The Central Intelligence Agency has evidence that Iranian agents secretly delivered at least $500,000 in cash to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic for his campaign before last fall's Bosnian elections, according to classified documents obtained by The Times.
The CIA discovered that the Iranians gave Izetbegovic at least two pieces of luggage stuffed with money, each containing about $250,000, to help fund his campaign in the weeks leading up to the elections, according to the documents.
The allegations have buttressed the CIA's belief that Iranian influence in Bosnia remains strong more than a year after the Dayton peace accords--contradicting the Clinton administration's public assertions that U.S. pressure has forced Bosnia's Muslim government to loosen its ties with Iran.
In fact, CIA analysts believe that Izetbegovic has been "co-opted by the Iranians" and is now "literally on their payroll," according to a classified report based on the CIA's analysis of the issue.
Despite this, administration officials acknowledged Monday that President Clinton agreed to release $100 million worth of U.S. military aid to Bosnia even after the CIA uncovered the Iranian payments to Izetbegovic and reported the information to administration policy-makers.
The U.S. aid had been withheld from the Bosnians for months because of U.S. concerns about continuing Iranian influence in the country. But the aid was released finally in November after Izetbegovic's government gave in to U.S. pressure and agreed to fire a senior official with ties to Iran.
An administration official said that the United States secretly told Izetbegovic that the Iranian cash payments were "unacceptable" but released the $100 million in military hardware to the Bosnians anyway.
"The Iranian contributions gave us pause," said the official, and the concerns were "raised with the Bosnians." But President Clinton allowed U.S. military support to flow because the Iranian cash payments to Izetbegovic did not technically violate the narrowly drawn certification requirements that Congress had imposed on the U.S. aid.
Izetbegovic--trained as both an Islamic scholar and a lawyer--and his Muslim faction won the Bosnian elections in September. The elections led to the creation of a new national government with a three-member presidency chaired by Izetbegovic.
An administration official conceded Monday that Iranian influence in Bosnia continues to be a vexing problem. He stressed, however, that the administration still believes that Iran's presence has diminished as a result of U.S. pressure. "Are there still Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Moujahedeen running around, still armed? I think for the most part they have left. But the Iranians will always try to pursue their goals. Yes, the Iranians are going to try to influence events. It is something we are still pursuing."
But for months, the U.S. intelligence community has been issuing troubling reports sharply at odds with the administration's reassuring public statements and warning that the Iranians are not fading away.
For example, analysts at the National Security Agency, the super-secret agency that handles electronic eavesdropping and code-breaking, reported in September that, "in spite of the agreed terms" under the peace accords reached in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, "Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel remain active throughout Bosnia."
CIA analysts also noted that the Iranian presence was expanding last fall through the opening of a new consulate in the Bosnian city of Mostar, while elsewhere in Bosnia the Iranians opened a new radio station, a new cultural center, two "reconstruction centers," and a Red Crescent Society office. "Some of these activities are known to be fronts for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard" and Iranian intelligence, according to a classified report on the matter.
CIA analysts also have split with the White House and State Department by charging that the Clinton administration must share part of the blame for the continuing Iranian presence. In classified briefings for Congress, CIA officials have stated that the administration's 1994 decision to give its tacit approval to the creation of a covert Iranian arms pipeline into Bosnia played a central role in the dramatic increase in Iranian influence in Bosnia.
That belief puts the CIA analysts squarely at odds with White House claims that Clinton's "green light" for Iranian arms shipments did little to increase the Iranian role in Bosnia.
"There is no question that the policy of getting arms into Bosnia was of great assistance in allowing the Iranians to dig in and create good relations with the Bosnian government," a senior CIA officer told Congress in a classified deposition. "And it is a thing we will live to regret because when they blow up some Americans, as they no doubt will before this . . . thing is over, it will be in part because the Iranians were able to have the time and the contacts to establish themselves well in Bosnia."
The CIA has offered Congress detailed evidence to back up its allegations. Within weeks of Clinton's decision to sanction Iranian arms shipments in April, 1994, the CIA says, hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guard fighters and trainers poured into the country, doubling the Iranian-sponsored presence to 400 or more. Two weeks after the green light was given, United Nations peacekeepers for the first time detected an independently commanded Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit on the ground in Bosnia.
And just 10 days after the green light, Iran appointed its first ambassador to Bosnia, Mohammed Taherian, who had served as Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan when Iran was funneling aid and arms to the Afghan rebels.
Meanwhile, CIA analysts sharply disagree with the White House and State Department on the scale of the Iranian arms pipeline, the documents show. The CIA estimates that the Iranians smuggled roughly 14,000 tons of arms between May 1994, and December 1996, valued at between $100 million and $200 million--at least double the estimates previously made public by White House and State Department officials.
After the Dayton peace accords, the Clinton administration made the reduction of Iranian influence in Bosnia a top priority. The Bosnians appeared to give in to the U.S. demands, and in June President Clinton certified that the Iranian-sponsored foreign fighters had been withdrawn.
That certification was legally required by Congress as a condition for U.S. assistance to equip and train a restructured Bosnian army. But the administration still withheld $100 million worth of tanks, helicopters, rifles and other military equipment until November--keeping the equipment on a cargo vessel that was ordered to wait in the Adriatic Sea until further U.S. demands on the reduction of Iranian influence were met by the Bosnians. The United States released the aid after Hasan Cengic, Bosnia's deputy minister of defense, was fired because of his links to Iran.
U.S. intelligence officials believe that Cengic's firing did little to reduce Iranian influence in Bosnia. In the fall, the officials stated that at least one member of the Bosnian Muslim cabinet was an agent of MOIS, the Iranian intelligence service, according to the classified documents.