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The Independent (London)
July 8, 1999

CIA Plan to Topple Milosevic "Absurd"

THE UNITED States has begun a top-secret effort to topple Slobodan Milosevic -- so top-secret that it has now been reported in both Time and Newsweek magazines.

The plan for covert action reportedly includes a cyberwar effort to suck money out of President Milosevic's overseas bank accounts, money for the opposition and broadcasts of Western programmes over the border into Serbia.

Covert action normally precedes or is a substitute for conventional war, said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst at the private-sector Federation of American Scientists.

And much of the content of the programme, if the magazine reports are correct, could be done overtly. The US already broadcasts Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE) into Serbia, and it has publicly said that it wants Mr Milosevic removed, even offering a reward for information leading to his arrest. And the programme is hardly covert given that it has appeared in the world's best-selling news weeklies. "It has gone beyond peculiar and is approaching absurd," he noted.

The element of the programme that has caught most attention is the attempt to snag the Yugoslav leader's bank accounts by computer. The Central Intelligence Agency would identify Mr Milosevic's assets and divert them to other accounts, the reports said.

The US is devoting increasingly large amounts of money to information warfare to allow it to tamper with an opponent's technology. The Information Operations Technology Center (IOTC) is housed at the National Security Agency (NSA), America's equivalent of GCHQ, and was activated last year, according to William Arkin, a US expert on cyberwar.

It includes the NSA's P42 information warfare cell, the CIA's Critical Defense Technologies Division and the Pentagon's "special technology operations".

But the programme has not been universally popular and some officials are worried that it will fail. "If they pull it off, it will be great," Newsweek quoted one government cyberwar expert as saying. "If they screw it up, they are going to be in a world of trouble." The CIA was responsible for the most notable blunder of the Kosovo war, when it targeted the Chinese Embassy in the mistaken belief that it was a Yugoslav supply ministry building.

The more conventional aspect of the programme is an effort to spread information inside Serbia, where the media is tightly controlled by the government. Foreign broadcasts "are very much listened to" in Serbia, said Daniel Serwer, a Balkan analyst at the US Institute for Peace. "It is important to put over, not Western propaganda, but reliable information."

Secret financial support for the opposition is a classic Cold War strategy, but it may backfire. Serbia has already used reports of CIA cash to discredit the opposition. And efforts to undermine Mr Milosevic are also subject to doubts in Washington. "Regime change is a very difficult process," said Mr Serwer. "There's a significant risk that you end up with something worse than what you started with."

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