Was a spy at NATO giving the serbs intelligence about the alliance's flight plans during the first weeks of the Kosovo air campaign last March? If so, no one has fingered the mole nor defined the path such information might have taken to Belgrade. But, according to a BBC report, a classified Pentagon study of the Kosovo campaign has determined that someone was spiriting NATO's daily "air-tasking orders" directly to the Serbs for the first two weeks of the war. Dismissing the report as "rumor and speculation," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea argued that if security had been compromised, "how is it that we were able to conduct ... 38,000 sorties involving 1,200 aircraft and not lose a single pilot?" Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigley said a Pentagon review of the air campaign contains no hint of "any spy or mole."
However, alliance officials do acknowledge that security wasn't up to snuff when the campaign began last March 24. "After 50 years of peace ... our first conflict required us to look at where our information was going," says a military official at NATO's European military headquarters in Mons, Belgium. The answer: too many places. At the outset of the air campaign, 600 persons on NATO's closed-feed Chronos computer system were getting the daily air-tasking orders--the same people who got information on the more routine air patrols over Bosnia. "We realized we had information hanging out there," says the Mons official. Some two weeks into the campaign the list was pared to 100. There were other breaches, too: loose talk on cell phones, unsecured transmissions from allied aircraft and cavalier faxing of possibly sensitive information to national capitals. Add to that the presence of Serb spotters outside alliance airbases in Italy and one might ask: Who needs a spy?
French officer Pierre-Henri Bunel had already admitted to passing general target categories on to the Serbs in October 1998. Even that wasn't of stellar value, says one NATO diplomat: "Any military cadet that's read a book can tell you [that] you start with air defenses, and that's what we did."
The Serbs' most spectacular military coup in those first two weeks of war was shooting down a U.S. F-117A fighter. But the Americans so closely guard their Stealth technology that flight plans for that plane, as well as the B-2 bomber, were not shared with NATO allies and did not appear on air-tasking orders. The BBC report implies that the alliance's air strikes became more effective once security was tightened and the putative spy neutralized. NATO officials put more weight on another key factor: as March turned to April, the weather improved, skies cleared and more bombs hit their targets.
With reporting by Mark Thompson/Washington