U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released online from January 1, 1997 to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for current material from the Department of State. Or visit http://2001-2009.state.gov for information from that period. Archive sites are not updated, so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State
Oral Presentation to the Chinese Government
Regarding the Accidental Bombing of The P.R.C. Embassy in Belgrade
June 17, 1999

Flag bar

Released July 6, 1999

I am here at the instruction of President Clinton as his personal envoy. He has asked me to deliver a letter from him to President Jiang; to present the official report of our investigation into the accidental bombing of your embassy in Belgrade; and to answer any questions you may have about the report. My remarks and comments will constitute a full report to you.

The attack was a mistake. Our examination explains how a series of errors and omissions led to that mistake. Let me emphasize: no one targeted the Chinese Embassy. No one, at any stage in the process, realized that our bombs were aimed at the Chinese Embassy.

It is entirely appropriate that we provide you with an explanation of how this awful tragedy occurred. The U.S. Government recognizes our responsibility to provide a full explanation. We have undertaken our own internal investigation into this matter and want to share our results with you.

I have brought with me a high-level delegation of representatives from the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and the Intelligence Community.

The delegation includes officials who have been directly involved in the investigation and the preparation of the report. Let me introduce them.

With me here today are Ambassador James Sasser; Mr. James Simon, the Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Administration; Mr. Franklin Kramer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Mr. Jeremy Clark, Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Dr. Susan Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and Mr. James Keith, Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

My intention is to provide information and explanation as we proceed. We will also show you some charts and photos to help illustrate some of the basic results of our investigation. After that, we will turn to providing answers to your questions.

Introduction:

First let me express the heartfelt condolences of the American people and government to the families of the three Chinese journalists who died in the bombing of your Embassy in Belgrade on May 7th. Let me convey also our sympathy for the 20 Embassy staff members who were injured. We realize that no amount of explanation will make up for the personal tragedy suffered by these individuals and their loved ones.

I am here, as you know, to provide the explanation and the investigation report in fulfillment of President Clinton's comments in his telephone conversation and letters to President Jiang.

I want to underline that this report has been prepared by senior U.S. Government officials from our intelligence and military organizations.

The report shows that multiple factors and errors in several parts of the U.S. Government were responsible for the mistaken bombing. Beginning as early as 1997, mistakes in different parts of our government contributed to this tragic set of errors; and our operational procedures failed to catch these errors.

The CIA and Defense Department are continuing to interview individuals in the field who were involved in various aspects of the decisions that led to the bombing. Because the NATO air campaign has only just concluded, it has not been possible to debrief fully every person involved and to reach conclusions regarding responsibility for mistakes that led to the bombing. The Director of Central Intelligence, who is also Chief of the Intelligence Community, has directed the conduct of an accountability review which will go into the issue of responsibility, the appropriate results of which will be made available.

The bombing resulted from three basic failures. First, the technique used to locate the intended target--the headquarters of the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement (FDSP)--was severely flawed. Second, none of the military or intelligence databases used to verify target information contained the correct location of the Chinese Embassy. Third, nowhere in the target review process was either of the first two mistakes detected. No one who might have known that the targeted building was not the FDSP headquarters--but was in fact the Chinese Embassy--was ever consulted.

To help better understand the circumstances which led to the mistaken bombing, let me offer a chronology of events.

Mistargeting:

The first major error stemmed from mislocating the intended target.

In March of this year, officers at the Central Intelligence Agency began considering the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement (FDSP) as a potential target for NATO Allied Force strike operations. The FDSP, because of its role in military procurement, was a legitimate target.

We had a street address of the FDSP headquarters: "Bulevar Umetnosti 2" in New Belgrade. But military forces require precise geographic coordinates to conduct an attack with precision munitions. During a mid-April selection and designation of the target, three maps were used in an attempt to locate physically the address of the FDSP headquarters: two local commercial maps from 1996 and 1989, and the then most recent U.S. Government map produced in 1997.

None of these maps had any reference to the FDSP building. And none accurately identified the current location of the Chinese Embassy.

