Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 20:16 GMT 21:16 UK


Analysis: The CIA's catalogue of blunders

Firemen sift through the wreckage of the Chinese embassy

By Rob Watson in Washington

The unintentional bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has not only gravely damaged Nato's diplomacy, but has also seriously undermined the American Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, which has been blamed for wrongly targeting the embassy.

The Belgrade attack was just the latest in a series of high-profile blunders by the CIA.

In the last two years alone, the agency has somehow failed to spot India and Pakistan's intentions to explode nuclear devices and wrongly identified a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan as a chemical weapons plant.

Embassy bombing: 'A new low'

Ron Kessler: "The CIA tends to be rather arrogant, very insular."
Ron Kessler, a leading CIA critic and author of the book, Inside the CIA, says the bombing of the Chinese embassy represented a new low. "This is the stupidest mistake that could possibly have been made," he says.

"In other cases, you can say there was poor judgement or the people were not as competent as they should have been. But this case is so basic - you have to have an up-to-date map - there's simply no excuse for it."

Kosovo: Special Report
Mr Kessler blames the problem on bureaucrats, and on what he calls the arrogant culture of the CIA. He believes the agency is in need of a major culture change - including a willingness to sack people when things go wrong.

A former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, dismisses this view as nonsense.

He is not convinced the CIA should have to shoulder all the blame for the latest debacle, saying that, while the agency did play a part in selecting the target, the inaccurate map was the fault of the Pentagon's national imagery and mapping agency.

Search for a scapegoat

"The initial mistake was partly made by the CIA. The failure to catch it was made by other parts of the intelligence community.

"I can only think that the US Government official who said this was a CIA mistake was either looking for a scapegoat - and the CIA is often a handy one for people in the White House or the National Security Council - or perhaps he didn't know much about the US intelligence community. "

James Woolsey: "Intelligence gets harder"
Mr Woolsey insists the agency is doing a good job, but that the job itself is becoming more difficult than it was during the Cold War years.

Unfairly blamed or not, the incident has focused attention on the role of the CIA and what, if any, changes should be made.

Good old-fashioned spies

Professor Roy Godson, an intelligence specialist at Georgetown University, acknowledges that the CIA does have many quiet successes, but he also believes the agency should rely less on gadgets and more on good old-fashioned spies.

"I think there has been too much reliance on technology, whether it's the polygraph or the satellite image. But getting that message through in the United States is a tough undertaking. We prefer to stand off, use our technology and not risk human resources."

The consensus in Washington is that, while the bombing was a terrible mistake, it won't do long-term damage to America's intelligence services. That said, many people say they expect this certainly won't be the last of such mistakes - either in war or in peace.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

12 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
Nato apologises to Beijing

11 May 99 | Europe
Nato's bombing blunders

13 May 99 | Europe
US used wrong map for embassy attack

Internet Links

Central Intelligence Agency

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

From Business
Microsoft trial mediator appointed

Violence greets Clinton visit

From Entertainment
Taxman scoops a million

Safety chief deplores crash speculation

Bush calls for 'American internationalism'

Hurricane Lenny abates

EU fraud: a billion dollar bill

Russian forces pound Grozny

Senate passes US budget

Boy held after US school shooting

Cardinal may face loan-shark charges

Sudan power struggle denied

Sharif: I'm innocent

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

India's malnutrition 'crisis'

Next steps for peace

Homeless suffer as quake toll rises

Dam builders charged in bribery scandal

Burundi camps 'too dire' to help

DiCaprio film trial begins

Memorial for bonfire dead

Spy allegations bug South Africa

Senate leader's dismissal 'a good omen'

Tamil rebels consolidate gains

New constitution for Venezuela

Hurricane pounds Caribbean

Millennium sect heads for the hills

South African gays take centre stage

Lockerbie trial judges named