Reviewed by Mithat Gashi/
After I escaped from Albania in the eighties, I had the opportunity to meet a number of Albanian personalities in the diaspora who had worked in different capacities with the Americans and the British during the late forties and early fifties to remove the communist regime in Albania. I also read Nicolas Bethel’s Great Betrayal published in 1984, and among others, I read Covert Action in the Cold War: US Policy, Intelligence, and CIA Opera¬tions by James Callanan (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2010), 268 pp., which devotes a chapter to “Albania OPC Intervention in Albania: An Experiment in Offensive Covert Action.” I also remember reading that Frank Wisner, the first director of covert CIA operations, referred to the Albanian case as, “a clinical experiment to see whether larger rollback operations would be feasible elsewhere.” A few months ago, Dalip Greca, the editor of Dielli, gave me Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA’s First Paramilitary Strike Against the Iron Curtain by Albert Lulushi with a request to write a review.
Lulushi has given us a comprehensive interpretation of the CIA declassified documents on the failed covert activities by the Americans and the British to remove the communist government in Albania between 1949-1954. Lulushi’s interpretation of thousands of pages of documents and his review of hundreds of other primary and secondary sources increases our understanding of the events and adds to the body of knowledge on covert operations.
The context of the book about the need for “a broader spectrum of [American] covert actions” against the Soviet threat is provided in the first chapter (p. 7). According to Lulushi, the National Security Council (NSC) directive of June 18, 1948 sets the ground for such operations. NSC supported, “covert activities related to: propaganda; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the world” (p. 7).
The timing of the NSC directive perfectly matched with the efforts of King Zog, exiled in Egypt, to gain support from the Americans to topple the communist regime in Albania. King Zog was persistent in developing lines of communication with the United States.
Lulushi does not directly say it, but if the British, who had established Operation Valuable, had nothing to do in convincing the Americans to support a covert operation in Albania, Zog could be viewed as the ideologue that triggered the creation of Operation Fiend. King Zog presented convincing arguments that overthrowing the communist regime in Albania was in the interest of the west and in particular, the United States. The Americans agreed. But as it turned out, the United States did not have a well-designed strategy in establishing a Cold-War foreign policy. It took too much time to mobilize Albanian leaders in exile, to recruit and train volunteers, and then to send missions to Albania. The Soviets with expertise on counterintelligence helped the Albanian regime maintain control of the country.
The shifting relations between the Yugoslavs, Albanians, and Soviet communist leaders provided an opportunity for intervention. In January of 1948, Stalin urged the Yugoslavs to “swallow Albania” (p. 34). However, within six months, the Tito-Stalin split resulted in favor of the Hoxha regime. In June of that same year, Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Cominform. Five months later, December 23, 1948, King Zog expressed to the Americans that the timing was exceptional for a covert operation in Albania (p. 41).
In 1947, the Americans did not accept Zog’s proposal. Two years later, the Americans were ready, but not logistically prepared to help launch a swift operation. It took too long to develop and launch what would later be called the three-phase plan. The first phase was to create an Albanian Committee that wanted to remove the Hoxha regime. The Committee would take the responsibility for all activities against the communist regime in Albania.
Lulushi dedicates a full chapter on National Committee for Free Albania. It took many negotiations between the Albanian leaders in exile and the Americans to reach an agreement. Balli Kombëtar, Legaliteti, and Bloku Kombëtar Independent, the three major political parties in exile, wanted to liberate Albania from the communists. However, the leaders of Balli Kombëtar remained an obstacle; they did not want King Zog to reclaim the Albanian throne if the communist regime was removed, and they considered members of the Bloku Kombëtar “traitors”. Zog reassured both the Americans and the Albanian leaders in exile that after the overthrow of the Hoxha regime, a referendum would decide the form of government in Albania.
The second phase included propaganda activities and the training of Albanians to get them ready to enter in different parts of Albania. The third phase was the infiltration through “various means, including airdrops, beach landings, and overland border crossings” (p. 50).
However, time was running out. Lulushi points out that by July of 1949, the Soviets moved about three thousand advisers from Yugoslavia into Albania after the Tito-Stalin split. The Soviets practically ran every sector of the Albanian government. The Soviets had the expertise for counter-intelligence.
Making sense of all the de-classified documents, the author follows the progression of all events and sequences the facts in a story line. The book provides a detailed description of the creation of the National Committee for Free Albania (NCFA) and how the Committee functioned; it describes how, where and who trained the Albanian recruits; it provides itineraries and maps of the infiltration teams and their outcome; it dedicates two chapters on Kim Philby, and enough biographical information about the major parties involved in the operation; it shows the evolution of Project Fiend, the infiltration of Sigurimi agents in NCFA, and the involvement of the Yugoslav, Greek, and Italian intelligence services.
