May 13, 1999
Lies, Damn Lies and
HOW NATO & THE MEDIA
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 disseminated.
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
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
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.
SORRY, WRONG BUILDING
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 Procurement."
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
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
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
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
"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
'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
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.
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 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?
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 embassy"?
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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 one?
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
A PARK, AND OTHER MILITARY TARGETS
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 trees.
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
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
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
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.
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