David Kelly: Name and Shame
By Elle McKenzie
THE WIRE SERVICES announced on Friday 18th July 2003 that the body discovered on Harrowdown Hill, Abingdon, Oxfordshire may be that of Ministry of Defence scientist, a biological and chemical weapons expert, David Kelly. The identity of the body was confirmed the next day as indeed being that of Kelly, a quiet man who had been catapulted into the news only a few days earlier. He had left his home for a walk on Thursday afternoon, his family alerting the police when he had failed to return by 11:45 p.m. that evening. His body, when found on the Friday at 9:20 a.m., had a cut across his left wrist with an open pack of the prescription-only painkiller Co-proxamol lying by his side. According to the British Medical Journal these are used in 1 in 20 suicides. There was no note, no explanation. His wife has revealed that he had told her earlier that he 'didn't want to live in a world like this'. What caused him to reach a state of such despair?
David Kelly's story started on 29th May 2003, when BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan, reported on BBC Radio 4's popular Today programme that the government dossier on arms in Iraq, published in September 2002, had been 'sexed up' shortly before its publication. This dossier was the lynchpin of the government's argument for joining the USA in a war against Iraq. Gilligan started his report saying,
"This is the dossier that was published in September last year, probably the most substantial statement of the government's case against Iraq
you open up the dossier and the first thing you see is a preface by Tony Blair that includes the following words:
Saddam's military planning allows for some WMDs to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to deploy them."
(Full text at mediaguardian.co.uk)
Gilligan went on to say that if these weapons were that readily to hand then surely they would have been found by now, a fact that has been a constant thorn in the side of both Bush and Blair, just as Andrew Gilligan is reportedly a thorn in the side of Alastair Campbell, Blair's Director of Communications. Although not named directly in the programme, he would later emerge as the chief suspect in ordering the 'spin'. Gilligan then said that he had spoken to a 'British official' who was involved in the preparation of the dossier, and that the content produced by the intelligence services added little to what was already publicly known. Gilligan then quoted his unnamed source as saying,
"It was transformed in the week before it was published to make it sexier. The classic example was the claim that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was not in the original draft. It was included in the dossier against our wishes, because it wasn't reliable. Most of the things in the dossier were double-sourced, but that was single sourced, and we believe that the source was wrong."
According to the source, 'the dossier was transformed at the behest of Downing Street' and he then added,
"Most people in intelligence were unhappy with the dossier because it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward."
Gilligan stressed in his report that this source, and others, believed that Iraq did have some form of programme for producing weapons of mass destruction. However, again Gilligan quoted his source on this,
"I believe it is about 30% likely there was a chemical weapons programme in the six months before the war, and considerably more likely there was a biological weapons programme. We think Blix downplayed a couple of potentially interesting pieces of evidence. But the weapons programmes were quite small. Sanctions did limit the programme."
His source also told him, that the capture of some Iraqi scientists involved in WMD programmes had not given them any more information than they had before the war started. It was, Gilligan told John
Humphries, the presenter, a very interesting point.
Gilligan finished his report by saying,
"Now the 45-minute issue is not just a detail. It did go to the heart of the government's case that Saddam was an imminent threat, and it was repeated a further three times in the body of the dossier."
Gilligan was aware that at this time a parliamentary investigation had been ordered into the claims made by the British government about Iraq, and he suggested that it was exactly this element of the dossier that should be thoroughly investigated.
Downing Street had been feeling beleaguered by the BBC since the beginning of the Iraq war. The Corporation had been tagged the 'Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation' for its stance on the war, reflected in its news coverage of events. It is by no means the first time that the BBC has come under fire from the government of the day for its lack of patriotism. Indeed, during the Falklands conflict, the BBC refused to use the term 'Task Force' when referring to the British army, preferring 'British Forces', a reporting stance that infuriated then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This approach to news journalism is deep-rooted in the culture of the BBC, and it remains whilst governments come and go. However, Gilligan's assertions provided the opportunity for the government to take the BBC to task. Thus a bitter feud began.
A short and winding road
The sequence of events following the Today programme, that led up to Dr Kelly's death were as follows:
June 1st -- Gilligan writes a more detailed account of the issue in the Mail on Sunday. It was in this that Alastair Campbell was named as the man who 'sexed up' the dossier.
June 2nd -- Susan Watts, BBC Newsnight science correspondent reports on a conversation she has had with a 'senior official' intimately involved with the process of compiling the September dossier and that he claimed "the intelligence services had come under heavy political pressure to include the '45 minutes' evidence."
June 3rd -- The Leader of the House of Commons claims the information is the work of 'rogue elements' in the security services.
June 6th -- The Prime Minister's office makes a statement saying there were a "series of inaccuracies in Gilligan's report."
June 19th -- Gilligan testifies to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee investigating the decision to go to war with Iraq. He again describes his source as "easily sufficiently senior and credible to be worth reporting."
