| China embassy bombing: Incompetence or
BRUSSELS -- Was it simply a gross error, an
instance of sheer incompetence, or was NATO somehow tricked into bombing
the Chinese Embassy in the capital of Yugoslavia?
How could the combined intelligence sources of
the world's strongest military alliance have mistaken a large diplomatic
mission, fenced off in ample grounds, with brass plate on the gate and
fluttering national flag?
Diplomats from NATO countries sipped cocktails
in the embassy reception rooms that were gutted by alliance munitions.
Amid profuse apologies at the weekend, NATO
briefers ruffled at the suggestion that they might have used "an old
There were plenty of sources of good
intelligence, they insisted, without admitting they have eyes on the
ground as well as sharp-eyed satellites in space. But of all the
buildings in Belgrade that could have been bombed in error, what amazing
coincidence drew NATO guided bombs with unerring accuracy to the embassy
of the country that may hold the key to Yugoslavia's ultimate political
The United States, apparently admitting its
aircraft were involved, issued a statement on Sunday saying neither
pilot nor mechanical error was to blame.
It was "faulty information" which was not
detected in the target validation process and "an anomaly that is
unlikely to occur again."
That would appear to indicate a basic if
monumental error, an initial, gross targeting foul-up that slipped
through the U.S. military's mesh of check-and-double-check procedures
and sent NATO planes to the wrong address.
The statement did not go into what misled NATO
targeters who "believed that the (Yugoslav) Federal Directorate of
Supply and Procurement was at the location that was hit."
It did not say which of the 19 NATO allies, if
any other than the United States, was involved in providing information
that turned out to be so dramatically "faulty."
An earlier statement from NATO's Allied Command
Europe, issued in the middle of the European night by the staff of NATO
Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark, said the intended target was the
"weapons warehouse" of the procurement office.
Could there be a hardened weapons bunker under
the land that Belgrade sold to Beijing a few years ago for construction
of its new embassy?
Could NATO have known about the bunker but
somehow failed to register that an embassy made it impossible to strike?
NATO has not divulged what sort of munitions
were used or what plane delivered them. If they were deep penetration
"bunker-buster" bombs, perhaps the intended target was more than a
five-story embassy compound.
A Turkish newspaper on Sunday reported that
Serbian national intelligence had moved equipment into the embassy 10
days ago, possibly to receive intelligence from China that would help
Serbia defend its military against NATO attacks.
Could NATO have decided it must destroy this
link even at the risk of killing civilians and derailing diplomacy?
A cloak of national security has been thrown
over the incident, and as long as it remains such questions and
speculations are unlikely to receive answers.
But the dagger of investigative reporting is
barely out of its sheath.
"We are as mystified as you are," said a NATO
official. "Everyone is searching for a satisfactory explanation. But no
one knows if we'll ever have it."
Both the statement from Clark's command and that
in the name of U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and CIA Director
George Tenet were issued with unusual speed, as befitted the diplomatic
The full investigation may not be over yet, and
it cannot be excluded that new facts may emerge.
But on the basis of what has been made public so
far it is difficult to imagine how a hostile agent could have tricked
NATO into bombing the embassy of the one power whose consent NATO needs
in the United Nations Security Council to encircle Yugoslav President
Unless, that is, the hopeful conspirator was
relying on the ally of incompetence.