Lies, Damn Lies and Maps :


      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
      explosive charge.

      Why NATO Targeted Chinese Journalists

      Why, asked the speaker, did all three missiles strike
      journalists' apartments?

      Clearly, he said, the goal was to punish China for
      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 Serbian news
      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 reporting
      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.


      NATO spokesman Jamie Shea's first response to the
      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)


      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 into the
      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?


      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?"


      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 military
      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 bombing was:
      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 couldn't even
      name the place.


      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
      told. .."

      One weapon. That does make things more believable, unless
      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?


      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,
      May 10)

      Let's consider the implications of what we've just read.

      First, the Post accepts without question NATO'S assertion
      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?


      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
      Office" --

      NO, that wasn't the problem. The missiles (because we're
      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 of the
      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?


      This writer has just spoken to a Serbian gentlemen whose
      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 says the
      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
      the deed.

      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.