More on the "Accidental" Bombing of the Chinese Embassy
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Sun Nov 28 19:40:13 MST 1999
Observer (London) - November 28, 1999
The Chinese embassy bombing
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
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
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out-of-date maps.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
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
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
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.'
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
`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
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
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
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 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.
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'?'
Ten reasons why CIA Director George Tenet is not telling the whole
truth about the Chinese embassy strike:
1 He told the US Select Committee On Intelligence that there were no
flags marking the Chinese embassy. Photographs show a Red Flag in the
front of the embassy compound.
2 He said there was nothing else marking the Chinese embassy.
Photographs also show a Red China shield at the front ...
3 ... and a sign saying Ambasada Narodne Republike Kine which is Serb
for Embassy of the People's Republic of China.
4 ... and huge hoardings at the side in Chinese script advertising
the delights of the People's Republic.
5 Tenet said the CIA used out-of-date maps. A source at the US
National Imagery and Mapping Agency described the `wrong map' story
as `a damned lie'.
6 The Chinese embassy's correct co-ordinates were in Nato's air
target computer at the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at
Vincenza in northern Italy.
7 And the embassy was placed correctly on a map used by Nato
intelligence officers in Macedonia.
8 Tenet said the strike was a tragic mistake. A US colonel at Vinenza
said: `Bullshit. We put two JDAMS into the exact room we wanted to.'
9 Tenet said the CIA meant to hit another building. If it was the
wrong building, why had Nato intelligence officers picked up Yugoslav
signals coming from the embassy?
10 And if was the wrong building, why did the Americans use the most
precise weapons in their arsenal to hit the right end of the wrong
building, leaving the ambassador's flower pots untouched?
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