Editor’s note: After US bombs slamed into China’s Belgrade embassy on May 7th 1999, its Defense Secretary William Cohen claimed this was an error due to “outdated maps’. This was bizarre since the site never had a military or related facility, no matter how long back into the past you went. The pieces below are the original The Observer (a British weekly related to The Guardian) report on their joint investigation into the bombing with Danish Politiken, and a follow-up which confirmed four months after the war ended that the bombing had been deliberate. The investigation was by a team of pro-NATO journalists of which Ed Vulliamy had a particularly sordid career as a anti-Serbian propagandist (I’m sure you can detect his bullshit about Arkan and “death squads”.)
You may think bombing China’s sovereign territory just to somewhat degrade and frustrate Serb communications is insane but you have to appreciate the context. While the 1999 Kosovo War nowadays gets bill as this super successful war for the US that shows you could actually win wars just from the air, and without a single American fatality, at the time things were different. Madeline Albright and the White House fully expected the Serbs would fold after just days of bombing, instead the war just kept dragging on and NATO couldn’t find a solution to bring the Serbs to heel, making it ever more desperate and continually expanding the scope of the bombing. Even so the hostilities only concluded after the US revised its demands to what it probably could have gotten three months earlier at Rambouillet without the war, and only after having to vote in UNSC Resolution 1244 reaffirming Yugoslavia’s sovereignty over Kosovo.
Nato deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the war in Kosovo after discovering it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications.
According to senior military and intelligence sources in Europe and the US the Chinese embassy was removed from a prohibited targets list after Nato electronic intelligence (Elint) detected it sending army signals to Milosevic’s forces.
The story is confirmed in detail by three other Nato officers – a flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels. They all confirm that they knew in April that the Chinese embassy was acting as a ‘rebro’ [rebroadcast] station for the Yugoslav army (VJ) after alliance jets had successfully silenced Milosevic’s own transmitters.
The Chinese were also suspected of monitoring the cruise missile attacks on Belgrade, with a view to developing effective counter-measures against US missiles.
The intelligence officer, who was based in Macedonia during the bombing, said: ‘Nato had been hunting the radio transmitters in Belgrade. When the President’s [Milosevic’s] residence was bombed on 23 April, the signals disappeared for 24 hours. When they came on the air again, we discovered they came from the embassy compound.’ The success of previous strikes had forced the VJ to use Milosevic’s residence as a rebroadcast station. After that was knocked out, it was moved to the Chinese embassy. The air controller said: ‘The Chinese embassy had an electronic profile, which Nato located and pinpointed.’
The Observer investigation, carried out jointly with Politiken newspaper in Denmark, will cause embarrassment for Nato and for the British government. On Tuesday, the Queen and the Prime Minister will host a state visit by the President of China, Jiang Zemin. He is to stay at Buckingham Palace.
Jiang Zemin is still said to be outraged at the 7 May attack, which came close to splitting the alliance.The official Nato line, as expressed by President Bill Clinton and CIA director George Tenet, was that the attack on the Chinese Embassy was a mistake. Defence Secretary William Cohen said: ‘One of our planes attacked the wrong target because the bombing instructions were based on an outdated map.’
Later, a source in the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency said that the ‘wrong map’ story was ‘a damned lie’.
Tenet apologised last July, saying: ‘The President of the United States has expressed our sincere regret at the loss of life in this tragic incident and has offered our condolences to the Chinese people and especially to the families of those who lost their lives in this mistaken attack.
Nato’s apology was predicated on the excuse that the three missiles which landed in one corner of the embassy block were meant to be targeted at the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement, the FDSP. But inquiries have revealed there never was a VJ directorate of supply and procurement at the site named by Tenet. The VJ office for supplies – which Tenet calls FDSP – is some 500 metres down the street from the address he gave. It was bombed later.
Moreover the CIA and other Nato intelligence agencies, such as Britain’s MI6 and the code-breakers at GCHQ, would have listened in to communication traffic from the Chinese embassy as a matter of course since it moved to the site in 1996.
A Nato flight control officer in Naples also confirmed to us that a map of ‘non-targets’: churches, hospitals and embassies, including the Chinese, did exist. On this ‘don’t hit’ map, the Chinese embassy was correctly located at its current site, and not where it had been until 1996 – as claimed by the US and NATO.
Why the Chinese were prepared to help Milosevic is a more murky question. One possible explanation is that the Chinese lack Stealth technology, and the Yugoslavs, having shot down a Stealth fighter in the early days of the air campaign, were in a good position to trade. The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists – the official Chinese version – but intelligence officers.
The Chinese military attache, Ven Bo Koy, who was seriously wounded in the attack and is now in hospital in China, told Dusan Janjic, the respected president of Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, only hours before the attack, that the embassy was monitoring incoming cruise missiles in order to develop counter-measures.
Nato spokesman Lee McClenny yesterday stood by the official version. ‘It was a terrible mistake,’ he said, ‘and we have apologised.’ A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said yesterday: ‘We do not believe that the embassy was bombed because of a mistake with an out-of-date map.’
