Outdated map led to embassy bombing, U.S. says

Officials say several verification systems failed

War In Yugoslavia

May 11, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- An outdated map of Belgrade was the first of a "series of errors" that led an American B-2 bomber to strike the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade rather than a nearby Yugoslav weapons facility, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said yesterday.

"This tragedy happened because a number of systems designed to produce and to verify accurate data failed," Cohen told reporters.

Cohen said that while the investigation is continuing, the bombing instructions were based on a 1992 map that was updated in 1997 and 1998 but never showed the embassy, which was constructed in 1996.

The later maps showed the embassy was in another section of town known as Old Belgrade, while the site of the present Chinese Embassy was listed as an unidentified building, said a senior intelligence official.

About 150 yards away from the present embassy was the intended target, known as the Yugoslav federal directorate for supply and procurement.

"It was the right address applied to the wrong building," the official said.

The targeting also relies on intelligence databases, which include additional information on the particular location from multiple intelligence sources. But the databases did not show the change in address of the Chinese embassy, officials said. While the map is important, the databases are more essential in trying to determine if the target is valid.

"The bottom line is this: [The databases] that were used [for]verification of the targeting were not up to date, and we need to find out why," said the intelligence official.

The target was selected by the CIA, said the official, adding that there is first an effort to identify the target by its function and then locate it geographically.

Intelligence officials had information on the appropriate street address, and then turned to the 1997 map to find it. There were no street numbers on the map and officials used information on nearby buildings to pinpoint the targeted building.

"After that, there's a multi-stage check, both within the intelligence community and at the Defense Department, to make sure this is the correct location," the official said. "It's a multi-step process. None of those fail-safes worked."

Cohen said several steps were being taken to prevent similar mistakes. The State Department, for example, will report to the intelligence community whenever foreign embassies move or when new embassies are built.

In addition, the intelligence community will strengthen procedures for developing target information, including new efforts to update intelligence maps, he said.

U.S. Embassy officials have visited the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The intelligence official indicated that in the future, lists of buildings will be checked by people who have visited the sites.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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