Michael Dobbs

Memo to the CIA: Share your secrets

For obvious reasons, intelligence agencies tend to hoard their secrets. If they can be induced to publicly release information about war crimes and genocide, the result can be extremely powerful. An information “multiplier” effect kicks in, similar to the multiplier effect in economics, unlocking even more important information. To understand how this works, consider the ...

For obvious reasons, intelligence agencies tend to hoard their secrets. If they can be induced to publicly release information about war crimes and genocide, the result can be extremely powerful. An information “multiplier” effect kicks in, similar to the multiplier effect in economics, unlocking even more important information. To understand how this works, consider the impact of the reconnaissance photograph above. 

As the caption suggests, it shows a group of Bosnian Muslim prisoners at a place called Nova Kasaba around 14:00 hours on July 13, 1995, two days after the fall of Srebrenica. You can see buses travelling along the main road. The photograph was taken at approximately the same time the men in the soccer field were being addressed by Ratko Mladic. I have described in a previous post how the Bosnian Serb military commander promised the prisoners that they would be exchanged for Serb soldiers held captive by the Bosnian government.

This particular overhead image attracted the attention of CIA analysts after Muslim refugees from Srebrenica, a former United Nations “safe area,”  began telling gruesome stories of massacres by forces loyal to Mladic.  Thousands of Muslims were captured by the Bosnian Serbs as they attempted to cross the road at Nova Kasaba in a desperate attempt to reach government-controlled territory to the north. Dutch peacekeepers detained overnight at the headquarters of a military police unit in the village also reported summary executions.

 

On August 2, a CIA analyst identified unusual earth disturbances near the Nova Kasaba soccer field that suggested the digging of two mass graves. He compared a July 27 overhead image with another photograph taken on July 13 that showed an undisturbed field. You can see the two images for yourself below:

The evidence of war crimes was reported to President Clinton in the top secret National Intelligence Daily on August 4. Under pressure to investigate the alleged atrocities at Srebrenica, the administration authorized United Nations ambassador Madeleine Albright to present the photographs at a closed Security Council session on August 10. The images quickly became public: it was now that the “information multiplier” effect kicked in.

On August 16, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, David Rohde, received permission to visit Republika Srpska. Rather than heading straight to Pale, the Bosnian Serb capital, he stopped off in Nova Kasaba, armed with a faxed copy of the “disturbed earth” image above. After searching for two hours, he came across evidence of fresh digging, empty ammunition boxes, the elementary school diploma of a Srebrenica resident, and a decomposed human leg. It turned out that the diploma belonged to a 21-year-old Muslim who had gone missing from Srebrenica. His August 18, 1995 report won a Pulitzer prize.

But that was not all. After the Dayton peace agreement in November 1995, international war crimes investigators finally gained access to the graves of Nova Kasaba. They discovered 33 corpses, identifiable as Srebrenica Muslims, most of whom had obviously been executed as their hands had been tied behind their backs with wire or string. The photograph below shows investigators at work in Nova Kasaba (in the grave identified with a blue marker in the map at the bottom of this post.) 

The moral of the story is that a single piece of intelligence is often meaningless unless triangulated with other pieces of intelligence. When governments, war crimes investigators, human rights organizations, and journalists share information, the impact can be extraordinary. Untangling the story of Srebrenica would have been impossible without such cooperation, whether formal or informal. 

I should note that the people whose remains were discovered in the Nova Kasaba graves were mainly stragglers who had somehow become separated from the main column of Muslim men heading northwards from Srebrenica. I will describe what happened to the much larger group of prisoners (the group addressed by Mladic on July 13) in the top photograph in a separate post.

On the Google map below, I have plotted the exact locations of various incidents that took place around Nova Kasaba, plus the precise locations of the graves identified in the photographs above. (You can use the zoom function to explore the area in greater detail.) I am also planning to upload the imagery onto Google Earth.  Click on the individual icons for more information. 


Click icons for details. View larger map .

 Twitter: @michaeldobbs

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola