The Chinese Embassy Bombing

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The Chinese Embassy Bombing

"In the early hours of May 7, 1999, a USAF B-2 Spirit bomber, escorted by EA-6B defence suppression aircraft and F-15C fighters, dropped three GPS-guided Joint Defence Air Munition (JDAM) bombs on the Chinese Embassy in the Novi Beograd district of Belgrade, capital of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The action came under the auspices of the NATO campaign to prevent the genocidal policies of the Serbian Government. The US has always maintained that the bombing was an unfortunate mistake. However, though the dust has settled and the victims have long since been buried, the controversy continues unabated. Whilst the true story behind the strike is classified, and will remain so for the foreseeable future, some elements of the case are beyond doubt. However, new facts about the bombing cast increasing doubt on the US position.

Flagrant disregard

If the bombing was in fact deliberate, the strike showed flagrant disregard for the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The action of hitting an embassy compound, which is a part of sovereign Chinese territory under international law, is legally tantamount to a declaration of war. By using the umbrella of NATO to launch the strike, the US went beyond the NATO charter and subverted the will of the other NATO members, risking a split in NATO and, dependent on the political stance of those member states excluded from the mission, even risking the break-up of NATO by disregarding the opinions of the other, theoretically equal, member states. At best, it shows a breath-taking arrogance on the part of the US. At worst, it shows a contempt for America's supposed closest allies and the institution of NATO. To quote an official Chinese statement on the affair: "It constitutes something astonishing in diplomatic history".

If the strike was deliberate, as many claim, then it must have been carried out on the sole authority of the US military, not NATO, an action that only the Supreme Commander of the US armed forces, one William Jefferson Clinton could authorise. No US military officer could, or would, authorise such a strike without reference to the President.

Almost a year on, the Chinese Government continues to treat the claims of an accidental strike with contempt and consternation. The incensed Chinese authorities orchestrated hostile mobs on the streets of Beijing to show their anger at the targeting of an ostensibly neutral diplomatic building. The US and NATO publicly apologised and paid compensation to the families of those killed, hoping to quell the furore generated. Whilst NATO continues to assert that the bombing was accidental, others are less convinced, and suspicions are growing.

Despite the best efforts of the NATO propaganda machine, the denials contain important contradictions. One needs to take into account NATO's explanations, but the contradictions, both within the CIA statements and also between the CIA, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and NATO, are undeniable. To date, the Pentagon has refused to make any comments, beyond asserting the truth of the CIA statements issued by the CIA Director, George Tennet. Likewise, the different organisations listed are simply refusing to clarify the confusion, siting a reluctance to engage in "institutional mud slinging". Increasingly, reports are starting to surface on the possible reasons behind the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy, mainly concerning covert aid for the Serbs from the Chinese, and these reports have cast increasingly serious doubts on the official NATO line. Whilst these doubts remain unproven, there are two sides to this story.

Source of the blunder

In response to the scrutiny that the bombing elicited, NATO and the US set about explaining the process that could lead to the mistake. Early on in the enquiry, the CIA was quickly identified as the source of the blunder.

The Director of the CIA, George Tennet, launched a formal investigation into the incident, the preliminary findings of which he expressed on July 22, 1999, to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sitting in an open, public hearing. In this presentation, Tennet identified three basic failures.

Firstly, the technique used to locate what was claimed to be the intended target - the headquarters of the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement (FDSP) - was reported to be severely flawed. In an effort to pinpoint the location of the FDSP building, whose address was at Bulevar Umetnosti 2, Tennet asserted that a CIA intelligence officer used US Army land navigation techniques that were simply not suitable for the job. These techniques, called 'intersection' and 'resection', were only adequate to provide a general location and were not accurate enough to provide the actual location required for aerial targeting. As a result, the Chinese Embassy was mistakenly identified as the FDSP headquarters, when in fact, Tennet claimed that its actual whereabouts was some 980ft (300m) down the road. Tennet did not explain why this 'inappropriate technique' had been used.

