Last month the Central Intelligence Agency reiterated its claim that the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was an accident. CIA Director George Tenet was said to have fired one intelligence officer and reprimanded six managers for mistakes that led to the attack during NATO's air war against Yugoslavia.
Yet doubts about the CIA's story remain, and not just in China. Last week U.S. Sen Pat Roberts of Kansas, for one, said he still had questions about what really happened.
Roberts said he didn't know whether the bombing was actually a real mistake or a "deliberate mistake." This is particularly significant because Roberts is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He noted that the Chinese embassy was the only bombing target that had been recommended by the CIA during the NATO campaign and that the agency stood by the recommendation even after it was questioned by the military.
Roberts said he favored continued review of the bombing by the Senate Intelligence Committee. This sounds like a good idea.
According to CIA officials, an intelligence officer had the correct address for a Yugoslav arms agency but estimated its location on a map, using addresses on parallel streets. In addition, the CIA's information on embassy locations supposedly had not been updated.
Both of those explanations border on the incredible. What is the good of targeting individual buildings if the people selecting the targets are going to guess at the correct locations?
Why would it not occur to anyone, as a matter of course, to update information on embassy locations in the midst of a bombing campaign?
If the bombing was deliberate, it is hard to imagine that those responsible for it thought through the potential repercussions.
The United States has spent a year apologizing profusely for what top American officials insist was a mistake. The CIA has trumpeted not one but two internal reviews on the subject. Millions of dollars have been offered to the families of people who died in the attack.
It is disturbing to contemplate the possibility that all of this apologizing and explaining -- which the Chinese have always discounted -- has simply been a ruse to confuse the American public.
© 2000 The Kansas City Star