HOW NATO & THE MEDIA MISREPRESENTED THE CHINESE EMBASSY BOMBING
By Jared Israel
Opponents of the war against Serbia argue
that much of what
passes for news these days is really a kind of war
propaganda, that NATO puts out misinformation and the
media disseminates the stuff uncritically.
A case in point is the coverage of the
bombing of the Chinese
Embassy in Belgrade. I download wire service reports from
the AOL world news database (accessible at
aol://4344:30.WORLD.338815.464449182 ) if you are an
AOL member. This allows me to see exactly how wire
services and newspapers change the news from hour to hour.
Very instructive for studying how misinformation is
Studying misinformation is a special
interest of mine. If you'd
like to see some of my previous work in this area, send me a
note and I'll email you The Emperor's Clothes, which
analyzes how the NY Times misinformed its readers about
the bombing of a Sudanese pill factory in August, 1998.
Before we examine the news coverage of
the bombing of the
Chinese Embassy, let me recount a very interesting report
from a Chinese intellectual, currently at Harvard's Kennedy
Institute, who spoke on May 8th at the weekly Boston
anti-war rally (held at 3:00 every Sat. in Copley Square).
The man had conferred with people overseas
and thus had
direct knowledge of the attack on the Chinese Embassy. He
said three missiles had struck the Embassy compound, hitting
three apartments where one or both adult family members
was a journalist. The missiles apparently carried a light
Why NATO Targeted Chinese Journalists
Why, asked the speaker, did all three
Clearly, he said, the goal was to punish
sympathizing with the Yugoslav people against NATO. More
specifically, the intention was to terrorize Chinese
newspeople in Yugoslavia, thus silencing yet another
non-NATO information source.
Does that seem too nightmarish to be true?
Keep in mind, NATO has consistently bombed
outlets with the stated intention of silencing sources of "lying
propaganda." Why would it be so far-fetched for them to do
the same to Chinese newspeople?
Perhaps NATO wants to silence ALL non-NATO
on the war, even at the risk of starting WW III.
Or perhaps NATO, or a part of NATO, such
as the U.S.
government, wants to provoke a fight with China before
China gets too strong to be crushed?
Let's take a look at the "news" coverage.
SORRY, WRONG BUILDING
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea's first response
Embassy bombing was a) to apologize and b) to explain that
the NATO missiles had gone astray. NATO had intended to
hit a building across the street, a building that houses what
SHEA called the "Federal Directory for the Supply and
Said Shea: "'I understand that the two
buildings are close
together."' (Reuters, May 8)
(If they ever catch the terrorists who
bombed the US
Embassy in Kenya and bring them to trial, could their legal
team utilize the Shea Defense which consists of a) first you
say I'm very sorry and b) then you say you
meant to blow up the building across the street?)
But getting back to the "news" -- according
to Jamie Shea the
Chinese Embassy is close to the "Federal Directory for the
Supply and Procurement." But the Chinese Embassy is in
fact located in the middle of a large lawn or park in a
residential neighborhood and:
"The embassy stands alone in its own
grounds surrounded by
grassy open space on three sides. Rows of high-rise
apartment blocs are located 200 (600 feet) metres away and
a line of shops, offices and apartments sits about 150 meters
(450 feet) away on the other side of a wide tree-lined
avenue, [called]...Cherry Tree Street." (Reuters, 5/8)
NEARBY BUILDING? WHAT NEARBY BUILDING?
Apparently realizing that a "Federal
Directory for the Supply
and Procurement" would not be placed in an apartment
complex -- or on a 1000 foot lawn - NATO spun a new story
a few hours later:
"Three NATO guided bombs which slammed
Chinese embassy in Belgrade overnight struck precisely at
the coordinates programmed into them, but it was not the
building NATO believed it to be.
'They hit bang on the three aim points
they were given,' a
military source said....
[NATO military spokesman General Walter]
Jertz declined to
say what sort of weapon hit the Chinese embassy, except
that it was 'smart' or guided munitions and not free-fall
bombs. He denied planners were 'using old maps, wrong
maps.'" (Reuters, May 8)
OK. Three smart missiles or bombs hit
the three locations
they were supposed to hit. It was a misidentified target. And
the Pilot(s) wasn't misled by old or bad maps.
On the face of it, what is the likelihood
of NATO picking
target coordinates that just happen to coincide with three
apartments occupied by journalists? I mean, one
computer-guided bomb destroying a journalist's home would
not be unlikely. But three hitting three journalists' homes?
TOO MANY SPOKESMEN
In the same Reuters story, another expert
suggests it would
be highly unlikely for NATO to make the kind of mistake
Jertz is suggesting:
"'Target identification and pilot preparation would have been
extensive in this case, because of the military importance of
the intended target and because Belgrade is heavily defended
by Serb forces,' [Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, a
strategic planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff] said at a
briefing for reporters.
'`'The way targeting works ... the higher
the threat, the more
valued the target, the more time you would study it. The
more time you have to study it, the better,' Wald said."