Secondly, Tennet reported that none of the military or intelligence databases used to maintain an accurate picture of the location of potential targets contained the correct location of the Chinese Embassy, which had relocated to Novi Beograd (New Belgrade, as distinct from the Old City) in 1996. During the intelligence 'work-up' of the FDSP building, three maps two local commercial maps from 1989 and 1996, and one US Government map produced in 1997 - were used to locate the FDSP headquarters for the database. According to Tennet, none of the maps used contained any reference to the FDSP building and none identified the new location of the Chinese Embassy complex. Subsequently, NIMA has cast doubts on this version of events, claiming that its 1997 map accurately portrayed the location of the Embassy.

The reason, according to Tennet, that the Chinese Embassy was not accurately identified was that the database existed to identify targets, not non-targets, and therefore diplomatic buildings in general were not plotted as a priority. In short, Tennet claimed that the Embassy was not found because no one was looking for it. The thought that the CIA and other NATO intelligence agencies had not been conducting extensive Elint (Electronic Intelligence) against the embassy is far from convincing. Tennet confirmed that US officials had visited the new compound, but that no one asked them about the location.

The third mistake Tennet referred to was that nowhere in the target reviewing process was either of the previous two errors identified or rectified. Tennet stated that an intelligence officer had doubts over the location of the FDSP building very late in the process, but that he failed to make contact with the officer responsible for the target at the Joint Task Force NOBLE ANVIL in Naples. Apparently, soon after this officer realised he had doubts, he had to go on a training course and therefore was out of the office at the critical time. Having completed his training assignment, the officer concerned attempted to contact JTF NOBLE ANVIL but never got through.

It should be noted that, in an interview with the author, NATO spokesman Lee McClenny confirmed that the targeting information did not go through JTF NOBLE ANVIL, or any other NATO structure, in contrast to Tennet's official public statements. Instead, the co-ordinates were passed directly from the CIA to Whiteman Air Force Base, the home of the 509th Bomb Wing, where it was programmed into the JDAMs. Mr McClenny asserted that the entire process had remained 'Stateside', hence the failure of NATO staff to 'scrub' the target to check its accuracy, authenticity and location.

No indication

Tennet further asserted that the embassy, when subjected to satellite reconnaissance: "...provided no indication that the building was an embassy - no flags, no seals, no clear markings."

Numerous sources have verified to the author that the embassy was in fact flying a large, red, Chinese flag. Chinese statements provided to the author state that the embassy had a large sign plate on the front gate, stating clearly in both Serbo-Croat and Chinese the exact nature of the building. Furthermore, the new embassy building was built in a distinctive, traditional Chinese architectural style and bore virtually no resemblance to the FDSP headquarters. When questioned on this, the CIA claimed that "the imagery may not have been detailed enough to show this".

The confusion grows when one starts to question the CIA story. As stated above, in interviews with the author, the NATO spokesman categorically denied that the target package was cleared by NATO, or that the JTF NOBLE ANVIL ever saw any of the mission details, in direct contradiction to the line put out by Tennet. When asked, the CIA again asserted that the story given by Tennet to the House Committee was true, but claimed that the targeting information went from the CIA to the Pentagon to be processed. The Pentagon was only prepared to say that "some of the F-117 and B-2 missions were used as 'national assets' and therefore did not pass through NATO command structures", despite the requirement under the NATO charter to clear all missions carried out under NATO auspices with the NATO general council, made up of the foreign and defence ministers of the member states. The spokesman declined to say whether the mission that hit the Chinese Embassy fell into that category.

Other sources have confirmed that the French had no knowledge of this and other strikes, which were carried out behind the backs of the French and presumably others. In response, the US has asserted that its own pilots' lives were put at risk by French vetoes of targets that they deemed too sensitive. Speaking off the record, French officials have expressed grave doubts over target selection, both by NATO and by US planners, but save their biggest misgivings for the use of 'national assets'. These aircraft operated in the name of NATO yet remained outside the joint consultative process and the control of any of the member states, despite their use in a NATO, not US, campaign. Technically this means that the US waged a unilateral, undeclared war in addition to the NATO air campaign. The only constitutional institution in the US with the authority to wage war is the US President, Bill Clinton.

