"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Spy, boffin, disgruntled civil servant: this was the David Kelly I knew

The expert on weapons of mass destruction was a man of many roles, says Nicholas Rufford, ranging from the mundane to the mysterious

I first met David Kelly with a pint in his hand. A friend of his had given me his telephone number and I arranged to meet him at the Waggon and Horses pub in his home village of Southmoor, Oxfordshire.

He was jovial and talkative, although not garrulous. There were boundaries to what he would say. Over a pub meal, he described his missions to the former Soviet Union to uncover its germ warfare programme and his cat-and-mouse games to track down the communist regime’s most dangerous weapon — smallpox.

He did not mention what I later learnt: his role with MI6 in securing the defection of one of the heads of the Soviet germ warfare programme.

When I asked him about this, Kelly shrugged: “Who knows what those James Bond chaps get up to?” But there was a twinkle in his eye and he was clearly enjoying a secret.

At the height of his influence and self-esteem, Kelly was regarded by the United Nations, the Foreign Office and the intelligence services as one of their best assets: an expert in his field, a scientist who was as careful and forensic in intelligence gathering as he was in the laboratory.

Six years later he was dead. His apparent suicide generated a host of questions that Lord Hutton’s report may, or may not, answer.

Was he a key figure in Britain’s counter-proliferation efforts or just a middle- ranking government official? Was he a deeply private man or a media pundit? An honest scientist who wanted to tell the truth about the government’s Iraq dossier or a civil servant piqued at being passed over for promotion? Did he kill himself because he was let down, or was he to blame? If there was a clue to the problems that would later beset Kelly, it was only that he was a man struggling to fulfil his many roles. Sometimes he was a consultant to the UN, sometimes a government scientist, sometimes an oracle on germ weapons to trusted journalists, sometimes an undercover man for the intelligence services.

Technically, he was a Ministry of Defence (MoD) official. He worked as scientific adviser to the arms control directorate. But for many years he was also on loan to Unscom, the UN Special Commission on Iraq.

When he went to Iraq, it was under the control of the Foreign Office. He worked closely with British intelligence, both the defence intelligence staff (DIS) and MI6.

He was an expert whose services could be called on by government departments and international organisations. He had an office in London but preferred to work from home where he kept his computer and stacks of files.

He was a troubleshooter. The role appealed to him. He kept a bag packed ready to fly off at a moment’s notice.

“Aren’t you alarmed by having to wade into a germ laboratory in some godforsaken place?” I once asked him.

“As a hero of mine once said, ‘Nothing shocks me, I’m a scientist’,” he replied.

“Freud?” I ventured.

“Indiana Jones,” he said.

In fanciful moments Kelly might have compared himself to George Lucas’s character. He was a boffin who had studied for his PhD at Oxford and taught microbiology at Porton Down, Britain’s chemical weapons defence establishment. Nevertheless, in an instant he could be on a plane, flying to some trouble-spot in the former Soviet Union or the Middle East to collect samples and confront recalcitrant officials about their weapons.

When a Downing Street spokesman described him after his death as a Walter Mitty, he was right in the sense that Kelly revelled in being an international man of mystery. But he was wrong in implying that this role was a figment of Kelly’s imagination. Kelly really did mix with spies and villains and he was dedicated to eradicating germ weapons.

Kelly’s first big success at uncovering Iraq’s weapons programme was in 1994. He was working with the UN when he was asked to assist in the analysis of documents that had come from Israeli intelligence. The documents included intercepted telexes that purported to show Iraq had purchased 40 tons — a significant amount — of growth medium that could be used in the mass production of bio-weapons such as anthrax or botulinum toxin. Were they genuine telexes or Israeli propaganda? Kelly, working with British intelligence, was largely responsible for proving they were genuine. This gave Rolf Ekeus, head of Unscom, the evidence he needed to confront Iraq and prove it had lied over its weapons programme. Later Ekeus said Kelly deserved the Nobel peace prize for his work.

Kelly was diligent in his pursuit of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen. One of his long-standing foes was General Amer Al-Saadi, Saddam’s British-educated weapons adviser. Al-Saadi was responsible for Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from 1972 onwards. Kelly had long suspected him of lying to weapons inspectors.

He described the Iraqi general as “a very sinister and very charming man. He was one of the brightest people I have ever met. But he supported the wrong cause”.

Kelly interviewed Al-Saadi at least 20 times during UN inspection visits to Iraq. His questioning of the general helped to expose flaws in Iraq’s supposedly “full, complete, final and comprehensive declaration of weapons of mass destruction” in December 2002.

When the Iraqi declaration was rejected by the UN, it was the beginning of the end for Saddam. Within weeks America had completed its military build-up and invaded Iraq.

Kelly could feel justifiably proud. He had come a long way from humble roots and a broken home. After he was born in 1944, his parents left the Rhondda Valley for Tunbridge Wells, Kent; but the marriage collapsed and, aged two, he was taken back to Pontypridd by his mother.

As an adolescent, Kelly excelled at athletics and became head boy at school. The suicide of his mother on the eve of his 20th birthday while he was an undergraduate at Leeds University cast a shadow over his academic career. But he met his future wife Janice at Leeds. They had three children, Sian and the twins Rachel and Ellen.

Kelly became chief science officer at Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council Institute of Virology and later head of microbiology at Porton Down. His career in counter-proliferation began when he was appointed to head inspections of Russian biological warfare facilities in 1991 after the collapse of Soviet communism.