As you can see, the 1997 U.S. Government city map shows the Embassy in Old Belgrade and depicts an unidentified building at the actual Embassy site in New Belgrade. The 1996 commercial map made no reference to the Embassy at either location. The 1989 map predated the Embassy's move.

Please keep in mind that the location of the Chinese Embassy was not a question that anyone would have asked when assembling this particular target package since it was not connected in any way to our intent to strike the FDSP headquarters.

In an effort to locate the FDSP building at Bulevar Umetnosti 2, an intelligence officer in Washington used land navigation techniques taught by the U.S. military to locate distant or inaccessible points and objects. These techniques - which involve the comparison of addresses from one street to another - can be used for general geographic location, but are totally inappropriate for precision targeting, and were used uniquely in this case. Using this process, the individual mistakenly determined that the building which we now know to be the Chinese Embassy was the FDSP headquarters. To use these techniques for targeting purposes was a serious mistake. The true location of the FDSP headquarters was some 300 meters away from the Chinese Embassy. This flaw in the address location process went undetected by all the others who evaluated the FDSP as a military target.

Because this first error was so fundamental, let me walk you through it.

The method for determining the location of the intended target--the FDSP--was seriously flawed. It was not based on certain knowledge of the numbering sequence for addresses on the Bulevar Umetnosti. Rather, our attempts to determine the location of the building employed a method that is used in the field by the Army, but is not normally used for aerial targeting purposes. The system will provide an approximation of location, but cannot guarantee an accurate geographic fix.

A 1997 National Imaging and Mapping Agency (NIMA) map was first used to display the grid pattern of the streets in New Belgrade. Next, in order to identify locations to use as reference points, they identified and drew on the NIMA map to locate the Hyatt Hotel, the Intercontinental Hotel, and the Serbian Socialist Party Headquarters. Each of these buildings--which were clearly labeled on the maps being used--were approximately one mile east of Bulevar Umetnosti. Using these locations and their street addresses as reference points, parallel lines were drawn that intersected both the known addresses and Bulevar Umetnosti. In what proved to be a fundamental error, those same numbers were then applied to locations on Bulevar Umetnosti, assuming that streets were numbered in the same fashion along parallel streets. The effectiveness of this method depends on the numbering system being the same on parallel streets, that the numbers are odd and even on the same sides of the street and that the street numbers are used in the same parallel sequence even if the street names change. Unfortunately, a number of these assumptions were wrong.

Using this approximation method, your embassy building was designated as the target when in fact the Embassy was located on a small side street at some distance on Bulevar Umetnosti from where the intended target was actually located at number 2 Bulevar Umetnosti. Let me show you a satellite photograph and some maps to illustrate the method and the error it produced.

The identification of the building that actually was the Chinese Embassy as the FDSP building subsequently and in error took on the mantle of fact. It was not questioned nor reviewed up the chain of command. This was in part because everyone involved had, as a result of so many previously correct locations, assumed generally high confidence in our procedures to locate, check and verify such analytical facts. In this particular, and singular, case, our system clearly failed. In part it failed also because every established procedure in the review of this target was not followed.

Maps and satellite imagery were also analyzed to look for any possible collateral damage issues near the target. There was no indication that the targeted building was an embassy--no flags, no seals, no clear markings showed up. There were no collateral damage issues in the vicinity.

Flawed Databases:

The second major error stemmed from flawed databases.

The incorrect location of the FDSP building was then fed into several U.S. databases to determine whether any diplomatic or other facilities off-limits to targeting were nearby. We do our best to avoid damage to sensitive facilities such as embassies, hospitals, schools and places of worship. Viewed from space, there was no indication that the office building being targeted was an embassy. On the satellite imagery available to U.S., there were no flags, seals, or other markings to indicate that the building was an embassy. And unfortunately, in this instance none of the database sources that were checked correctly identified the targeted building as the Chinese Embassy.

Multiple databases within the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense all reflected the Embassy in its pre-1996 location in Old Belgrade. Despite the fact that U.S. officials had visited the Embassy on a number of occasions in recent years the new location was never entered into intelligence or military targeting databases. If the databases had accurately reflected the current location of the Embassy, the mistaken identification of the FDSP building would have been recognized and corrected.