In his statement of July 22, Tennet said that the location of the FDSP building was some 300m away from the Chinese Embassy. The author's bring this assertion into question. The address given by Tennet to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was incorrect. Not only did the CIA misidentify the FDSP building once, with the consequences of the destruction of the Chinese Embassy, but it miss-identified the embassy again, with the consequence that its entire story appears increasingly dubious. This means that the US Constitution, which requires that House Select Committees receive correct information, was openly flouted.

Furthermore, one must consider what this FDSP building actually consisted of, to assess the validity of claims over the priority of the target. As a procurement office, it had little in the way of sensitive electronic equipment, military hardware or command and control facilities. In fact, according to Yugoslav sources, it was little more than an office block, which handled the paperwork behind the day-to-day business of procurement and supply administration. The FDSP building was hardly the most pressing target on the target list and, considering its location in the heavily built up area of Novi Beograd and its proximity to sensitive sites such as the Chinese Embassy, would appear a curious target for the US's most expensive strike asset and JDAM, the only bomb in the NATO arsenal capable of hitting targets through the thick Balkan cloud.

Jeopardising the operation

So what possible reason could the US have for bombing the Chinese Embassy, and in so doing, jeopardising Sino-US relations, discrediting international law and risking seriously offending, if not breaking-up, the NATO alliance? A number of theories are possible. British newspapers claim to have unnamed sources who point to the use by Belgrade of the Chinese Embassy as a 'Rebro' station, acting as a relay for radio instructions from Belgrade to the late Zeljko Raznatovic (better known by his nom de guerre, Arkan) and his 'White Tiger' militias, one of the most brutal formations deployed in the campaign against the Kosovar civilian population. NATO was, for the best of motives, intent on halting the actions of Arkan's death squads, to the extent of using extreme measures. The Observer Newspaper asserts that the Chinese Embassy's assistance to the Serb authorities is confirmed by unofficial briefings from Paris. The Observer quotes an un-named French Defence Ministry official as saying that the Embassy was hit because the building was using its extensive communications suite to rebroadcast signals to Serb fielded forces.

The Observer furthermore claims that it has spoken to three serving NATO officers, all of whom confirm the story in detail - a flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels. They all assert that the Chinese Embassy was acting as a rebroadcast station for the Yugoslav army and the White Tigers, after NATO strikes had destroyed the Serb's own relay stations.

The Observer states that the intelligence officer it interviewed, who declined to be named due to the threat of dismissal and the possible threat of prosecution, said: "NATO had been hunting the radio transmitters in Belgrade. When the President's [Milosevic's] residence was bombed on April 23, the signals disappeared for 24 hours. When they came on the air again, we discovered they came from the embassy compound." - The Observer, October 17, 1999.

One incident quoted in the same article concerns a heated exchange at the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Vincenza, northern Italy, the headquarters of the NATO air campaign (see Planning NATO Attacks, December 99, p50-54).

British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of May 8. Angrily they denounced the "cock-up". The US colonel was relaxed. "Bullshit," he replied to the complaints. "That was great targeting ... we put three JDAMs down into the (military] attache's office and took out the exact room we wanted ... they won't be using that place for rebro any more, and it will have given that bastard Arkan a headache."

It does, however, seem unlikely that the US would see the benefit of stopping Arkan's radio link with Belgrade as outweighing the costs incurred by the strike on the Chinese Embassy. Another, more convincing, explanation for the destruction of the Chinese Embassy is only now coming to light. The Chinese were using the embassy as a means for gathering sensitive Elint on a number of US systems, including Air Launched Cruise Missiles, which was providing them with information on possible counter-measures. In addition, it is highly likely that the newly-developed Passive Coherent Location System, credited with the ability to acquire stealth aircraft, was undergoing operational testing at the site.

China has shown great interest in elements of stealth technology, and, in February 1998, George Chen, a scrap metal dealer in New York, was accused by the US of attempting to ship sensitive navigation equipment from the F-117 to China. Such technology would have been useful, not only in replicating the navigation abilities, but also in identifying means to acquire and therefore engage the F-117.

