REVIEW: Intelligence and The War In Bosnia 1992-1995


By Cees Wiebes. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003. 463 pages, index.


In 1994, a battalion of Dutch troops arrived in eastern Bosnia on a peacekeeping mission as part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The Dutch area of responsibility included the nearby town of Srebrenica that was controlled by the Bosnian Muslim Army. On 6 July 1995, Bosnian-Serbs captured Srebrenica while the Dutch, who had no resources or mandate to stop them, stood by. Then the Bosnian-Serbs expanded their invasion and began eliminating Muslims–ethnic cleansing–while the Dutch, again, watched and thousands died. After peace agreements were signed in Dayton, Ohio, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) initiated a study to determine what might have been done to prevent the massacres. One of the central issues raised concerned the role of the various international intelligence and security services, including the Dutch Military Intelligence units. NIOD tasked Dr. Wiebes to analyze the role of these intelligence elements and to determine what was known, when, and by whom.

At first glance, the task seemed straightforward: talk to the participants; find out what they knew and what their orders were; then write the report. But in the UN, things are not that simple, which becomes immediately clear as Dr. Wiebes considers the related question: how does the United Nations acquire and disseminate intelligence for its peacekeeping operations? The answer is that, since it has no organic intelligence collection elements, it must rely on input from cooperating nations, none of whom want to reveal sources and methods. Once this is recognized, the real problems of intelligence and the war in Bosnia are apparent even for those who have not been there.

Dr. Wiebes' study examines the UN intelligence function; the roles of the Western intelligence community and Dutch intelligence elements; the complications introduced by secret arms suppliers and multiple covert actions; the problems of SIGINT and imagery collection; and the difficulties associated with dissemination and use of the intelligence product. The final chapter addresses the question of intelligence success or failure in Srebrenica. Each of these topics is treated in considerable depth. To accomplish this, the author has relied on open and non-attributable confidential sources..

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