Source: The Observer
Truth behind America’s raid on Belgrade
The US claimed it was a tragic blunder. But the pinpoint accuracy of the attack was in fact a deadly signal to Milosevic: seek outside help in Kosovo at your peril
On May 7 this year the B2 – at $44 billion the world’s most expensive plane – took off from Whiteman air force base in Missouri, its sleek black belly loaded with missiles, destined for Belgrade. It flew high across the Atlantic and Western Europe before opening its bomb doors over the Adriatic and releasing the most accurate air-drop munitions in the world – the JDAM flying bomb.
The JDAM uses four adjustable fins to control its position, continually checked and re-checked by fixes from seven satellites. It is so precise a weapon it is accurate to a range of less than two metres.
The bombs carried on that B2 rained down over the Serb capital and rocketed towards their target – the southern end of the Chinese Embassy – demolishing the office of the military attache and killing three `journalists’. But the midnight strike was so precise the embassy’s north end was untouched, leaving the marble and glass of the front entrance and the ambassador’s Mercedes and four flower pots unscathed.
The CIA, US State Department and British Foreign Office claimed the strike had hit the wrong building. It was, they regretted, a terrible mistake. Though America’s trillion-dollar arsenal had been deployed, the target had been selected by an intelligence analyst using out-of-date maps. The strike on the Chinese Embassy came at a bad time for Nato’s campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Mistaken attacks on convoys of defenceless Albanian refugees had dented Western public opinion’s belief in the rightness of the war; now the US war machine had hit the most diplomatically sensitive target possible – by mistake.
But as mobs stormed the US and British Embassies in Beijing, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin refused to take President Bill Cliton’s phone calls, an entirely different story was being revealed on the other side of the world.
At the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Vincenza in northern Italy, British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of 8 May. Angrily they denounced the `cock-up’. The US colonel was relaxed. ‘Bullshit,’ he replied to the complaints. `That was great targeting … we put two JDAMs down into the attache’s office and took out the exact room we wanted … they (the Chinese) won’t be using that place for rebro (re-broadcasting radio transmissions) any more, and it will have given that bastard Arkan a headache.’
Last month The Observer raised the first serious challange to the official version of events and claimed the embassy was targeted directly. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described it as `balderdash’. Since then, as this paper’s journalists have continued to pursue the story, more witnesses have come forward.
The true story – though it is being denied by everyone from Albright, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and CIA director George Tenet down – is that the Americans knew exactly what they are doing. The Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was deliberately targeted by the most precise weapons in the US arsenal because it was being used by Zeljko Raznatovic, the indicted war criminal better known as Arkan, to transmit messages to his `Tigers’ – Serb death squads – in Kosovo.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were some among non-US staff who were suspicious. On 8 May they tapped into the Nato target computer and checked out the satellite co-ordinates for the Chinese Embassy. The co-ordinates were in the computer and they were correct. While the world was being told the CIA had used out-of-date maps, Nato’s officers were looking at evidence that the CIA was bang on target.
Five weeks ago The Observer reported evidence gathered from sources within Nato – serving military officers who would be instantly sacked if named. Our account was denied by the CIA, by Albright and by Cook, who said there was not a `shred of evidence to support this rather wild story’.
The Observer has gone back to its original sources, and also spoken to other serving officers, from Nato colonels to intelligence officers to a military officer with the rank of a general. All are in agreement. The Chinese Embassy was deliberately bombed.
According to one of these sources, it was the fact that the embassy was being used to rebroadcast signals for Arkan and his White Tigers [actually the militia nickname was just “The Tigers” but suppose “White Tigers” gives it the requisite rednecky racists feel] that swung the argument to hit the embassy. `The fact that it was an operating base for Arkan, an indicted war criminal, was something that convinced the Americans to strike. Had it just been a transmitter for the VJ (the Yugoslav Army), they might have held off.’ [Fanciful considering NATO was bombing Television make up ladies.]
Arkan’s spectre had come to loom large over the conflict in Kosovo. Indicted for his role in organising death squads in the war in Bosnia, his precise role in Kosovo is still not clear. But investigators working for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague had good reason to suspect that Arkan’s death squads were playing a murderous role in Operation Horseshoe, Milosevic’s plan to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its majority Albanian population.
But whether the signals intercepted were those of Arkan and his thugs or simply the Yugoslav army and police – both also implicated in atrocities in Kosovo – one thing now is clear. Nato was convinced that some of the radio broadcasts they were picking up were coming from within the Chinese Embassy itself.
The subject of intense speculation at the time, it is only now that The Observer has been able to confirm this. Confirmation of the Chinese Embassy’s assistance to the Yugoslav war effort came in Paris last week. A senior French Defence Ministry official said bluntly that the building attacked on 7 May had been targeted precisely because it had been rebroadcasting Yugoslav signals – although the French insist they were never told the building was the Chinese Embassy.
`Not one of us had ever imagined this target could have been the embassy. We had been told simply that it was a military target that had been monitored transmitting signals to the Yugoslav army from its basement. It had been described to us as a communications target that would be taken out.’ The French, however, are increasingly suspicious of what the Americans really knew. The same source continues: `What the Americans really knew, I wouldn’t like to say.’