But despite the thwarting of Chen's attempt, US sources claim, independently of the Chinese Embassy controversy, that China is close to fielding a revolutionary new anti-aircraft early-warning system capable of acquiring and tracking stealth aircraft. The new Passive Coherent Location System (PCLS) monitors ambient radio signals, such as civilian television and radio transmissions, and locates minute changes in the radio waves to locate hostile aircraft, no matter what their radar cross section is. This means that the system is capable of acquiring stealth platforms and is also un-jamable, due to the lack of any emissions from the monitoring system. As a result, the PCLS is also immune to Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs) and conventional Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). Lockheed Martin has been marketing a similar system for some time, named 'Silent Sentry', for use as a low-cost air traffic control and air defence monitoring system.

In the light of this, it would seem to be relevant to consider that the F-117 lost over Serbia was lost two weeks prior to the strikes on the Chinese Embassy. On the same night that the F-117 was lost, another returned to base with extensive damage. If the PCLS was to be on the verge of deployment, then the Kosovo campaign would have presented the Chinese military establishment with an unprecedented and un-missable opportunity to validate the system in the field. It should also be noted that Belgrade and Beijing have close military ties and it is probable that, were the system in operation, the targeting locks provided by the PCLS would be relayed to Serbian air defences. Furthermore, if the stealth assets were as 'low-observable' as is claimed, the US would have seen no necessity in escorting these assets with non stealth defensive aircraft such as EA-6Bs and F-15Cs as they would not only have been redundant, but would have provided conventional air defence radars with a track on the overall package. When questioned about this, the Pentagon declined to comment, claiming ,operational matters' could be jeopardised. The Pentagon is still remaining silent on the causes of the F-117 loss, although an 'After Action Report' is due to be published soon and the official censor may declassify some details. Or he may not. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, NATO said that it was aiming for the Hotel Yugoslavia, which was being used as Arkan's headquarters. This subsequently changed to the Belgrade Army central staff building and then to the Ministry of Defence north and south buildings - the MUP (Police) headquarters. Eventually, the statement was made that the target was the FDSP building. Whilst the fog of war can mean that even NATO could take some time to identify the intended target, the host of differing explanations and the layers of contradictions are far from convincing.

The three JDAMs dropped all hit the same side of the embassy building, leaving the front part unscathed. The section that bore the brunt of the damage was the Chinese military attache's office. Despite the fact that the embassy building was evacuated of all nonessential personnel during the hours of darkness to avoid any potential casualties, three Chinese were killed and more than 20 injured, including Ven Bo Koy, the military attache The Chinese official statements claim that the three dead were all journalists. It is very rare; not to say unprecedented in this journalist's experience, for members of the media to be allowed to stay in diplomatic buildings, let alone the offices of the military attache alone, and at night.

It seems more likely that, far from being journalists, the three were either intelligence officers or technicians operating the Elint systems monitoring the strikes being carried out in their vicinity.

The US and UK Governments still maintain that the embassy was hit by accident, and dismiss reports claiming the contrary as ,.unproven" and claim that other theories are nothing more than "conspiracy theories" and lack any substantiation. In addition, NATO claims that the negative fall-out of the bombing meant that any military gains were invalid to the cost benefit analysis. Whilst this may be true, the story of the Chinese Embassy promises to remain controversial for many years to come.

Whatever the truth behind the bombing of the Chinese Embassy, one thing remains clear. Thus far, official explanations are, at best, inconsistent and, at worst disingenuous. The target that NATO claims to have aimed for, the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement, did not exist in the site initially claimed by the CIA in the aftermath of the bombing. The actual FDSP building is some 1,640ft (500m) away from the site named. Is it really possible that the combined might of the CIA, M16 and the host of associated intelligence agencies misidentified the same target twice?

Two concluding observations spring to mind. The first is that readers can make up their own mind on the validity or otherwise of the various arguments. This is the one process that the CIA would like us to ignore. Rather than simply believing all the reports that emanate from CIA headquarters in Virginia, one must remember Churchill's dictum that "the first casualty of war is truth". Secondly, the mere fact that this dialogue is taking place in the free press shows the benefits of democracy. The Serbian press is cautious in the extreme of questioning the official position. This article, rather than weakening the military resolve of the NATO democracies, shows why those states are so justified in their strong stance. Differing opinions are worth defending."

(source: AFM, May, 2000)

p.s. A bit of Bull sh.t at the end to keep the news paper open? Or they do trully believe in what they say about the "Democratic" Europe and North America?

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