June 25th -- Alastair Campbell, testifying to the same Committee accuses Gilligan of telling lies. He said,
" I know we are right in relation to that 45 minute point. It is completely and totally untrue. It is actually a lie. Until we get an apology for it I will keep making sure that parliament and people like yourselves know it was a lie."
However, the Committee found that the government had been unwise to use the '45 minute point' although Campbell was exonerated from altering the document.
The BBC meanwhile refused to apologise.
June 26th -- Campbell writes a letter to the BBC demanding answers to 12 questions by the end of the day regarding the Gilligan report. Richard Sambrook, the BBC's news director sends him this reply,
"We stand by our entire story. The BBC will respond properly to these matters but not to a deadline dictated b Mr Campbell."
June 30th -- Dr Kelly informs his line manager that he had met with Gilligan earlier in May. He did this because a colleague told him that some of Gilligan's quotes sound 'remarkably like your turn of phrase'.
July 3rd -- Geoffrey Hoon, Minister for Defence learns that Kelly has admitted he has met with Gilligan at least once in the last six months.
July 4th - 7th -- Dr Kelly is interviewed for three days by the MoD personnel. As Gaby Hinsliffe wrote in The Observer (20/07/03) "Was Kelly threatened or coerced by the MoD during three days of interrogation?" She is one of the few journalists who have asked this question.
July 6th -- The BBC governors meet and issue a statement defending Gilligan and calling on Campbell to withdraw his allegations of bias against the BBC. At the same time they point out that Downing St. has not commented on the Newsnight programme which broadcast similar statements.
July 7th -- The complete report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Decision to go to War with Iraq is published. Full text and Dr Kelly's oral evidence under Foreign Affairs Committee Reports at parliament.uk
Among its conclusions and recommendations it says:
" We conclude that the 45 minutes claim did not warrant the prominence given to it. We recommend that the Government explain why the claim was given such prominence."
However, it goes on to say:
"We recommend that Andrew Gilligan's contacts be thoroughly investigated."
"We conclude that Ministers did not mislead Parliament."
July 8th -- 10.15am. Greg Dyke, Director General of the BBC says there will be no apology and that Alastair Campbell should bury the hatchet.
July 8th -- 5.5pm. The government announces a staff member has admitted meeting Gilligan. The statement says that they do not know if this man is Gilligan's source, but if he is then Gilligan has exaggerated the content of their discussion. The statement also says that no comment was made about Mr Campbell.
July 9th -- Geoffrey Hoon, Minister of defence writes to the BBC asking them to confirm or deny the source was David Kelly. The BBC refuses saying this has "descended into a farce." At this point Kelly's name had not been made public. It is highly unusual for civil servant's names to be revealed and Kelly rightly thought at this point he would remain anonymous and the incident be dealt with internally.
However, the Ministry of Defence Press Office told journalists that day that any names they put forward as the source would be confirmed or denied. This move was allegedly approved by Geoffrey Hoon, although some sources say he opposed it but was overruled by Downing St. The Guardian later reported that it gave three names to the Press Office, and that Kelly's was one of them, and that his was confirmed. Another paper said that it used the stream of details issued by both the MoD and Downing St. about the identity of the source, put them in an internet search engine and came up with Kelly's name. It is now clear that little was done to protect his identity. By 11.40pm that evening he had been named on the Press Association's newswire.
Between then and July 15th, Kelly was taken to a Ministry of Defence 'safe house', which he was very unhappy about, as he was prevented from seeing his family. He also could not have any contact with the media. It is unknown as yet what happened in those days, but it appears to have been a factor in the destabilisation of Dr Kelly.
July 15th -- Dr Kelly testifies in a televised session of the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he says that he does not think he could have been the main source of Gilligan's report. The Committee are aggressive in their questioning and Dr Kelly is visibly and audibly shaken. However, the Committee back up his assertion he could not have been the main source, and tell him they believe he has become a 'fall guy' for the government.
July 16th -- Blair demands that the BBC name their source after Iain Duncan-Smith, Leader of the Opposition, accuses Blair and Campbell of creating a "culture of deceit." The BBC refuses to answer the Prime Minister.
July 17th -- The Foreign Affairs Committee recalls Andrew Gilligan to testify again, and brands him an "unsatisfactory witness." His testimony however has been withheld until the conclusion of the judicial inquiry into the David Kelly affair.
At 3pm that day, David Kelly leaves his house for a walk and never returns.
July 20th -- The BBC releases a statement after consultation with Dr Kelly's family, stating that he was the source of both Gilligan's and Watt's reports.
The questions Lord Hutton must address in his inquiry, which officially started this week, beginning with Dr Kelly's Whitehall office being sealed off, are these:
1. Was Dr Kelly reported accurately?
The BBC has tapes of the interviews Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts had with Kelly, and notes from a third journalist, Gavin Hewitt (former BBC Whitehouse correspondent) who also spoke with Kelly, although Kelly had denied this.
2. Did the BBC misrepresent the nature of its source?
The BBC has acknowledged it was wrong to call Kelly 'a senior intelligence source'. Kelly did not work in the intelligence service, however, he did have more access than many to their information both formally and informally. However, Gilligan did not refer to him as such in his report, he simply called him a 'British official' which is correct.
3. Why did Dr Kelly's name emerge?
The treatment of Dr Kelly in this respect is likely to cause the government the most damage. There is widespread feeling that the matter should have been handled internally by the MoD, and the dispute with the BBC laid to rest without his name ever emerging. However, it is clear that the MoD and Downing St, had reasons for exposing him. It is clear that many journalists are baffled by the manner in which it was handled, the drip-drip of information that lead many of them to Kelly's name before it appeared on the Press Association wire. There is also the question of who authorised it; Hoon, Campbell or Blair. There is no agreement on that at the moment.
4. What was Dr Kelly's role in compiling the Iraq dossier of September 2002?
The MoD claimed that Kelly only wrote up a historical section of the document about his work on WMD in Iraq over the last nine years. Dr Kelly said that himself in his testimony. However, he also lied about what he said to Gilligan and the other journalists. The MoD clearly wishes to imply that Kelly couldn't have spoken with authority on the subject, and that the BBC lied. However, a report in The Daily Telegraph (24/07/03) says:
"Dr Kelly was inextricably involved in analysis of secret intelligence on Iraq and wrote more than the historical account of Iraqi weapons as claimed."
It seems rather hard to believe that Kelly, who had been working in Iraq with Hans Blix, wouldn't have access to a great deal of intelligence information as his bosses would like to claim. As an expert, he would surely be central to assessing the risk from the Iraqi regime, and the question of whether a WMD could be deployed by them in 45 minutes would be one for him to answer.
Dr Kelly was not against the war, but it seems that he was troubled by the way in which the government had put a spin on information in order to convince The House of Commons and the British people of the need to invade Iraq before they were potentially wiped out in 45 minutes. From all the accounts of his personal life he was somebody who would not tolerate the culture of spin which we have become used to. He would no doubt have found it intolerable that on the Saturday following his death , as Matt Born and Tom Leonard reported:
" Journalists at Murdoch papers were preparing to write a critical piece on the Government. That afternoon they were suddenly informed that the opposite was required." Daily Telegraph 22/7/03
The reason for that turnaround being Dr Kelly's death.
The phrases of spin
If there is any gain to be had from this story it is that the British public have finally become more aware of the terrible reality of spin; that there is no longer such a thing as 'the facts'. There is only a weaving of facts into a web of advantage for whoever needs it.
There is no doubt that the government kept the fight with the BBC fuelled long after it should have died down in an attempt to deflect attention from the Foreign Affairs Committee report on its handling of intelligence in the September dossier, the 'dodgy' dossier of February which was plagiarised from the internet, and its relations with the media. It was also apparent to the British public by now that the U.S. government had been similarly involved in tampering with intelligence so as to beef up their case for war. William Rivers Pitt, writing about George Tenet's decision to take the blame for the '16 words' that should not have been in the President's State of the Union address, reports that Tenet said:
"When the Office of Special Plans wanted to change or exaggerate evidence of Iraqi weapons capabilities, they sent Cheney to CIA headquarters on unprecedented visits where he demanded 'forward-leaning' interpretations of the evidence." William Rivers Pitt 'The Dubious Suicide of George Tenet' truthout.org 14/07/03
In this case, as in that with the September dossier, the intelligence services were usurped and their information spun until they had almost become an irrelevance. George Tenet, of course, committed professional suicide with his decision to take the blame for the misrepresentation of the Iraqi's buying 'yellow cake' in Niger. Dr Kelly committed suicide 'apparently'. It is noticeable that some papers and newswires have started using the word 'apparently' over the last few days, when reporting Dr Kelly's death. In a culture of spin, any fact only is 'apparently'. Perhaps we can trust that the Sun will rise tomorrow. That is apparently a fact you can be sure of . Dr Kelly was sure that the Iraqi regime was being portrayed as more of a threat than it was. He was also burdened with the knowledge, as are we all, that people, Americans, British, Iraqis, were losing their lives because of lies. His own life was one of them.
His last written words appear to be contained in two emails he sent on the afternoon of the 17th July before taking his last walk. The first was to New York Times journalist, Judith Miller, in which he stated that there were 'many dark actors playing games.' The second was to his old friend, Professor Hay, an environmental toxicologist at Leeds University, who had enquired as to how he was holding up under the pressure. Dr Kelly replied,
"Many thanks for your support. Hopefully it will soon pass and I can get to Baghdad and get on with the real job." Daily Telegraph 20/07/03
We have to hope that the findings of Lord Hutton's judicial inquiry will shed more light on why David Kelly, a leading expert on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, will not be visiting Baghdad again.++