December 20, 2013

1999 CIA bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade

On May 7, 1999 a U.S. B-2 stealth bomber dropped five precision bombs on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia/Serbia. Later, the U.S. would announce that it had been intending to blow up a warehouse or maybe an office building, but definitely a different structure; but, you know, kids these days just can't read maps. Or the fog of war. Or something. Eventually, CIA director George Tenet admitted that the Chinese embassy was the lone target the CIA had picked out during the entire NATO bombing campaign. But of course it was all just a big mistake, and they had really sent the B-2 all the way from Missouri to blow up something down the street.

The Chinese government was hopping mad, but also a little tight-lipped. 

At the time, I figured it had to do with the Serbs shooting down an F-117 stealth fighter about six weeks earlier. I had assumed that the feared, efficient Serbian secret police had immediately assumed control of the high-tech wreckage and were auctioning it off in one piece to a summit conference of international malefactors, kind of like in the opening scene of The Naked Gun. After all, the ruthless totalitarian efficiency of the Serbian government had to be why America was bombing the heck out of some place that I could never quite pinpoint on a map of Europe: because they hate freedom.

Looking into it, however, I see that what actually happened to the wreckage was that part of the downed stealth fighter had been immediately carted away by a Gypsy scrap metal dealer. That morning local girls posed all over the rest of it for pictures (punching holes in the wings with their stiletto heels), and pretty much everybody in the neighborhood hacked off a souvenir. Eventually, some curators from an airplane museum in Belgrade arrived and organized a human shield of civilians to keep NATO from dropping a bomb on it. The museum eventually put chunks of the plane on display, and its gift shop sold postage stamp-sized pieces of the F-117 to 2,000 visitors as mementos.

Like I said, they must hate freedom.

About six weeks later, the Chinese embassy goes kablooey. But of course that was just an accident. And a coincidence. An accidental coincidence.

From the Daily Mail in 2011:
But the plot thickened last month when Qiansao, a Hong Kong Chinese-language magazine, published a series of essays written in retirement by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.  
In the magazine the 85-year-old former premier, who stepped down in 2004, says that the Chinese Embassy was sheltering Serbian intelligence personnel when it was bombed and that the Americans had been able to monitor Serbian military electronic communications coming out of the building. 
But just as importantly, Jiang Zemin also added that Milosevic had instructed agents to hand over to the Chinese navigation gear, part of the tail engine exhaust and thermal panels from Vega 31. The Chinese media reported that the pieces of the aircraft were picked up by cargo aircraft and flown to Beijing.

Supposedly, the retired Chinese supremo considered his attempt to outflank Russia by cozying up to Milosevic, in retrospect an obvious loser, as one of his two big mistakes in office.

As you'll recall, Chinese-American relations got tense after that, including a Chinese fighter bumping into an American P-3 in 2001. But then 9/11 came along and this stuff was mostly forgotten.


Glossy said...

Relations between the world's two most powerful states are apparently conducted at the level of half-literate mafiosi. "Whaddya talkin' about? What embassy?" Wink, wink, guffaw.

Superman said...

Were the Chinese too miserly to simply pay Israel to give them American technology?

Anonymous said...

Were the Chinese too miserly to simply pay Israel to give them American technology?

You have to diversify your sources constantly because everyone is always to screw everyone else at that level.

Anonymous said...

In the 90s the neocons were all about China as the next great enemy and cold war opponent. They were also about the Muslims but nobody really took them seriously until 9/11 at which point the neocons focused on them.

John said...

Although I sometimes claim Yugoslavia is a hobby of mine, I confess my attention does wander: this is the first thing I've ever read about the embassy bombardment that's sort of made sense, or even been interesting. Thank you.

Modern Abraham said...

Wow, I had forgotten about the P-3 incident on Hainan Island. If you recall, the crew desperately tried to destroy on-board documents and electronics before the Chinese could get their hands on them. And that, kids, is how Huawei got started...

As for the bombing of Serbia, the first in a long, unbroken string of U.S. foreign policy blunders. Republicans: spare no expense, bear any burden to meet the threats of yesterday. Democrats: play not to lose, instead of to win, but since our wars don't have even the tiniest sliver of real national interest at stake, it's all good.

Obama, to be fair, has been a better custodian of U.S. foreign policy than his GOP predecessor. But with Clinton II looking like the most likely scenario for 2017, I shudder to think what sorts of overseas adventures we'll get into from a President who conceives of the U.S. military as her very own police club-grade strap-on.

