Who Ran Late British Bioweapon Expert David Kelly?
mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/KEL2.jpg” align=”left” border=”0″>In the first week of the Hutton Inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Dr. David Kelly the BBC’s credibility and professionalism were on the line. Next week, the limelight will shift to the Blair government’s official spin doctors – 10 Downing Street’s communications chief Alastair Campbell, who is invited to appear on Tuesday, August 19, and the Prime Minister’s spokesman Tom Kelly, who is summoned for Wednesday, August 20.
At least in its early stages, the probe led by Lord Hutton into Dr Kelly’s death has become the catalyst for a thorough review of the whispering game that ends in a breaking news story for British media audiences and for a hard look at the way official dossiers are manufactured for parliament.
Later, it will be the turn of the politicians led by Tony Blair to defend the credibility of their arguments for going to war against Iraq. Campbell’s head may roll first for his role in spinning the case for war. Defense minister, Geoff Hoon, may also pay the price for his involvement in the grave circumstances that led to the Britain’s top expert on chemical and biological weapons being found dead on a woodland down with a slashed left wrist.
The first three days of the Hutton Inquiry into those circumstances confirmed the view of many observers that the British Government’s claim that Saddam Hussein was able to deploy weapons of mass destruction in forty-five minutes was wrong.
The crucial issue is whether the dossier: “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” published on September 24 2002, on which Kelly had worked, had been altered by the government – and in particular by Alastair Campbell – to give undue importance to the 45- minute claim.
Dr. Kelly had worked for MI6, the CIA, the United Nations and UNSCOM. He had security clearance at the highest level and was authorized to speak to the media on WMD which in fact he had been doing throughout 2002. He was due to return to Iraq later in July to join the special coalition team headed by CIA adviser Dr. David Kay that began scouring Iraq in June for evidence of Saddam’s illegal weapons programs.
It is significant that there was a Government spin campaign in the weeks leading up to the Inquiry. Blair’s spokesman Tom Kelly, described his namesake, David Kelly, as a “Walter Mitty character”. He was just an ordinary middle-level civil servant, according to another government spokesman; the top civil servant in the Ministry of Defense reportedly implied that Kelly was mentally unsound.
Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist who first accused Alastair Campbell of “sexing up” the dossier on the Today radio program broadcast on May 29 this year, confirmed in his evidence that it was Dr. Kelly who had named Campbell as the person responsible for emphasizing the 45-minute claim in the dossier.
In a taped interview with another BBC journalist, Susan Watts, Dr. Kelly said that the 45-minute claim “was a statement that was made and it just got out of all proportion … they were desperate for information”. As a result the No. 10 Press Office seized on and highlighted it.
It is clear from the evidence presented to the Inquiry by MoD defense officials that at least two members of the small group of the Defense Intelligence Staff working on the dossier had very strong reservations on the 45-minute claim. The intelligence was single-sourced from an Iraqi army officer and was not corroborated.
A third BBC journalist, Gavin Hewitt, gave evidence of a phone conversation he had with Dr. Kelly in which Kelly said that, although he believed that there were WMD in Iraq, he did not consider they constituted a massive threat and that “No.10 spin had come into play in relation to the dossier.”
Dr. Bryan Wells, the dead scientist’s line manager at the Minister of Defense, painted a rather different picture when testified on the fourth day of the Hutton inquiry. He described Dr. Kelly as “my fount of knowledge” on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the workings of UN inspection teams. He stressed that Kelly had been keen to return to Iraq. In a letter dated July 1, Kelly had written to Wells that he was “sympathetic” to the war against Iraq and “most certainly… never attempted to undermine government policy in any way.”
Dr Wells also testified that on July 14, the late Dr. Kelly received a letter from Richard Hatfield, MoD personnel director, accusing him of a serious breach of procedure. The letter said: “Your contact with Gilligan was particularly ill-judged.” At the same time, Wells noted, no disciplinary action was taken against him as his conduct was considered “unforeseen and unintended.”
In any case, there might too have been a question of who should execute such disciplinary action. According to his line manager, his contacts with the media were generally authorized by the Foreign Office, “aside from anthrax and smallpox” which went through the Ministry of Defense Press Office.
Some of his friends, including the writer Tom Mangold, reported that Kelly had been convinced Saddam not only possessed prohibited chemical and biological weapons but was also capable of making “dirty bombs.”
The credibility of Tony Blair and George W. Bush has been hugely damaged since the invasion of Iraq. The fall in support for Bush in the U.S. and more alarmingly for Blair in the U.K. is largely due to the lack of convincing evidence that Saddam had – and was ready to use – WMD. Their critics now claim there was no urgent need to invade Iraq while the United Nations was continuing with its inspections. Early revelations from the Hutton Inquiry confirm this view.
There is no doubt that the British Parliament would not have approved the decision to go to war if the Blair Dossier had not emphasized the possibility of an imminent WMD attack by Saddam Hussein.
debkafile‘s military sources add that this picture may be slowly changing.
Wednesday, August 13, the London Daily Telegraph, known for its good sources in the MoD and Pentagon, and the Boston Globe, both cited testimony by Dr. Kay before a US Senate hearing that Iraqi Republican Guards commanders had received orders before the war to shoot chemical shells at coalition forces if they crossed the Kut-Karbala line in their northern advance on Baghdad. The Kay team is now looking for the shells themselves and trying to find out why they were not used. The searchers are, convinced the order would not have been given had there been no chemical shells to fire.
The Hutton inquiry has so far focused on aspects of the Kelly case germane to British politics and media. However, the personality whose death triggered the probe appears to have operated beyond this limited sphere. Lord Hutton may find his questions leading at some point into broader avenues.