Isn’t there a better way to

send China a message?
The real story about the May 8, 1999, U.S.

bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade



On May 8, 1999, during the war over Kosovo, the U.S. bombed the lightly staffed (at the time) Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.  At least four people died, and many others were injured.  This was a very important event, because it shows how the U.S. chooses killing people – rather than diplomatic means - to send “messages.”


The U.S. immediately put out a number of stories that – one after the other - were found unbelievable.  By May 10, the U.S. claimed that the bombing (using the U.S.’s relatively new $2 billion B-2 bombers) had been accurately carried out, but that the bombing of the embassy had been unintentional - due to the CIA’s accidental use of a four-year-old map of Belgrade.  It was said that no CIA member with any recent eyeball familiarity or on-the-ground experience in Belgrade had been involved with the targeting.  (As the primary intelligence agency among U.S. civilian and military information-gathering organizations, the CIA takes the lead role in supplying targets to NATO planners.)  For a number of reasons, this story, like all the others, immediately caused suspicion.


When the May 10-11 explanation of the bombing provoked only major skepticism, the U.S. began to alter its explanation on May 12.  New lies were told, and eventually exposed.  One was that the embassy had been mistaken for the Yugoslav army’s Directorate of Supply and Procurement.  That raised the obvious question, with Yugoslav experts on Belgrade available, why would such an important military facility have been targeted only after 18,000 bombing runs had already been made, including many on targets most trivial?


The truth comes out


Ultimately it was learned from senior military and intelligence sources in Europe and the U.S. that the U.S. knew quite well where the Chinese embassy was located.  In fact, the Chinese embassy had been removed from a prohibited targets (“do not bomb”) list after NATO electronic intelligence (Elint) detected it sending army signals to Milosevic's forces.  NATO then deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade after discovering it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications.

The story was confirmed in detail by three other NATO officers - a flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia, and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels.  They all confirm that they knew in April that the Chinese embassy was acting as a 'rebro' [rebroadcast] station for the Yugoslav army (VJ) after alliance jets had successfully silenced Milosevic's own transmitters.  The Chinese were also suspected of monitoring the cruise missile attacks on Belgrade, with a view to developing effective counter-measures against U.S. missilesFor their part, Chinese officials accused the U.S. of striking the embassy to punish China for representing Yugoslav diplomatic interests in Washington.  Whatever the precise motivation, the attack was certainly designed to send a blunt message to China: the devastation being wreaked upon Yugoslavia can be applied to China or any other country that obstructs U.S. economic and military policy.

Why was the embassy bombed?  It was just the
U.S. way of letting the Chinese government know that we didn’t like the activities China was carrying out on its own property and within the international diplomatic community.

In response to a question Monday, May 11, 1999, a senior CIA official said the CIA alone had selected the mistaken target.  
But other agencies involved in the targeting review process, from the Pentagon to NATO, failed to catch the CIA's initial error, the official pointed out.  "It was a team effort in the sense that there were a number of opportunities to correct this error and it didn't happen," he said.  He continued, "There have been a number of suggestions laying the blame squarely at the CIA.  There's a pretty elaborate review process between target selection and hitting the target, and it can be fogged at any stage of the process. The bottom line is that there's plenty of blame to spread around.”

The intelligence officer, who was based in Macedonia during the bombing, said: 'NATO had been hunting the radio transmitters in Belgrade.  When the President's [Milosevic's] residence was bombed on 23 April, the signals disappeared for 24 hours.  When they came on the air again, we discovered they came from the embassy compound.'  The success of previous strikes had forced the VJ to use Milosevic's residence as a rebroadcast station.  After that was knocked out, it was moved to the Chinese embassy.  The air controller said: 'The Chinese embassy had an electronic profile, which NATO located and pinpointed.'


When this was brought to the attention of the U.S., other lies were resorted to.  One was that the CIA did not know where the Chinese embassy was.  That was easily proved wrong because American officials, from the U.S. ambassador to the semi-public chief of the CIA mission, had frequented the new embassy for events.  Another lie told was that the CIA had not been involved with the targeting.  That was shown to be a lie when the professionals who had the responsibility of carrying out an elaborate targeting procedure denied that the CIA wasn’t involved.