2 spokesmen for NATO offer study in contrast

Shea's briefings filled with rhetorical flair, while Wilby is cool, circumspect

April 07, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- One is a Londoner with a working-class accent and a gift for tough sound bites. The other is a by-the-book pilot who succinctly analyzes deadly bombing missions.

Jamie Patrick Shea and British Air Commodore David J. G. Wilby are the faces and voices of NATO's war against Yugoslavia.

During their internationally televised briefings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Shea and Wilby provide the first official daily helping of information on the allied air campaign to bring Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to heel.

Compared with the terse, nearly information-free sessions held at the Pentagon, Shea and Wilby have emerged as the prime bearers of allied news during the opening phases of the conflict.

They have also become the odd couple of spin-doctoring, as they set an allied news agenda in a war that is taking place beyond the view of most reporters and cameras.

Shea, who handles political issues, seems to push against the boundaries of standard rhetoric, providing tidbits to reporters with a Churchillian flair. Wilby, who gives military details, sticks to the facts, keeps opinions to himself and politely refuses to answer questions he deems too sensitive.

When Shea speaks, reporters listen, because he is said to have the confidence and respect of NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana of Spain. While his faint cockney vowels might rattle some Englishmen, the accent lends him an everyman quality.

The consummate NATO insider, Shea has worked 18 years for the military alliance, starting as a minutes taker. Later, he headed youth programs and external relations, arranging trips for dignitaries at the Brussels headquarters.

In November 1988, he joined the senior staff, working as an assistant to the secretary-general for special projects and later became deputy head and senior planning officer.

His current titles are spokesman of NATO and deputy director of information and press.

With a thesis on World War I propaganda, Shea, 45, earned a doctorate in modern history from Lincoln College at Oxford University.

Fluent in French with knowledge of German and Dutch and an ability to read Italian, Shea also finds time to teach international relations to students visiting from abroad.

It is Shea who unloads the verbal bombshells at Milosevic's policy of clearing ethnic Albanians from the Serbian province of Kosovo.

He has compared "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo to Pol Pot's Cambodia and claimed the exodus is the "type of population transfer we have not seen since the times of Stalin."

Yesterday, he dismissed as "the latest version of the big lie" the Serbian claim that ethnic Albanians were fleeing their homes because of NATO airstrikes. He also said, "We don't know the numbers of the lost generation of Kosovo," a reference to the young men who have gone missing.

Previously, he has warned of "dark things" happening in Kosovo and insisted that NATO was not a "trigger-happy organization."

While Shea punctuates his answers with emotion, Wilby is more dispassionate. With his starched uniform, clipped English voice and deadpan delivery, Wilby can make ferocious bombing raids seem clinical, as charts, slides and videotapes roll on a screen behind his podium.

"I think the pictures will tell their own story," Wilby, 51, said yesterday, as before-and-after shots appeared of a Yugoslav storage depot standing in one frame and then flattened in the next.

Wilby's British rank is the equivalent of a brigadier general. He began training as a navigator in March 1965 and studiously worked his way up the Royal Air Force ranks, flying strike aircraft and serving as an instructor and flight commander.

His Balkan experience includes a seven-month tour as chief NATO liaison officer to the United Nations and the Implementation Force (IFOR) in Zagreb, Croatia. Wilby joined the staff of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe in August.

Wilby lists as his interests "all sports and bumbling around auctions."

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