Why was the Chinese Embassy not correctly located? It is important to understand that our ability to verify the location of fixed targets depends heavily on the accuracy of the databases, and the databases in this case were wrong. Further, it is difficult to keep current databases for cities around the globe. In general, diplomatic facilities have been given relatively little attention in our efforts to update our databases because such facilities are not targets. Military targets are the top priority in these databases because of the danger they pose to our own forces. Unfortunately, locations where strikes should be avoided had lower priority and our databases contained errors, notably in the failure to include the new location of the Embassy of China.

Now, this is an important point, so let me expand upon it.

The databases which contained information about the physical location of organizations in Belgrade--including the so-called "no hit list" of buildings that should not be targeted--were faulty.

Although database maintenance is one the basic elements of our intelligence efforts, it has been routinely accorded low priority.

The target and "no-hit" databases were not independently constructed. Outdated information that placed the Chinese Embassy in its former location in Old Belgrade was not updated when the Embassy moved. Because various databases were not independently constructed, this wrong information was duplicated. So when target information was checked against the no-hit list, the error was not detected.

Many U.S. and other NATO diplomats must have visited the new building. The address was in the phone book, the diplomatic list and perhaps other sources, including Yugoslav maps. Certainly, many citizens and officials of the United States were aware of the correct location of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. However, in error, their knowledge was not recorded in any of the military or intelligence databases used in the targeting process.

In addition, the correct location of the Chinese Embassy was not known to targeteers or NATO commanders because we were not, in fact, looking for it. Since your Embassy was not a target, and because we were unaware of any diplomatic or civilian facilities in the immediate vicinity of the presumed FDSP building, no effort was made to verify or precisely locate the whereabouts of your Embassy.

We have subsequently found some maps which show the correct current location of the Chinese Embassy, although there are others, including some produced in recent years by the Yugoslav government, which do not.

Since the incident, the United States has updated its databases to show the best known location of diplomatic facilities. The databases will be updated as new information becomes available. Maps are out of date almost as soon as they are printed. Databases can and should be maintained to be effective.

Faulty Checks:

The third problem was faulty checks.

Once the target was proposed, the focus of the review was on the military value of the target, how best to attack it, and the issue of collateral damage. No one in any of the succeeding reviews questioned the accuracy of the location. The formal recommendation of the FDSP target was forwarded in late April to military staffs both in the U.S. and Europe, who were responsible for reviewing and identifying targets for Operation Allied Force. Maps and satellite imagery were analyzed to look for any possible collateral damage concerns near the target. We conducted a target review in Europe, and again, no significant risks to civilian or diplomatic facilities were uncovered.

Following submission by the European Command for approval, the target package mistakenly received no additional examination outside of the Defense Department. It did go through additional review at the Pentagon, but this review found nothing different from the review that took place in Europe. There were no known collateral damage concerns. From that point on the building incorrectly identified as an FDSP facility was included on a list of potential Allied Force strike targets.

Some of our employees knew the location of the new Chinese Embassy. But keep in mind that we were not looking for it, since the database with the old location was assumed to be correct. None of these individuals was consulted as the target was reviewed and, as a result, we lost any opportunity to learn that the building targeted was the new Chinese Embassy. We have also found one report from 1997 which gave the correct address of the Chinese Embassy, but unfortunately the correct address was not entered into the database.

To further explain:

Once the wrong target was selected, the system of checks that NATO and U.S. command forces had in place to catch target errors did not reveal the mistake. The database reviews conducted by the European Command (EUCOM) were limited to validating the target data sheet coordinates with the information put into the database by NIMA analysts. Such a circular process could not uncover the original error and exposes our susceptibility to a single point of database failure.

There has been much press coverage of the fact that the U.S. and NATO relied on out-of-date maps to check targets. In fact, since any physical map can quickly become out of date, the key question is one of accurate databases. These were not properly maintained and did not catch the error. Furthermore, persons familiar with the layout of the city of Belgrade were not consulted in the construction of the target and no-hit databases. They were also not involved in a review of this target. This points up a flaw in our procedures.