Based on what Wald is saying here, isn't
it pretty much
unlikely that an embassy would be mistaken for a "Federal
Directory for the Supply and Procurement?"
TOO MANY NAMES
Which brings us to yet another problem.
Because in the same
MAY 8 Reuters Story the name of the place which NATO
intended to bomb mysteriously changes not once but twice.
Read the following quote from General Jertz carefully:
"Careful to avoid making excuses, NATO
spokesman General Walter Jertz said NATO went after the
target because it thought it was the weapons warehouse of
the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement.
'The information we had was that in this
building was the
headquarters of the Directorate, and we have no evidence
that we were misled,' he said."
So now the thing they thought they were
a) the Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement;
b) Weapons warehouse of the Federal Directorate for Supply
and Procurement; and
c) the headquarters of the Directorate.
No wonder they couldn't be misled. They
name the place.
AND TOO MANY MISSILES
NATO'S next spin-control effort was an
attempt to simplify
things. Retelling the story again a bit later on the 8th, AP
reported that: "The precision-guided weapon that hit the
Chinese embassy in Belgrade apparently did just what it was
One weapon. That does make things more
of course the reader has seen the previous stories that refer
to Three missiles....Since few people read multiple news
stories about the same topic, and even fewer read them
carefully, moving from three to one missile is a pretty safe
gambit. But the
problem still remains: how could NATO targeteers, pouring
over their maps, not notice the label CHINESE EMBASSY
on a building they were planning to bomb?
THE MAPS! IT WAS THE MAPS!
NATO'S answer: switch positions on the map question.
What was the source of "the erroneous
B-2 bomber attack,
which dropped several satellite-guided bombs on the
Here's the latest explanation:
"In mistakenly targeting the Chinese
Embassy in Belgrade
Friday night, U.S. intelligence officials were working from an
outdated map issued before China built its diplomatic
compound several years ago, American and NATO
authorities said yesterday.
'The tragic and embarrassing truth is
that our maps simply
did not show the Chinese Embassy anywhere in that
vicinity,' a senior NATO official said." (Washington Post,
Let's consider the implications of what we've just read.
First, the Post accepts without question
that the embassy bombing was accidental. Indeed the Post
doesn't mention the highly newsworthy fact that the news
accounts are so mutually contradictory. Doesn't that tell us
something about these news agencies, about their attitude
toward NATO and this war? That they are really part of
NATO'S public relations effort, dutifully reporting whatever
they are told without pointing out the implications of
NATO'S ever-evolving explanations. Doesn't that suggest
that we should be very skeptical about other media coverage
for example, the stories "proving" the Serbs are committing
Second, the claim that using "old maps"
was the problem
flatly contradicts an equally confident assertion made about
36 hours earlier by a NATO spokesman, General Jertz. You
remember: "He [that is, Gen. Jertz] denied planners were
'using old maps, wrong maps.'" (Reuters, May 8)
Third, consider the phrase "outdated
map issued before
China built its diplomatic compound several years ago." This
phrase suggests NATO was using map-books or perhaps
fold-up maps, the kind you take on a road trip. Is it
conceivable that NATO would be using such ancient
technology? What's the matter, they can't afford computers?
They have no technical staff? We are after all talking about
the combined armed forces of the U.S. and most of Europe.
The whole focus of their attack on Serbia is aerial
bombardment. Aerial bombardment depends primarily on
maps and intelligence. Doesn't it fly in the face of
rudimentary common sense -- indeed of sanity -- to believe
that this super-technological military force would have
anything but the most sophisticated mapping facilities,
updated with satellite photos and local intelligence reports
hourly, all of it in computerized war rooms with giant
screens, scores of technical personnel, etc.
And isn't it equally obvious, that that
one thing such an
armed force would have at its finger tips would be exact
information about sensitive installations -- such as diplomatic
facilities -- precisely to make sure they did not get bombed?
Unless of course NATO wanted them to be bombed.
And of all the diplomatic facilities
in all of Yugoslavia,
wouldn't the one to which NATO would pay the most
attention be the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade - both because
of China's immense world-importance and because it is
Belgrade's chief ally?
Of course NATO had up-to-date maps of
the area around
the Chinese Embassy. And of every square inch inside the
Embassy and complete dossiers on all the people working in
the Embassy as well.
Fourth, since NATO claims it decided
to bomb the Embassy
because of what the targeteers saw on these "old maps" just
what did the targeteers see? We are told they didn't see the
Embassy. Did they see something else they wanted to attack
and destroy? Just what was this something else? Was it a
building which housed some military facility? In the middle
of a 1000 foot lawn in a residential section of the city? And if
there is such a map with such a building, why doesn't NATO
produce this ancient document, and show it to us?
