Two Victims in U.S. Raid Reportedly Were Spies
New York, Friday, June 25, 1999
By Eric Schmitt
Washington -- The American bombs that struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on May 7 destroyed the compound's intelligence-gathering nerve center, and two of the three Chinese killed were not journalists but intelligence officers, American officials and a Western diplomat said Thursday.
The highly sensitive nature of the parts of the embassy that were bombed suggests why the Chinese, despite assurances from President Clinton and other senior U.S. officials that the complex was erroneously targeted, insist the bombing was no accident.
"That's exactly why they don't buy our explanation," said one exasperated Pentagon official familiar with the incident that also wounded about 20 people.
The officials interviewed said they learned of the location of the intelligence operation only after the bombing. American officials traveled to Beijing last week to explain that an outdated map and a bureaucratic chain of errors failed to catch the misidentification of the building.
The bombing, which came at a critical time in the 11-week air war, deeply embarrassed U.S. officials and dealt a serious setback to relations with Beijing.
Indeed, China and the United States were close to hammering out a deal on China's entry to the World Trade Organization, but China suspended negotiations after the bombing.
In the assessment immediately after three satellite-guided 2,000-pound bombs from an American B-2 ripped into the embassy, military officials said the intended target had been the headquarters of a Yugoslav arms agency that is actually about 200 yards south of the embassy.
At the Pentagon Thursday, spokesman Kenneth Bacon sought to clarify reports that a midlevel analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency questioned whether military planners had picked the right building shortly before the embassy was struck, but that his concerns went unheeded.
The analyst, who was not identified, was not involved in selecting the target but knew about the arms agency headquarters. When he examined CIA maps and spy satellite photographs of the proposed target, he sensed something was wrong.
"He did not say, 'You're about to hit an embassy,"' Bacon told reporters. "He said, 'I believe you're going after an appropriate target but maybe not the best target."'
On May 4, three days before the bombing, the analyst called a midlevel officer at a NATO command in Naples, Italy, to express his doubts. At the same time, the analyst tried to arrange a meeting within the CIA to clarify his concerns. But he was unable to schedule the meeting before he left on two days of training.
"He didn't have a great sense of urgency about this because he had no idea of when the building was to be targeted," Bacon told reporters.
When the analyst returned on May 7, he again called Naples but spoke to a different officer. The analyst learned that the B-2 was en route to Belgrade from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on one of 50 missions that these warplanes flew during the war.
"The military officer recalls asking the CIA analyst if there was any reason to cancel the strike and being told there was no reason to call off the attack," Bacon said in a statement put out Thursday night, clarifying remarks he made earlier in the day.
The slightly conflicting accounts of the timing and specificity of the warning and Bacon's clarification underscore the murky nature of the whole incident.
The Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general conducted its own review, and found that the analyst's concerns went unheeded. Now the Pentagon plans a review headed by a deputy Defense secretary, John Hamre, and by Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The two officials are to present their findings in closed session before the House Intelligence Committee on July 1.
"There's some fog here, and I expect to be fully informed by next Thursday," said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., who heads the intelligence panel.
Goss, whose committee received a classified briefing on June 10 from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, on the embassy bombing, said he would hold a public hearing in mid-July.
Thursday's explanation from the Pentagon did little to assuage Chinese officials, many of whom suspect that NATO deliberately bombed their embassy because of Beijing's sympathies toward Yugoslavia. China's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Shen Guofang, commented, "So far the explanation from the U.S. side is not convincing."