May 13, 1999

Lies, Damn Lies and


 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
 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

 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 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)


 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

 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

 '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.


 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 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
 committing genocide?

 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
 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

 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

 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


 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
 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

 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. 

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