Fifth, the story says the bombs were
delivered by a "B-2
bomber." Don't the B-2's fly out of a U.S. base I believe
it's in Missouri. So let us "be from Missouri" for a moment,
and ask a couple of Missouri (that is skeptical) questions:
a) Keeping in mind that NATO has air
bases in Italy right
near Yugoslavia as well as aircraft carriers in nearby
waters, is it really believable that the U.S. government would
send a super-expensive plane on an eight hour flight to
deliver three smart missiles or bombs to a relatively minor
site in Yugoslavia? (I say relatively minor because it took
NATO two days to even get clear on the name of the
institution they meant to bomb...)
b) Having made the unbelievable decision
to send this plane
on that mission, is it believable that the U.S. military would
do such a thing based on the information contained in some
"outdated maps issued" years before?
And sixth -- did you notice we are once
again talking about
multiple bombs or missiles?
LET US NOW REVIEW NATO'S STORIES
According to NATO there were three
NO, there was only one--smart bomb that
hit the Chinese
Embassy by mistake because it missed a building across the
street that houses the "Federal Supply and Procurement
NO, that wasn't the problem. The missiles
back to three missiles again) didn't miss -- they hit right on
target except it turned out the target was all wrong, wasn't
the Federal Supply and Procurement Office at all, it was the
Chinese Embassy and somehow the targeteers got it all
confused but one thing is definite: the mix-up was not the
result of using old maps.
But that's not right either because if
a target is important a
great deal of care is taken, and given that this was such an
important target, even more care would be taken to make
sure it really was the a) Federal Directory for the Supply and
Procurement and -
NO, that should be the b) Weapons Warehouse
Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement,
NO, that isn't right either it wasn't
just a warehouse, it was
the c) HEADQUARTERS of the Directorate and -
NO! Forget everything we've said so far.
It was the maps.
The maps were very old so you couldn't tell that the building
on that site was an Embassy. And there were three missiles,
of course. Who ever said anything about there only being
And as for sending a B-2 bomber half
way around the world
to carry out this mistaken attack on a target whose name
nobody can get straight, all I can say is: what damn fool went
and admitted it was a B-2 bomber?
A PARK, AND OTHER MILITARY TARGETS
This writer has just spoken to a Serbian
family lives a few blocks from the Embassy. He says the
Embassy was built 4 or 5 years ago and that prior to the
building of the Embassy, the only thing there was: a park.
A letter from an American living in Belgrade
embassy is in area called New Belgrade (Novi Beograd),
developed from sand marsh land after W.W.II. She
confirmed that the land on which the Embassy sits was
unoccupied before it was built. However, she says "park" is
too fancy a term, that it was just a huge lawn, with very few
Therefore the notion that NATO could
possess a map drawn
before the Chinese Embassy was built which showed any
building occupying the land on which the Embassy now
stands is simply impossible. There was nothing there.
Therefore NATO is lying.
Since NATO is lying, what are we are
left with? There is the
Chinese gentleman's explanation. There is the possibility that
this bombing is an intentional provocation, perhaps aimed at
challenging China before China gets too big. There is the
possibility that NATO and or the U.S. government was
"delivering a message" to China and to other would-be
independent governments that independence will be
punished with death.
In any case, it seems clear that the
attack was planned, and
that to make sure it went precisely according to that plan, the
most sophisticated plane available was sent thousands of
miles to deliver three small bombs. NATO deliberately blew
up three apartments inhabited by Chinese journalists in the
Chinese Embassy. This was a high-tech execution.
The question is: What will NATO do next?
Note This document has been read
by several thousand people by
now, and I've received quite a few responses. Perry, an American grad
student in California writes:
"Talking to people about the Embassy bombing, I've noticed how the lies
which you point out actually *dovetail* in the mind of many people - 1)
old maps; 2) nearby target. People naturally put this misinformation
together and "create" meaning! The common interpretation is as follows:
There was a military target which US/NATO was trying to hit, but
because of "old maps" they got confused and bombed the wrong
Now I know that this line doesn't make any sense, but I can't tell you
many people have repeated it to me.. Very effective propaganda; we can
almost call it 'art.'"
This recalls a point I made in my analysis
of NY Times coverage of the
bombing of the pill factory in Sudan, an analysis I called The Emperor's
Clothes. (If you'd like to see the Emperor, drop me a line and I'll send it
to you...). In that analysis, I pointed out that several days after the
bombing of the Sudan factory, the Times "floated" an entirely new
explanation for U.S. actions. A page 1 story claimed that not only had the
pill factory secretly manufactured nerve gas but Iraq was behind the
whole thing. This justification apparently didn't fly because it was
repeated in a minor story one more time, then dropped entirely.
Five days later, the Times printed a
letter from a gentleman who
commented on this "Iraqi connection" as if it were an established fact.
And the thought occurred to me that these bits of non-fact stick in our
heads, interfering with our thinking the way graphite flakes interfere with
electrical generators, and this nonsense, multiplied a thousand-fold, forms
a kind of smog, preventing us from seeing the surrounding mountains of
evidence: that the US government has murdered people and lied about
Jared Israel was an anti-war activitist
in the 60's. He slept comfortably
from the mid-70s until August 1998 when the government's bombing of
and the media's lies about a Sudanese pill factory awakened him and he
has been sleepless ever since, spending the last seven months studying
and writing about U.S. foreign policy, especially it's attack on Serbia.