The only question about the target information was raised by an intelligence officer who had doubts as to whether the building targeted was in fact the FDSP headquarters or might be some other unidentified building. At no time was there any suspicion that the building might be an embassy. This question was not raised to senior levels and the strike went ahead.

Let me explain further this attempt by an intelligence officer to question the reliability of the target information related to the FDSP. There was information that suggested a discrepancy between the selected target and the actual location of the FDSP. There was no information that the target location was the Chinese Embassy, only that it was perhaps the wrong building. However, there was a series of frustrating miscommunications--missed phone calls and lack of follow-up--which led to these doubts not being aired at a command level in time to stop the attack. (The officer had doubts early on in the process because of his own knowledge about the location of the FDSP building; attempted to check with working-level contacts; was continuing to check when the bombing happened; and was not able to communicate his suspicions to senior officers.)

The Bombing:

The air strike then proceeded as planned on May 7 without any of the mistakes having been detected or doubts about the reliability of the target information having been addressed.

At 2146 Zulu (about midnight local time in Belgrade) on 7 May 1999 one of the fleet of B-2 bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) in Missouri dropped 5 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) 2000 lb. GPS-guided bombs on the target designated as the FDSP building but which was, in fact, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. All B-2 strikes on Yugoslavia were flown from Whiteman AFB. The bombs were Global Positioning System (GPS) guided weapons and operate in all weather and at night using a satellite-based navigation system of a high order of accuracy.

The air crews carried out their mission as planned. They had no idea they were in fact bombing the Chinese Embassy. As a result, it is obvious that they bear no responsibility for this failure; the problem, as I have outlined, occurred earlier.

They had no way of seeing any identifying markers that would show the building was an embassy. A flag in front of the building or any such features would not be discernible at night and at the speeds and altitudes at which our planes fly.

No other buildings in the immediate vicinity were hit. Our weapons hit the target they were aimed at. Unfortunately, we did not realize the true nature of the target.

To Review:

In summary, there were several crucial errors which led to the Chinese Embassy being struck.

There was an error in locating the target. The approach used to attempt to locate the FDSP building was severely flawed.

All sources of information used to prevent precisely this type of accident were either inaccurate or incomplete.

The review process did not catch the locational error and did not consult any material or any person which could have provided correct information.

The United States is, as I speak, continuing to conduct an in-depth review of this tragic accident. Based on our initial findings, it is clear that this terrible mistake occurred not because of just one organization, or because of any one individual.

There was in the immediate aftermath of the bombing some confusion as to what had happened and some of our early public statements were confused and contradictory. To summarize clearly and precisely: the attack on the PRC Embassy was the result of a series of errors that led to the destruction of the PRC Embassy instead of the Serb military target that was intended. The use of a map containing an error--the inaccurate location of the Chinese Embassy--contributed to the tragic mistake--but this was not due solely to a "map error."

What went wrong was, first and foremost, that the approach used to locate the Bulevar Umetnosti 2, the address of the FDSP, was severely flawed.

Second, the databases used to check and prevent this type of targeting error were also inaccurate, incomplete, and not fully independent.

And third, the target review process did not detect the first two mistakes, nor did it involve people and information that could have provided additional data to correct or detect these errors.

As the President has already expressed, we are deeply sorry that we made these tragic errors.

Following the accident, the President of the United States and the Secretary General of NATO separately expressed to China's leaders their sincere apologies for the mistaken attack on the embassy and their sympathy to the families of those who died and to the injured.

Our government has also undertaken corrective actions to prevent mistakes like this from happening in the future.

New updated city maps have been published detailing locations of diplomatic sites and other "no-strike" facilities in and around Belgrade. Additionally, databases are being updated as changes occur. We rely on these databases for our most current information, because maps themselves are inevitably out of date the day or the week they are published.

Intelligence and Defense organizations have strengthened their internal mechanisms and procedures for selecting and verifying targets, and have placed new priority on keeping our databases current.

