the Government's Disciplinary Board; however, they refused to be scapegoats and appealed to the Court for Labour and Social Disputes demanding to be reinstated to their old positions and paid their income. The Defence Ministry paid them back in the same coin and instituted court proceeding for the damage done to state property. The "depreciated" van (as the Slovenian Foreign Minister calls it) stays in the Croatian hands and shall serve as the Croatian "negotiating trump card" in haggling over disputable border problems. Immediately after the incident, the question whether the van will be returned or not was, for example, linked with the withdrawal of the Slovenian Army from Tridonov's Peak (or Mount Sinai, as the Croats call the same hillock) which is one of the hardest border problems between the two states. In brief - despite numerous commissions the fog has not cleared up: the background of the entanglement is still unclear but, as is usually the case in big games of intelligence services, the small fry gets the dirty end of the stick.

    Igor Mekina