Contrary to Nicolas Bethel, Lulushi believes that Kim Philby was not the reason that Operation Valuable/Fiend failed. According to Lulushi, Philby was aware of the objectives and the strategy, but did not have the specific knowledge of the infiltration plans because the details of the operations were not shared between CIA and SIS.
However, referring to Kim Philby, Yuri Modin, the KGB controller for the “Cambridge Five” states, “He gave us vital information about the number of men involved, the day and the time of the landing, the weapons they were bringing and the precise programme of action… The Soviets duly passed on Philby’s information to Albanians who set up ambushes” (See Modin, Yuri. 1994. My Five Cambridge Friends, p. 123).
Lulushi argues that the majority of the “agents” infiltrated to Albania were captured after Philby was relocated to London, where ultimately he was forced to resign.
At the same time, in a new biography, journalist Ben Macintyre provides the following quote from Philby: “The agents we sent into Albania were armed men intent on murder, sabotage and assassination … They knew the risks they were running. I was serving the interests of the Soviet Union and those interests required that these men were defeated. To the extent that I helped defeat them, even if it caused their deaths, I have no regrets” (see Macintyre, Ben. 2014. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. London: Bloomsbury. Publishing. ISBN 978-1408851722.)
Macintyre believes that “James Angleton gave Philby over drinks the precise coordinates for every drop zone of the CIA in Albania.” A similar claim appears on Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, 2007, Doubleday. Weiner write, “Angleton gave Philby the precise coordinates for the drop zone for every agent the CIA parachuted into Albania” (p. 46).
Lulushi is in agreement with James McCargar who worked with Philby on Operation Valuable. McCargar argues that Philby would have not been able to provide the details of the operation in a timely fashion to lead to the immediate capture.
Throughout the book, the author discusses how the operation evolved over time. For example, how the OPC priorities shifted after [a] Greece was no longer a threat to be taken over by the communists, [b] Tito broke relations with Stalin;  the Soviet agents moved into Albania, etc. A more in-depth analysis of whether the operation was “a clinical experiment to see whether larger rollback operations would be feasible elsewhere,” would have added more to the book.
The book’s historical background on Albania between 1912 and 1949 could be improved. For example, the author points out that Zog’s agents assassinated Avni Rustemi to avenge his uncle’s death, Esat Pashë Toptani. There is speculation, but no hard evidence to conclude that Zog ordered the assassination of Rustemi. At the same time, the book does not mention that Zog was shot two times by Beqir Valteri as he was entering the parliament in February of 1924 and as a result Zog resigned his position as prime minister. Lulushi writes that Noli became the prime minister of a democratic liberal government. We may conclude that philosophically Noli believed in some form of liberal democracy, but he did not come to power through free, fair, and competitive elections. In another section, Lulushi writes that when the Italians invaded Albania, King Zog “took the gold reserves of the Albanian National Bank, estimated at three million gold coins, and the crown jewels, which were part of the national treasurer….” The communist authorities in Albania have also accused Zog of stealing the gold from Albania’s national treasury. Did King Zog steal from the national treasury? The author quotes a BGFIEND document as a source, which makes the claim questionable.
Lulushi refers to the Albanians who collaborated with the British and the Americans to topple the Hoxha regime as secret agents. However, the Albanians saw themselves as volunteers who collaborated with the Americans, the British, or the Italians for a common goal: to remove the communist regime in Albania.
The book is worth reading. Students of covert operations may find the descriptive details to be lengthy, but the facts are narrated well, and the last chapter on the lessons and the legacy of Project Fiend puts the information in a greater context. The book is organized into 18 chapters, a prologue, an epilogue, and an introduction. References are provided as endnotes, organized by chapter. The bibliography contains two parts. The CIA BGFIEND documents are listed on pages 297-308 both by volume and alphabetically. Pages 308-317 provide a list of books, articles, online sources showing the date that the sources were accessed, and interviews that the author references. There are 16 pages of photos with captions. A list of maps, acronyms, cryptonyms, and pseudonyms, and a note on the pronunciation of Albanian names is also provided.
Readers interested in the primary source documents now have an opportunity to access some of the BGFIEND documents online at http://www.foia.cia.gov/
The implications for future research would be to examine Sigurimi archives in Albania and the archives of Albania’s neighbors, particularly Greece, Serbia, and Italy (including the Vatican). An examination of all the documents would provide a much better picture for the reader on operation efforts to remove the communist regime in Albania.
*. Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA’s First Paramilitary Strike Against the Iron Curtain By Albert Lulushi. Arcade Publishing, 2014, 326 pp., endnotes, bibliography, maps, illustrations, pictures, index. $24.95.
Publikoi,Dielli, 28 Nentor 2014