by Jared Israel
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, 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 World War 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 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 (600feet) 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 safegambit. 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 media stories 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.
Second, the claim that using «old maps» was the problem flatly contradicts an equally confident assertion made about 36 hours earlier by 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 clearly refers to PAPER maps.
Now is it believable that NATO would be working off old paper maps of Belgrade? 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 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., 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 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?
And fifth -- did you notice we're talking about multiple missiles again?
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, t 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 I'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?
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 park: tress and grass...
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 but trees and grass.
Therefore NATO is lying.
And since NATO is lying, we are left with the Chinese gentleman's explanation. It is the only one that makes sense. NATO deliberately blew up three apartments inhabited by Chinese journalists in the Chinese Embassy.
This was a high-tech execution. What will NATO do next?
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