The Post report has little cause for comfort in Washington, either: An unnamed top-ranking State Department official explained that the targeting process began with an intelligence analyst finding the street address of the arms procurement agency... off the Internet! If Washington’s spooks are now using the Net as an intelligence-gathering mechanism, we’re really in trouble.
No wonder Beijing is hopping mad. Washington’s explanation of how it mistakenly targeted China’s embassy in Belgrade included the suggestion that a mid-level CIA analyst had actually warned ahead of time that U.S. intelligence had the wrong address for its intended target, the Washington Post reported Thursday. On seeing the site marked on a targeting map as the location of a Yugoslav arms procurement agency, the analyst allegedly told his superiors, "I’m not sure that’s the right building." Reports leaked by U.S. intelligence sources haven’t specified how loudly the analyst raised the alarm, but the anecdote was more likely to enrage than mollify Beijing. "China’s fury was based on the sense that they’re not taken seriously in Washington," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Even if they were to believe the bombing was an accident, the fact that such a mistake was possible confirms their sense that Washington isn’t treating them with due respect." Telling Beijing that U.S. officials had ignored warnings of a possible targeting error in Belgrade was unlikely to make the Chinese feel any better about the bombing.