U.S. Says Sloppy 'Coms' Caused Security Leaks
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan, March 10, 2000 U.S. officials say sloppy communications may have caused security leaks during the early days of NATO Operation Allied Force last year.
A British Broadcasting Corp. documentary scheduled to be aired March 12 claims the Serbs had information on allied air raids and reconnaissance flights. Some NATO officials believe there was a spy within NATO headquarters.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon confirmed March 10 that some people in NATO think there was a spy. "But the best of our analysis in the Pentagon has not led us to that conclusion," he told reporters traveling in Asia with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
NATO-led forces launched air strikes in late March 1999 against military targets in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. The ensuing 78-day air war led to the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and an end to Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing in the province.
U.S. forces conducted nearly half the combat sorties and two-thirds of the support sorties during the operation. In the early phases, Allied Force was almost exclusively an American operation because the United States is the only nation with precision-guided munitions that can operate in adverse weather.
"There were signs that [the Serbs] may have been prepared for certain strikes," Bacon said. "I won't discuss operational details. I can't get into how we knew what we knew. But we had some evidence that they might have had foreknowledge."
Once this became evident to NATO officials, they changed communications procedures and the problem largely went away, Bacon said. "A discreet number of people in NATO knew what the air tasking order was and crucial details. It's their job to communicate with their host governments."
The Serbs may have penetrated those communications or the leaks may have resulted after NATO representatives' faxes got to the other end, Bacon said. While U.S. officials don't know what happened, he said, they're open to the theory that a "mole" -- a well-placed double agent -- outside NATO somehow obtained and passed communications.
When NATO cut down on the number of people receiving targeting information, the problem stopped, Bacon said. If the Serbs had obtained more precise targeting information, they would have deployed their air defenses more effectively, he noted.
U.S. pilots were not the only ones endangered by the intelligence leaks, Bacon stressed. Coalition aircraft from almost every NATO country flew missions, so all had an interest in preventing compromises, he said.
The leaks are a NATO-wide concern. "This was a pilot- safety, mission-effectiveness issue, Bacon said. "Everybody in NATO saw it as that, and as soon as they saw what the problem was, it went away. We believe we figured it out fairly early, changed the procedures, and that was the end of it."