A "boneheaded" bombing

A former Army intelligence officer claims he knows what the CIA meant to hit when it hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Published February 10, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

For months, many Chinese citizens and conspiracy theorists
-- and even some mainstream journalists -- have alleged that the
supposedly accidental
of the Chinese Embassy on May 7 was intentional. But
William M. Arkin, a senior U.S. defense expert who has
studied the bombing sites, says he has concluded that the
British Observer newspaper reports are wrong, and the bombing was indeed

In November, the Observer cited sources who
alleged that the Chinese Embassy was deliberately targeted
because the Chinese were providing communications support to the
Yugoslav Army and possibly to the paramilitary group known as the
Tigers, formerly led by Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," who was assassinated in a
Belgrade hotel last month.

Arkin, a former Army Intelligence officer and currently a
consultant to the arms division of Human Rights Watch, strongly
criticized NATO for its bombing campaign in a Human Rights Watch
report released this week. But despite his misgivings about
aspects of the NATO air campaign, he says his sources have
convinced him that the bombing of the Chinese Embassy was a
highly embarrassing mistake.

"What happened was this:" Arkin said, "The CIA nominated a target, the Federal
Directorate of Procurement and Supply [FDPS], otherwise known as
Yugoimport, which they knew was located at the address Bulevar
Umetnosti No. 2 ... Then some bonehead at the CIA says, 'Where
the hell is Bulevar Umetnosti No. 2?' And looking at a map,
probably upside down, finds some building four buildings away,"
which happens to be the Chinese Embassy.

The building NATO says it meant to target when it bombed the
Chinese Embassy -- the FDPS -- is within 330 yards of the
Chinese Embassy and the Hotel Yugoslavia, which housed a casino
owned by Arkan. The three buildings are in a new Belgrade
neighborhood of wide avenues and modern buildings. The Chinese
Embassy and the Hotel Yugoslavia, where Arkan's generals were
believed to be commanding his paramilitary Tigers, are right
across the street from each other, and in fact both were bombed
the same night, around midnight May 7.

"This is what I really believe," Arkin continues. "I think there
is nothing of substance that identified the Chinese Embassy as a
target. However, I think there were communications emanating from
the Hotel Yugoslavia across the street. And I think that stupid
people who are leaking rumors to the Observer have made that

What is interesting is that the CIA's reportedly intended target,
the FDPS, was granted approval by the United Nations last month
to sell $100 million worth of wheat to Iraq under the U.N.-run
Oil for Food program. In fact, Arkin says, the reason the CIA
knew about the FDPS at all was because it had won several
previous contracts to sell grain to Iraq, and the CIA was
notified whenever those contracts were granted. In other words,
the CIA knew that the FDPS was an extremely valuable source of
hard currency for Milosevic; though it was eventually bombed by
NATO, according to Arkin, it remains so.

By Laura Rozen

Laura Rozen writes about U.S. foreign policy and the Balkans crisis for Salon News.

MORE FROM Laura Rozen

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