But the role that he said changed his life for ever began when he became an adviser to the UN on Iraq’s biological weapons in 1994. He made 37 inspection trips to the country and fell in love with the people and the land.

In London, Kelly became a key figure in an MoD unit called Operation Rockingham. Set up by John Morrison, deputy head of the DIS, its aim was to gather intelligence on Iraq from a multitude of sources and try to make sense of it. Sitting at the centre of a complex web of British and US intelligence organisations, the Rockingham cell became pivotal in the efforts to disarm Iraq.

It guided inspection teams in Iraq to sites suspected of being used to hide weapons. It also advised the joint intelligence committee (JIC) that, in turn, reported to ministers.

There are claims that Rockingham ceased being a neutral conduit for intelligence and became a propaganda organisation. Scott Ritter, a former US marine and UN inspector who also liaised with the cell, says it got carried away with the belief that Iraq was concealing WMD.

Because members of Rockingham wrote reports for the UN Security Council, they were able to influence decisions on whether sanctions against Iraq continued. Intelligence was selected or ignored depending on whether it supported the foreign policy of Britain and America, says Ritter, and Kelly was a key figure in that process.

“Kelly became Rockingham’s go-to person for translating the data that came out of Unscom into concise reporting,” said Ritter. “Kelly had a vested interest in protecting his image, which centred around his exposure of an Iraqi bio-weapons programme that had to continue to exist for him to continue to hold centre stage.” In effect, Ritter claims, Kelly helped to ramp up the threat from Iraq.

Although he mixed with diplomats, Kelly was not one of them. He found their world shallow. In the corridors of the UN, the talk was about who was up, who was down. It turned out that he was not as up as he had hoped. In late 1994 the UN appointed Richard Spertzel, a US biologist, as head of its bio-weapons investigation in Iraq — a role Kelly almost certainly would have liked. Kelly remained an adviser but one step removed from the centre of power.

His frequent trips to Baghdad and to the UN in New York brought him into contact with the press. Kelly enjoyed talking to journalists. They treated him with respect. As long as he talked to them wearing his UN hat and stuck to factual matters, the Foreign Office had no objection. In fact, according to Kelly, it encouraged him.

On at least two occasions Kelly said he had explicit approval to pass material to me. One was a story about how Iraq had tested a radiological weapon, a “dirty bomb”. On another occasion, Kelly said the Foreign Office was alarmed at the prospect that the UN was considering allowing Iraq to rebuild what had been a germ warfare laboratory on the pretext that it could manufacture foot and mouth vaccine.

Kelly’s role diminished further after 1998, when UN inspectors were ordered out of Iraq because Saddam’s officials were refusing to co-operate. As the months slipped by he was consulted less. The intelligence services were now the lead agencies on Iraq. Phone intercepts and satellite surveillance replaced the UN inspectors as the new sources of information.

With a gap in his life, Kelly spent some time in Monterey, California, with Mai Pederson, an Arab-American linguist he had met in Iraq. Pederson introduced Kelly to the Bahai faith, an offshoot of Islam that preaches universal peace.

There was speculation after Kelly’s death about their relationship but there was no evidence of anything deeper than friendship. Nevertheless, Kelly’s marriage was complicated. He rarely mentioned to his wife his conversion to Bahai and he did not discuss his work with her.

Problems he had kept at arm’s length came to the fore. He had high blood pressure and signs of heart disease.

He told me that it was partly to keep his doctor happy that he gave up drinking and became a Bahai.

There were nagging problems about his status and pay, issues that had never bothered him while globetrotting.

“During the period from 1991 to 1998 I worked continuously with commitment, dedication, enthusiasm, and diligence, working abroad eight months a year, mainly in a war zone, mostly at short notice and under remarkably difficult and hazardous conditions,” he wrote in September 2001 to a personnel manager at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

“This has been done to the detriment of my family commitments, personal relationships and career . . . All of this appears to have passed by without recognition.”

His resentment grew when a man half his age, Bryan Wells, became his line manager at the MoD as head of the proliferation and arms control secretariat. It was a reminder that Kelly’s middling civil service rank was out of step with his standing in the UN.

In 2002 the MoD asked Kelly to work on the government’s dossier on Iraq’s WMD. He was well qualified but his data was now four years old so his contribution was limited.

The invasion of Iraq by America and Britain a year ago brought the chance of real work hunting for Saddam’s WMD once more. When I phoned Kelly to tell him that his old foe Al-Saadi had surrendered to the Americans, he was delighted: Al-Saadi “knew where all the bodies were buried”.

When he got the call to go to Iraq in June it was only to carry out administrative duties. He sounded disappointed when I wished him luck. I did not know that he had bigger problems on his mind.

A few weeks earlier he had met Andrew Gilligan of the BBC and, I suspect, had made a piqued complaint about the government’s WMD dossier: that if it had listened to him, it would not have made such a crass error as to imply that Saddam could launch WMDs against the UK with only 45 minutes’ warning.

Hutton will this week rake exhaustively through the tragic consequences of that conversation, so I will just say this: Kelly was not a “deeply private man”, as has been claimed. He enjoyed the company of journalists. He was quoted in books and newspapers. He was interviewed on the American media networks. He was a lecturer and a public speaker at conferences.

However, exposure as the BBC’s mole was not the sort of attention that he could handle. He thrived on respect. His self-esteem had already suffered privately at work; he could not cope with public humiliation.

Source: TimesOnline

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Milton Frihetsson, 18:35


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