Spy report shakes Nato

Alliance admits existence of secret US investigation which suggests leaks to Belgrade

Richard Norton-Taylor, Julian Borger

Friday March 10, 2000

Nato last night was forced into an embarrassing climbdown when it admitted that, contrary to earlier denials, a secret US report exists suggesting it had a spy in its ranks in the early days of the Kosovo war.

After first denying knowledge of the report, it admitted that a senior US air force officer had carried out an internal Pentagon investigation into the vulnerability of Nato's secret "air tasking orders" giving daily details of allied bombing raids, including targets and reconnaissance flights.

Jamie Shea, Nato's chief spokesman, at first insisted there was "no evidence" of a spy and Nato had no knowledge of the US report. Lord Robertson, Nato's secretary general, said during a visit to Ankara: "We have no knowledge and no evidence that the air tasking order was ever leaked to the Serbs or otherwise compromised".

Javier Solana, Nato's secretary general during the Kosovo war, told the Guardian he had no knowledge of a spy at Nato, and had not seen any US report on the subject. He added that in one case - an attack on the town of Novi Sad - there were suspicions that Belgrade had had some prior knowledge of Nato plans.

However, Nato officials later confirmed a report had indeed been written. A definitive "lessons learned from Kosovo" study had been drawn up by James McCarthy, a now retired US air force general, for the deputy secretary of defence John Hamre and general Joe Ralston, vice-chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff.

The McCarthy report says that after Nato reduced the number of people with access to bombing raid orders from 600 to 100, the effect on what the Serbs appeared to know about Nato's plans was immediate. It says that the Serbs appeared to know when Nato spy planes and unmanned reconnaissance drones would be deployed. General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme commander, has admitted that concern about Nato security led to particularly sensitive information being omitted from the tasking orders.

The report was discovered by Allan Little, the BBC's foreign correspondent and reporter for a BBC2 programme, Moral Combat: Nato at War, to be broadcast on Sunday night. It was first revealed yesterday by the Guardian.

A senior US air force source tells the programme that Gen Clark told colleagues: "I know I've got a spy, I want to find him".

Yesterday, a Nato military official described General McCarthy's conclusion as based on "circumstantial evidence". In Washington, US air force spokesman, Lt Colonel Vic Warzinsky said that while the report provided no conclusive evidence of a spy within Nato, "there was a sense in Nato headquarters that the Serbs were pretty well informed about what we were doing."

He said Serb intelligence could have come from a number of sources, including ground spotters positioned at the end of Nato runways in Italy, passing on information to Belgrade by satellite phone on the numbers and types of aircraft being launched. The Serbs were also listening in to unscrambled radio traffic, to glean whatever indirect information they could about air force activities.

He acknowledged that Nato targeting appeared to have become more effective after the distribution list was shortened, though he said that could have been the result of a number of different factors, including the destruction of Serb communication and command-and-control centres in the first days of the bombing campaign.

However, diplomatic sources said the tasking orders - placed on Nato's coded computer system, called Chronos - were potentially available to thousands of people once it reached the capitals of Nato's 19 governments. "There would be no way for anyone to know if some of it had leaked," said one source.

The McCarthy report appears to have been withheld from America's Nato partners, including the British government. The ministry of defence said it intended to question Washington about the report. Senior British government sources said they had not seen it, and expressed surprise that it had taken so long to leak.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "This was the most sensitive information of all available at that time in the campaign and for 600 people to have access to it seems fairly contrary to the principle of need to know. These revelations will only serve to increase political tension within the alliance."

They come as the US and the European allies are at odds over defence spending, Washington's plans for a national anti-missile defence shield, and for increased military cooperation within the EU.

Mr Solana, the EU's security supremo, made it clear he is anxious to avoid any suggestion of problems within Nato as he advances the delicate business of trying to construct a European "defence identity" and capabilities that some US officials have warned will undermine the western alliance.

Iain Duncan-Smith, the shadow defence secretary, said the disclosure "begs the question of whether it is ever feasible to operate with all the Nato nations having access to the most sensitive information, regardless as to whether they are committed in a military sense or not".

He added: "The lesson to learn is that there will always be a core that will go ahead and operate under the umbrella of Nato while others will go along politically but do not necessarily need to be kept alongside militarily, so as to avoid the temptation for them to use that information to weaken Nato."

He joined Francis Maude, the the shadow foreign secretary, in calling for an inquiry into the handling of the Kosovo conflict.

How the story changed

We don't know of any report

We don't know of allegations (that there is a spy)

There is no evidence

There is no spy

Jamie Shea, Nato spokesman, on BBC Radio 4 Today programme yesterday morning.

Yes there is a report by a US air force general

There is a claim of espionage

The evidence is circumstantial

There is no spy

Nato military official, quoted on Reuters six hours later

Original article