All U.S. Government sources will be required to report whenever foreign embassies move or are established. This information will then be forwarded and incorporated into our intelligence and military databases.

The U.S. Government will seek direct contact with other governments and interested organizations and persons to obtain their assistance in identifying and locating facilities and places of interest or concern.

And as I noted earlier, we are continuing our internal reviews of the causes of the accident, and when these reviews are completed, we will determine whether any disciplinary action is called for.

U.S. Intentions:

I would like now to address various speculative theories that appear to be held by some people in China.

We have heard that many people believe that our attack on your Embassy was intentional.

Clearly the United States had absolutely no reason to want to attack your protected embassy facility. Any such decision to bomb an Embassy would have been contrary to U.S. doctrine and practice and against international standards of behavior and established international accords. No such decision was ever proposed or indeed made.

Bombing the Chinese Embassy also would have been completely antithetical to President Clinton's strong personal commitment to strengthening the relationship between the United States and China; he has defended this relationship and our engagement policy in the face of vociferous domestic criticism. It is not imaginable that President Clinton would make such a decision.

Moreover, bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade would have made absolutely no sense in terms of our policy objectives in Kosovo. The objective of the NATO bombing campaign was to diminish and degrade the capacity of the Yugoslav government and military for repression in Kosovo. The Embassy of China played no role in that set of activities. It had always been the intention of the U.S. and NATO to bring the Kosovo effort to conclusion through diplomatic efforts, including of the G-8 and in the UN Security Council.

The accidental bombing of your Embassy not only intensified international criticism of the NATO bombing campaign, it also had negative effects on our diplomatic efforts, and affected in a deeply negative fashion China's attitude and policies toward our effort in Yugoslavia.

In particular, as Secretary Albright told Premier Zhu in April, we always expected that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, would need to be a part of the resolution of the Kosovo crisis. We knew we would need China's support in this matter. Bombing your Embassy was hardly the way to persuade you to help.

Thus, the bombing was contrary to two critically important U.S. foreign policy goals: the further development of U.S.-China relations and the resolution of the Kosovo situation.

I also have heard that some people in China subscribe to the theory that the bombing was caused by one or several individuals working in our government who conspired to subvert U.S.-China relations or who may have concluded that China was too friendly to Belgrade or that the Embassy was playing some role in assisting Belgrade.

We have found no evidence of an unauthorized conspiracy to attack the Chinese Embassy, for any reason whatsoever, or of any "rogue element" within the U.S. Government. The errors we have identified as producing the accident took place in three separate and independent areas. There was a series of three separate sets of events, some of which affecting the databases occurred as far back as 1997, when no one could have predicted this present set of circumstances. It is just not conceivable, given the circumstances and errors committed, that the attack could have been brought about by a conspiracy or by "rogue elements."

Science has taught us that a direct explanation, backed up by full knowledge of facts obtained through a careful investigation, is always preferable to speculation and far fetched, convoluted or contrived theories with little or no factual backing.

In this tragic case, the facts show a series of errors: that the target was mislocated; the databases designed to catch mistakes were inaccurate and incomplete; and none of the reviews uncovered either of the first two errors.

Compensation:

The bombing of the embassy in Belgrade was a tragic accident occurring during a time of ongoing hostilities in Yugoslavia. While the action was completely unintended, the United States and NATO nevertheless recognize that it was the result of a set of errors which led to the embassy being mistakenly targeted.

In view of these circumstances, and recognizing the special status of the diplomatic personnel who were affected, the United States wishes to offer immediate ex gratia payments to those individuals who were injured in the bombing and to the families of those killed, based on current experience internationally for the scale of such payments.

I have asked Ambassador Sasser to discuss the particulars of this offer on our part with you in the next few days.

As for the damage to the embassy property in Belgrade, this is clearly a more complicated question. There is also the question of damage suffered by U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities in China in early May due to attacks by demonstrators.

Because of their complexity, these latter issues will need to be examined with some care. We believe they too can be discussed through diplomatic channels and are ready to do so at a mutually suitable time.

[end of document]

Blue Bar rule

East Asian Affairs | Remarks Index | State Department