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Sunday, May 16, 1999 Published at 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK

World: Americas

Embassy blame shifts to map agency

Anti-Nato sentiment increased in China after the attack

The US agency that drew the 'out-of-date' map used when Nato mistakenly attacked the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has a record of providing incomplete and inaccurate data, according to a newspaper report.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Los Angeles Times also says that the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency (Nima) has been having problems in getting its maps to combat crews.

An internal US Air Force document obtained by the paper said: "The current system to generate and distribute imagery and mapping products for use in mission planning is broke."

Nato has blamed an out-of-date map for its disastrous attack on the Chinese embassy on 7 May, in which three people were killed.

The CIA has also been widely criticised for the intelligence blunder.

The LA Times report said the map was printed in 1997, after the embassy moved to its current location but that it was not recorded on the new map in its new location.

Nima spokeswoman Laura Snow told the LA Times: "No database available to Nima identified the targeted location as the location of the Chinese embassy."

Details omitted

Documents and interviews obtained by the paper say the agency is battling against funding shortages, and a loss of senior analysts and mapmakers.

The LA Times says Nima maps and equipment was also used when:

  • A US military plane cut through a ski gondola cable at Cavalese, Italy killing 20 people in February 1998.
  • A UH-1N Huey helicopter collided with power lines leaving five US Navy fliers dead a few weeks later.

The LA Times report says that military accident investigations show that maps used have omitted power lines and mis-plotted other flight hazards.

Nima officials have been working virtually non-stop in recent months delivering maps of Kosovo and Iraq for use by the Pentagon.

Ms Snow said: "Nima mapping products are used with confidence every day by our military forces and our national policy-makers."

Nima was created in 1996 by merging the Defence Mapping Agency with a group of photographic analysts and intelligence staff from other Pentagon and CIA branches.

Last week, during a US congressional debate on intelligence funding it was disclosed that the 2000 budget provides an increase for Nima. The amount was not available because the information was classified.

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