Anonymous said...

Why did Clinton bomb the Chicom embassy?
Because he could.

Anonymous said...

The bombing of Serbia was part of the general breakup of Yugoslavia which the U.S. government and key European allies had long wanted.
Once the Soviet Union dissolved and Germany (always an anti-Serb and anti-Yugoslavia country) reunited, the maneuverings to break it up into little ethnically pure or divided and occupied statelets got started in earnest.
The Serbs were the largest (40%) of the population and they had a large share of population in the set-to-be broken off and "independent" statelets.
The Serbs in those territories had to be ethnically cleansed or greatly weakened, as well as the severing or weakening of them with Serbia, plus the weakening of Serbs so it couldn't be strong and so consolidate any power or sway.

The U.S. and NATO wanted more bases and to expand their power. The Balkans was also a good excuse/exercise of over a dozen NATO countries acting at once. With other cases, such as the Middle East and Africa, most European powers are reluctant.

There were many reasons besides what I've mentioned. Yugoslavia was a competitor in the defense and construction industries for 3rd countries. It built infrastructure for many countries: Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq...including the underground bunkers and runways which British and U.S. "bunker busters" couldn't damage.
Yugoslavia would outbid countries such as Germany. Therefore, destroying it was a boon to other countries' industries.

Other reasons were that Milosevic resisted the World Bank and the IMF, and he kept some of the resources and industries from being exploited by internationalists. They call it "nationalism" when a country tries to protect its assets from exploitation and siphoning off the profits to foreign bankers and internationalists.
That's some of what they've done with Libya too. Instead of Libyan money going to free education (through university and grad school) and healthcare, etc., the money will go to line foreigners' pockets.

Frankly wars are mostly rackets - and even many decades-long military men come to that conclusion themselves if they are smart and well-read.

Simon in London said...

"The bombing of Serbia was part of the general breakup of Yugoslavia which the U.S. government and key European allies had long wanted..."

You left out Turkey - a NATO member - and Israel and the Gulf Arabs, all keen to see the US/NATO attack Serbia.

Back in 1998-99 I still more or less trusted our governments, so it was only the 2003 invasion of Iraq that let me retrospectively see the Kosovo war as the crime it was.

Anonymous said...

To me it seems being an entirely top down organization the US military figured shooting down a stealth bomber could only be achieved if coordinated from the top down. Searching for where the air defenses were being coordinated from and found only one possibility, the Chinese embassy.

The actual turn of events involves a single artillery officer Zoltan Dani, likely cut off from communications form the top, that organized the successful shoot down of a stealth bomber using 1970s at best technology. Zoltan (his family name) wrote a book.

The Parable of Zoltán Dani: Dragon Slayer 3

Anonymous said...

Nevidljiva smena / Invisible shift (English subtitles)

Mr. Anon said...

A lot of weird stuff was going down in the 90s surrounding the former Yugoslavia and China. The Clinton administration got campaign funding from thinly veiled Chinese sources. Ron Brown, a leading Clinton consiglieri and fund-raiser, was killed in a plane crash in Croatia. The Clinton administration permitted sattelite maker Loral (a significan democratic party backer) to share information with the Chinese. Our bombing of the Chinese embassy. And American foreign policy began to tilt away from Russia in the late 90s with our involvement in Kosovo. Perhaps the Chinese were playing the Nixon game with us. A lot of dots there - who knows which ones, if any, were connected.

Anonymous said...

You mean it had nothing to do with someone burning a Koran?

Anonymous said...

one might think that the US might have first warned the Chinese what they had discovered............did the Chinese embassy go into any sort of minimal staffing mode in anticipation of a possible discovery?

Chicago said...

A lot of people are still angry about the 1979 Iranian takeover of our embassy and the resulting hostage situation. When the subject of Iran comes up on various blogs there's always people who chime in to remind everyone of that event and demand retaliation, even today. Yet we targeted and bombed the Chinese embassy, killing some of them, seemingly committing an act of war, and there's just the sound of crickets. It's all down the memory hole.

Anonymous said...

What right did America have to drop bombs on Serbia? What did Serbia ever do to America?

Anonymous said...

