“Those involved in targeting mistakenly believed the Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement was at the location that was hit,” the statement said after an apologetic preamble.
“It was the result of neither pilot nor mechanical error … faulty information led to a mistake in the initial targeting … In addition, the extensive process in place used to select and validate targets did not correct this original error.” The statement concluded: “A review of our procedures has convinced us this was an anomaly that is unlikely to occur again. Therefore Nato authorities intend to continue and intensify the air campaign.”Official determination that the fault lay in the initial targeting was an attempt to quash other theories, from pilot error to Serbian trickery. While the Nato spokesman, Jamie Shea, indicated that the Cohen-Tenet statement would probably be the most detailed explanation made public, it left many questions unanswered.It did not elucidate, for instance, when in the intelligence process the mistake was made. One theory was that information on the location of the weapons supply centre could have been culled from outdated maps.
The Chinese embassy building is less than five years old and the new quarter of Belgrade has been developed in the past decade.As Nato officials stressed, conventional maps are not the only source of information, and are augmented by satellite reconnaissance and information from the ground. One of the constituent pieces of information – the map reference or identification of the building or the site – was incorrect: and the CIA is not saying which. As one official also noted, targeting concentrates on identifying buildings, not ruling them out. Any list of “undesirable” targets could have included the embassy and found its position coincided with that established for the supply department, but this would not have been done.Reports from Belgrade said the Yugoslav supply department was never at the Chinese embassy site. According to one theory, the CIA might have had information that the site contained a weapons bunker – but not that an embassy had been built on top.Another report, in a Turkish paper, suggested Serbian intelligence moved equipment into the embassy to receive information from China that would help in the defence of Belgrade against the US – and that Nato had set out deliberately to destroy that potential link, whatever the diplomatic cost. There were denials of this, including from China.The CIA admission that the building was misidentified at a relatively early stage appears to exclude one theory: that Serbian intelligence might have tricked Nato into a raid that would have untold diplomatic fall-out because of China’s opposition to the war and the veto it wields as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When Nato appeared to be moving towards accepting a UN role in a settlement, alienating the most hostile member of the Security Council would damage Nato’s own interests above all.Serbian intelligence – or disinformation – has been broached as a possible cause of one costly Nato error: the bombing of at least one, and possibly two, refugee convoys near the Macedonian border four weeks ago.
The favoured explanation is that Nato pilots, flying high to evade Yugoslav fire, misidentified the convoy. A small detail from the official account of what went wrong, however, indicated that the main attack was triggered by an intelligence report passed to the lead pilot from the Aviano air base that positively identified the convoy as military in nature.One theory, not expressly denied by Nato, is that this information could have come from an informant on the ground to trick pilots into a fatal error. Nato receives information about Yugoslav forces from members of the Kosovo Liberation Army in Kosovo and passes it on using codes. If a code fell into the wrong hands – as is alleged may have happened with the convoy bombing – Yugoslav forces have a powerful tool against Nato pilots.To prepare for operations over Yugoslavia, Nato pilots train in simulators which surround them with a “virtual reality” of the terrain and structures they are to target. While the accuracy of targeting may be restricted by the height they must fly at (although they have recently been permitted to fly lower), the quality of intelligence is crucial at every stage of the operation.As Nato and US officials stressed yesterday, errors – human, mechanical or intelligence – in the campaign have been “a fraction of 1 per cent: there were 12 that went astray out of 8,988 that did not go astray,” said Mr Shea.This aggregate success rate, however, is unlikely to avert the criticism that will break over the CIA now that the bombing of the embassy has been laid at its door.Pilloried a year ago for failing to detect that India was preparing to conduct a nuclear test, it has struggled to reassert its authority – a struggle not helped by allegations that extensive Chinese espionage in the US went undiscovered for more than a decade. In Washington, where the pursuit of scapegoats for the perceived failure of the Yugoslav operation is in full swing, the CIA has sprung with one bound to the top of the list.. AS TENS of thousands of incensed students and ordinary Chinese surged through the main embassy district of Peking and took to the streets of big cities across the country yesterday, China’s leaders moved to ensure that the nationalistic fury they had unleashed would not spin out of control.