It is not only The Observer’s Nato witnesses who have blown a hole in the CIA’s original story – as rehearsed by Albright and Cook that the embassy was bombed by mistake because the agency used old maps of Belgrade to work out its target list. This is a cover story which nearly all experts, including one’s of America’s most eminent China hands, Ezra Vogel, have judged not credible. The US’s own National Imagery and Mapping Agency describes the wrong map story as `a damned lie’.
The claims made by the CIA’s director George Tenet to the Congressional Select Committee on Intelligence on 22 July have come under renewed scrutiny – and been found wanting. Tenet told the US Congressmen there were no visible signs that the building was an embassy, no flags and no insignia. But photographs taken in the immediate afermath of the attack show a different story. These pictures show the Red Flag at the main gate and two hoardings covered in Chinese script on the side of the building. The embassy was clearly marked by a sign in Serb saying `Ambasada Narodne Republike Kine’ (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China) – stark evidence that the CIA chief was not telling the whole truth.
Equally compelling is the fact that the location of the Chinese Embassy in soulless new Belgrade was hardly a state secret.
Opposite the Park of Peace and Friendship, the Chinese Embassy at Number 3 Cherry Blossom Boulevard stands mangled by missiles at one end; almost untouched at the other. The sheets that were knotted together to form makeshift escape routes for the diplomats, journalists, spies and other employees trapped inside still hang from the holes that were once the embassy’s smoked glass windows, trailing between the white blinds and straggly blue-green curtains that still flap in the wind.
The reception room is still there, laid open to the elements by the bomb that sliced away its outer wall on the building’s south side. Its reproduction Louis XIV sofa set stands under a row of gilded chandeliers and faces a hole the size of a crater in the adjacent building that was once the Chinese ambassador’s home. That room and those sofas were familiar to Belgrade’s diplomatic corps, who regularly met US diplomats at receptions in the building.
Officially the CIA’s explanation for hitting a building, well known to its diplomatic corps, is this: it used a flawed technique for locating the building they were supposed to bomb – an arms agency headquarters.
It is a version of events that no longer appears to stand up to scrutiny. For not only were the embassy co-ordinates in the Nato computer, as the air targeters discovered, but the Chinese Embassy, as has been confirmed to The Observer, had long been a prime target for Western intelligence, and would therefore have been extremely well identified.
The reason for the scrutiny was that for years the Chinese Communist regime has been co-operating with the Serbs in building up its military capability. The eyes and ears of the Western world – the US’s National Security Agency and Britain’s own GCHQ – were watching and listening.
And there was another issue, as a Nato air controller involved in the campaign made clear. `The Chinese Embassy had an electronic profile, which Nato had located and pinpointed.’ According to this source, that data was forwarded to the joint intelligence operational centre at Mons, the headquarters of Nato in Europe. While initial scrutiny by US military and civilian officials showed that the area was part of a park owned by a Yugoslav army officers’ fund, more recent maps provided by the Europeans showed the clear location of the embassy. It was on the banned list, according to a senior officer, and needed approval from the US Commander-in-Chief, Bill Clinton, to have it removed from that list and designated as a target.
It is this issue that has become the most contentious one between the US and its European Nato allies, especially France: that America was ordering missions outside of Nato’s joint command structure that it kept from its fellow combatants. This month this issue surfaced in a bitter exchange between the two countries: France accusing America of running missions behind its back while America accused the French government of putting Nato pilots’ lives at risk by vetoing targets. French officials in the United States – at the UN and in Washington – say privately that their government was `wary in the extreme’ at the way targets were chosen by Nato during the Kosovo conflict.
`US Air Force and intelligence services had a direct hot line to the Nato planners in Brussels, but they were making their own selections, irrespective of the joint consultative process,’ complained a French diplomat at the UN mission in New York.
Another was more forthright, stating that there was still `very great scepticism’ among French diplomats at the CIA’s explanation of an erroneous attack: `We still have an open mind,’ said one official, `and there is still reason for us to believe that China’s role and position in the Balkans could have led to an attack.’
Asked what could have been the motives for a deliberate attack, the official replied: `The possibility that the Chinese were helping the Yugoslavs in a number of ways, including militarily, and concern among American intelligence that China was indulged in a wholesale espionage against America.’
What is clear, however, from The Observer’s sources is that the Combined Air Operations Centre at Vincenza was not informed of the targeting plan for the embassy because `all operations with stealth aircraft and other special systems were kept strictly close to the chest by the Americans … they only told us after the event.’
The question now remains why America might have risked such a controversial attack. `The aim was to send a clear message to Milosevic that he should not use outside help in the shape of the Chinese,’ said a Nato intelligence officer. [Clearly “the message would have been for the Chinese not to help and not for Milosevic.]
One source, a senior Nato air force officer, said: `I would lay money that the Chinese civilians killed by the bombing were intelligence officers. The Americans knew exactly what to hit and how to do it … far from not knowing the target was an embassy, they must have been given architect’s drawings.’
An intelligence expert told The Observer: `If it was the wrong building, why did they use the most precise weapons on Earth to hit the right end of that `wrong building’?’
Source: The Observer