"What right did America have to drop bombs on Serbia? What did Serbia ever do to America?" - Because we could, and being a white christian european nation in a war to defend its territory from muslims who wanted very much to help themselves to said territory.

At long last, the American people might(I can't stress this enough) might, be waking up at the switch, maybe we'll even look the other way as Russia cleans up the mess we made.

Anonymous said...

"...and Germany (always an anti-Serb and anti-Yugoslavia country...."
Perhaps that is accurate.....but, as a counterpoint, in the 1940's Germany supported the creation of two Slav-people states that enjoyed autonomy for the first time in their history: Slovakia and Croatia.

The Social Pathologist said...

Sometimes the CIA does good.

Maxwell Power said...

I remember the news around the Hainan episode; I also dimly remember McCain muttering a lot about starting a war with China around that time. Good thing that nut was never heard from again after being soundly defeated in the 2000 primary

Maxwell Power said...

Steve: what do you think about the suicide bombings recently in Beijing by Uighur nationalists? Since 2001 there has not been so much jihadi activity around the edges of China as the TV experts were confidently predicting back then; and as a result, not much media attention to deep-pocketed oil-guzzling China's seeming success in avoiding it.

At least it must be considered an interesting historical footnote. AFAIK the Uighurs are actually as anti-Arab as they profess to be, or maybe China is more efficient at keeping Al Qaeda bribed. It'd be worth knowing the answer I think

5 second google search said...

Slovakia, Croatia = both Roman Catholic. But thanks to Anonymous 8:08 for keeping down the price of blog comments by unloading more non-sequitur easily-checked misinformation onto the market.

Anonymous said...

Good update, Steve.

There is plenty that has been analyzed about the why and who of this evil little war against the Serbs. However, two things came to my mind when I read your post that are likely interesting to your readership:

1. The air defense officer mentioned by commenters above, Zoltan Dani, was a Hungarian from northern Serbia, not an ethnic Serb. Interesting that this supposedly chauvinist, exclusivist nation had...get ready for it...multi-ethnic armed forces. There are other examples of this that have flown "under the radar" (if I may use that pun): the New York Times had in print and ABC News had on TV interviewed Yugoslav officers in the field during the war and why they fought against overwhelming odds whereby the answer was generally something like "because this is our country". The interesting thing is on more than one occasion the names of those interviewed were Hungarian, even field officers deployed in Kosovo. I've been told some of Serbia's other resident ethnicities from the north, including Slovaks, Ruthenians, and others, were also members of the armed forces and supporters of the Yugoslav state.

2. Tangentially related but interesting from the nationalism and religion perspective: If you check on line which countries have "recognized" Kosovo one will find that there is along list of Muslim countries that have not, including big ones such as Iran and Indonesia. This would seem odd, no? Until one analyzes the list and realizes that only American client states have "recognized". This is interesting because for all the squack about the evil Serbs and how much they hated Muslims, the truth is that Yugoslavia (and the Serbs in particular) had friendly and extensive business and diplomatic relations with the Muslim world. A fact that I believe you have mentioned in the past, which I think is very interesting and merits mention again.

Anonymous said...

"Germany (always an anti-Serb and anti-Yugoslavia country..."

cn you flesh that out for me? is the basis religious--the Germans made Catholic Croatia, Slovakia free states during the issue the religion(Orthodox vs Catholic), or is it old enemities going back to WW1? or is it economic--hard to believe that the Serbs could compete for infrastructure projects but what, again, I am the Austrians have similar hard feelings............fascinating point that ethnic Hungarians, Ruthenians happily served the Yugoslav state and its successor.....btw are Hungarian Croat relations good? What are French Serb relations like these days? Why did France turn against its WW1 ally so savagely? then again why did the US turn against Serbia, its WW2 ally....the WSJ published a letter in 1995 from an airman who fondly remembered Serb assistance agter he was show down

Anonymous said...

a 2006 EU report (with Serbian govt response) on the status of approx. 15 minority languages in Serbia.

some highlights/comments:

1) The EU contains countries such as France that make no concessions to minority languages such as Basque, Breton etc But here you get the EU lecturing the Serbs to provide more Ukrainian language programs via state media.

2)The report contains a back and forth on the status of such languages as Vlach ( dialect of Romanian.) The Serbs are reluctant to provide services in Vlach since the Vlach dialects lacks standardization....the EU is unhappy with that answer, and , as far as I could tell offering an interpreter in Romanian.