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[infowar.de] William Arkin: The other Kosovo war
The other Kosovo war
Baby steps ? and
missteps ? for
By William Arkin
and Robert Windrem
SPECIAL TO MSNBC
On the night of May 15, 1999 day 53 of the Kosovo War a flight of
American B-2 bombers attacked two industrial facilities in eastern
Serbia. Before the raid, under a covert operation dubbed Matrix, U.S.
and British information warfare specialists used e-mail, faxes and
cell phones to forewarn the plant owners of the attack. The warnings
had nothing to do with limiting casualties, nor were the targets of
great military value. Rather, the operation was designed to send a
message to cronies of President Slobodan Milosevics enriching
themselves through these factories: Prevail upon the Yugoslav leader
to withdraw his forces from Kosovo or face further attacks on your
sources of income.
THE ATTACKS on Bor and Smederevo were only the most dramatic examples
of a joint U.S.-British effort designed to put pressure on the
Yugoslav President through crony targeting.
Its a powerful tonic to tell them when its going to happen and then
for them to watch it happen, says an officer involved in the
During the 78-day conflict, the Yugoslav president and his inner
circle were treated to a small taste of what future wars may hold for
American foes. Coupling computer technology with the power of the
military, the United States waged information warfare on Milosevics
closest political associates in an effort to frighten them into
abandoning their leader.
This new mode of combat combines cyber-war tactics, espionage,
psychological warfare and propaganda under one umbrella and seeks to
coordinate it with the planes, tanks and ships of the traditional
military. Like most new endeavors, the Kosovo information war got off
to a bumpy start, encountered fierce opposition from traditional
soldiers and was dogged by planning problems. Yet even its fiercest
critics acknowledge that in the future, information warfare will be a
real factor in winning the battles of the 21st century.
The steel plant at Smederevo and the copper smelter at Bor were
painstakingly monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded
that the two enterprises were being used to directly enrich the
At Bor, for instance, Nikola Sainovic, a former deputy prime minister
in charge of Kosovo affairs and an indicted war criminal, used his
management position to siphon gold from the plant gold that eventually
found its way out of Yugoslavia and into the bank accounts of the
A similar kickback scheme was uncovered at Smederevo, where Dusan
Matkovic, the head of the plant and ex-deputy leader of Milosevics
political party, found ways of turning steel making into a major money
maker for Milosevics cronies.
The full story of operation Matrix and crony targeting remains locked
up in top-secret files, only whispered about by information warfare
specialists. In months of interviews with senior military officers and
government officials, MSNBC.com was able to piece together the untold
story of this first information war.
As NATO moved toward armed conflict in 1999, a full spectrum
information warfare plan took shape, fondly referred to as Elephant
Blanket, so-called because the operations intricacies were laid out in
a series of diagrams on an enormous 5-foot square piece of paper, all
meticulously printed in six-point type.
By the time bombing began on March 24, the Special Technical
Operations cell at U.S. European Command headquarters had mapped out
an exquisite information warfare campaign against Milosevic. Special
Technical Operations cells, or STOs, are the super-secret covert
efforts by the U.S. military and government to coordinate traditional
warfare with newer modes of combat from information warfare to
espionage, psychological warfare, sabotage and other special weapons.
An STO cell now exists in each major combat command, coordinated by a
high-level panel of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The contents ranged from troop movements to public affairs strategies
to covert action. At the helm of all of these interlocking operations
and scenarios was U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied commander
of the war.
After the first few weeks of bombing, it became clear that the
scenario Clark had predicted that Milosevic would fold within 48 hours
was far too optimistic. At the same time, tremendous problems
developed with the Elephant Blanket approach. The most serious issue:
putting the details of sensitive operations on one document meant that
only a small number of very senior officers had the required security
clearance to see the whole plan. In fact, not a single European
officer in the NATO command had such clearance. Information warfare
officers didnt even arrive in Vicenza, Italy, to brief Gen. Michael
Short, who was running the air war, until late April more than a month
into the bombing campaign.
One official U.S. Air Force report on this super-secret effort tersely
concluded: Special Access Programs were of little value; no one was
special enough to have access.
A KICK FROM UPSTAIRS
Frustrated by the bureaucratic roadblocks, information warfare
officers managed to win support from the White House, which quickly
set in motion a plan to streamline Elephant Blanket. What emerged was
the Day 54 plan, an amalgam of top-secret projects developed
independently by a variety of agencies.
I want to see the rapid economic death of Serbia, Deputy National
Security Adviser James Steinberg told covert operators, according to
an account he later gave reporters.
At a top secret facility near Washington, an influence net essentially
a model of Milosevics inner circle was quickly prepared. It showed who
owed what, who talked to whom and where influence flowed inside
Milosevics Yugoslavia. The model served as the blueprint for targeting
the right people. CIA, NSA and military intelligence operators broke
into Yugoslav communications and computer networks, inserting messages
that repeated NATOs surrender terms.
Separately, broader efforts to support the Day 54 plan came into play.
Diplomatically, the United States and European Union began pressuring
neighboring states to freeze bank accounts and deny transit to certain
members of the Yugoslav elite.
In one case of a Milosevic crony, Berger says, the family in tow,
suitcase bulging, found themselves denied entry to a nearby country.
The Department of Treasurys Office of Foreign Assets Control set up
shop in Cyprus, which one senior U.S. government official calls the
money-laundering center for the region.
Despite this major information warfare initiative, high ranking U.S.
officers remained deeply skeptical, most notably, Gen. Clark.
Its a joke, Clark told MSNBC.com, referring to tactics that included
calling and faxing Milosevic insiders. Thats not anything but
The multinational war operated under such political constraints that
many of the plans information warfare efforts were never fully
implemented. Most urban targets continued to be restricted, for
instance. Internal alliance politics also presented a problem. For
instance, Yugoslav cell phone and telephone networks couldnt be bombed
because Italian and Greek telecommunications companies had a financial
stake in them.
There also were legal concerns expressed inside the U.S. government
regarding proposals to do things like insert viruses in Serb computer
systems or hack into bank accounts thought to contain plundered funds.
Crony targeting and Operation Matrix dirty tricks sound exciting, but
all we did was spam the Serbs, says one officer skeptical of the
operation. We spammed their e-mail. We spammed their faxes. We spammed
their phone lines.
In the end, no computer viruses were planted, and there was no effort
to penetrate networks and subtlety change data.
Someone wants to put a virus into a Yugoslav system, sure maybe it
will work, says Clark. But is this what I would base success or
Moreover, Milosevic played the information warfare game himself in
some ways better than NATO. Milosevic was far more skilled in the
manipulation of the media than we were in getting our message out,
Secretary of Defense William Cohen told Congress in October 1999.
Yugoslav propaganda dominated Western media coverage, and there are
hints that Belgrades own covert psychological warfare had an impact on
NATO. Though the National Security Agency wont confirm the rumor, more
than one source told MSNBC.com that Serbian linguists working for U.S.
intelligence quit their jobs during the war for fear of personal
attack after being contacted by the Serbian diaspora and possible Serb
Whatever the shortcomings of NATOs information war in Kosovo from
Elephant Blanket to the Matrix operation important lessons were
We cannot ignore this set of tools, said a retired officer steeped in
Military strategists believe that information warfare may someday be
accorded the same stature as air and ground warfare. The ultimate goal
is an integrated information strike against potential enemies, with
information and electrons joining traditional weapons in the American
William Arkin is an independent military analyst and a frequent
contributor to MSNBC.com. Robert Windrem is an investigative producer
at NBC News.
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