Time magazine's May 17 issue ran a feature on the funding of the Kosovo Liberation Army, titled "A Fighting Chance," suggesting that the KLA is sustained by donations from ethnic Albanians outside of Kosovo. The article reports that the Republic of Kosova Fund holds "more than $33 million" in a bank in Albania, yet in a graphic titled "How the KLA Gets Its Money," Time cheerfully reports that the KLA gets its money from "fund raisers, mailings and other sources." What "other sources"? Bake sales? Time doesn't say.
Fortunately, there has been some investigation into the question. The London Times on March 24 cited an intelligence report that indicated as much as half of the funding for the KLA's guerrilla war comes from drug proceeds. And the San Francisco Chronicle on May 5 reported that European and U.S. law enforcement groups see officers of the KLA as "a major force in international organized crime, moving staggering amounts of narcotics through an underworld network that reaches into the heart of Europe."
According to the March 24 London Times piece, the police forces of three European countries and Europol are all independently investigating "growing evidence that drug money is funding the KLA's leap from obscurity to power." The Times went on to say that "Albania--which plays a key role in channeling money to the Kosovans--is at the hub of Europe's drug trade," and that Europol is "preparing a report for European interior and justice ministers on a connection between the KLA and Albanian drug gangs." The San Francisco Chronicle reported that, according to Interpol, "the Balkan Route is a principal thoroughfare for an illicit drug traffic worth $400 billion annually."
Even the U.S. government has been concerned over KLA-drug ties for at least four years--the Chronicle cites a 1995 advisory by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that "warned of the possibility 'that certain members of the ethnic Albanian community in the Serbian region of Kosovo have turned to drug trafficking in order to finance their separatist activities.'"
Ties between the U.S. government and the KLA are so close that, as Time reports (5/17/99), although "Washington is still shying away from directly arming the KLA, a senior administration official admitted a fortnight ago for the first time that 'we're in some respects now the KLA's airforce.'"
In light of that, one would think that investigating allegations of the KLA's drug smuggling activities--which, if true, imply a possible U.S. connection to the European heroin trade--would be a top journalistic priority. Instead, Time sentimentalized its KLA story, ending with an anecdote about an ethnic Albanian farmer in Macedonia giving his entire life-savings of $8 to a fund for refugees. In return, the farmer received a receipt--with "no inscription of the collector's name or the purpose of the donation"--that "now holds pride of place in Bejadini's empty wallet, next to the picture of his wife."
Why didn't Time mention the ongoing international investigations of the KLA's suspected role in the heroin trade? A look back at Time's Iran-Contra coverage sheds some light.
In a 1987 investigation into allegations of drug-smuggling by the Nicaraguan Contras, Time staff writer Laurence Zuckerman found serious evidence of Contra-cocaine links, but his story was never run. Why not? A senior editor acknowledged to Zuckerman: "Time is institutionally behind the contras. If this story were about the Sandinistas and drugs, you'd have no trouble getting it in the magazine." (Read "Time Suppresses Contra Drug Story" for more information.)
Too bad Serbia isn't the hub of the European heroin trade--it would have made a great story.
ACTION: Ask Time why its coverage has ignored charges that the KLA gets much of its funding from drug-smuggling. Urge Time to conduct a more skeptical investigation of where the KLA's money actually comes from.