Dr. David Kelly, the top British microbiologist and whistleblower, had close links to the dark world of secret intelligence.
Dr. Kelly was not employed by MI5 or MI6 – or any other intelligence service. But He enjoyed an unique access to all the world’s top spy agencies. In Britain, France, Germany, North America, Japan and Australia: they all consulted him.
Into his office – room number 2/35 – in the Ministry of Defence Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat in London, came emails and phone calls asking him for his help.
More than any scientist he knew about types and strains of micro-organisms, numbers of shells and aerial bombs filled with botulinum toxin. He knew the latest figures for the production of bio-weapons material in China, the gallons of growth material in Syria, Pakistan – and which countries had sold the material.
Almost uniquely, he kept a large amount of his secret data in his study at home. There on his desktop computer, were tens of thousands of secret documents and photographs.
For a man who was not a spy it was a collection of data any intelligence officer would envy.
For those who wondered about his ways, he would reassure them his bosses in the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office were happy with his unorthodox methods.
He liked to say that his loyalty was to what “I believe is right or wrong, true or false”.
In reality he was an academic who had escaped the dull confines of academia to live in the ever-dangerous world of secret intelligence and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
*Since 1995 he had worked for Mossad – with the full blessing of MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service.
*He had played a key part in helping the FBI try and trace the origin of the Ames-strain of anthrax – the rod-shaped, spore-forming bacterium that had caused widespread panic across America in the wake of 9/11.
*He had orchestrated the defection of a top Russian microbiologist, Vladimir Pasechnik, working on a doomsday biological weapon – “capable of destroying a third of the planet’s population”.
*He had been the only outsider allowed by the CIA to question a top Chinese defector, Colonel Xu Junping, head of the People Liberation Army Foreign Affairs Office, about China’s bio-warfare program.
Dr. Kelly’s involvement in intelligence work had placed him on the hit list of Saddam’s Hussein’s notorious death squad and those of the Chinese Secret Intelligence Service, CSIS.
But a deliberate decision had been taken by Britain’s security services – MI5 and MI6 , Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Thames Valley police who had day-to-day responsibility to protect Kelly’s home in the picture postcard village in Oxfordshire where he lived – not to surround Kelly with protection.
“The view was that it would have been hard to protect him without drawing attention to him. And Dr. Kelly had himself refused to accept his life could be in danger”, said an intelligence source in London.
But in the last hours of his life he did suddenly find himself hemmed in by security. Two Ministry of Defence detectives accompanied the 59-year-old scientist to the closed hearing of the Parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Committee that close-questioned him whether he was the source that had provided the BBC radio defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, with details that led to the Blair government publishing what has become known as the “sexed up dossier” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
The clash between the BBC and the Blair government was that between naval-gazing titans which went to the heart of a fundamental issue: had Britain and the United States gone to war against Iraq on a false pretence?
The BBC report on it’s showcase radio program, Today, had ignited the fuse which had been sizzling for weeks when no weapons of mass destruction had been found.
Kelly had himself expressed doubts that they would turn up in Iraq. But he had never expected those doubts to be made public.
Forty-eight hours after Kelly’s death, the BBC admitted that Kelly was the source. But was that sufficient reason for a battle-hardened scientist – who had successfully confronted Iraq’s security services and had walked unharmed through the Byzantine path of the intelligence world – to have taken his life?
The questions which remain so far unresolved are:
*What were the MI5 officers after when they grilled Kelly after his second appearance before the Commons Select Committee?
*Why did Dr. Kelly arrive home so upset that his wife, Janice, was visibly shocked at his manner and appearance?
*Why did Kelly leave his home suddenly on last Friday afternoon?
*Why, after his body was discovered, did MI5 officers and forensic scientists from Porton Down, Britain’s bio-chemical research establishment, search the Kelly home? They left with a number of items sealed in bags. The police would not say what the items had to do with Kelly’s death.
*What information did MI6 continue to allow Kelly to share with Israel? What did Mossad offer Britain in return?
*What did Kelly know about Russia’s experiments with smallpox at a secret research center, known as Corpus 6? It is situated in a sprawling complex deep inside the larch and birch forests near the remote Siberian town of Koltsovo.
Eradicated from the planet in 1979, smallpox is the most deadly of all viruses. Officially it is held in only two high-security freezers at the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA and at Koltsovo.
Kelly who had visited Koltsovo had warned his intelligence contacts that it was “very possible that stocks of smallpox could be in the hands of rogue states like North Korea and Iran or in the possession of terror groups like al-Qaeda”.
Such claims will ensure that Kelly’s death will be increasingly linked to his secret work for spy agencies.
His involvement with Mossad came in April 1995. He travelled with two MI6 officers from London to New York. At the city’s Israeli consulate they met two Mossad officers. Present were officers of the Canadian Secret Intelligence Services and agents from the FBI.
The purpose of the meeting was to track how 32 tonnes of bacterial growth medium – essential for manufacturing lethal germs – was being illegally exported to Iraq from Montreal.
Dr. Kelly – already a world-ranking expert on biological weapons – had played a “crucial role” in identifying the growth medium.
While many of the details to this day remain secret, Shabtai Shavit, who had been Mossad director-general at the time of the operation, would later pay tribute to Dr. Kelly’s “great skills”.
It also ensured that the scientist was first choice when the United Nations came to appoint a senior advisor to supervise the break-up of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program after the first Gulf War.
His ability to do so placed him on Saddam’s hit list. But in the end Saddam turned out to be too frightened of the repercussions to have assassinated a senior UN official at the time Iraq was rebuilding itself after the 1991 war.
In between working in Iraq, Dr. Kelly was also in charge of the program to dismantle Russia’s biological warfare weapons program under the trilateral agreement brokered between Russia, the United States and Britain.
In Moscow, Kelly met Russia’s top microbiologist Vladimir Pasechnik.
He was then a 53-year-old chemist who was director of the Ultrapture Biopreperations Institute in St. Petersburg.
The two men had become friends to the point where Pasechnik told Kelly – according to an MI5 document – he was “part of the Biopreparat, a large secret program, which is developing biological weapons like plague and smallpox”.
Kelly knew that plague, or Yersinia pestis, had brought the Black Death that wiped out a third of the population of Europe in 1348. It was air-transmitted, propelled by pneumonia like coughing.
Kelly reported what he had been told to Christopher Davis, then an MI6 officer who had an office in the Metropole Building near Trafalgar Square, in London.
Davis was an analyst on the Defence Intelligence Staff and an acknowledged expert in chemical and biological weapons.
Now retired and living in Virginia, US, he has said his job was “to take all the bits and pieces and try to assemble them into a picture of something”.
Kelly’s news galvanised the normally quite and reserved Davis.
He informed his own MI6 controller – a man still known only as ADI-53.
Within weeks, with the help of Kelly, MI6 had mounted an operation to whisk Pasechnik from the Paris science conference he was attending.
Travelling by Eurostar the Russian and his MI6 minders arrived in London.
Pasechnik was taken to a safe house – probably similar to the one where Kelly was grilled by intelligence agents in the last hours of his life.
Kelly supervised the interrogation of Pasechnik. Later the Russian was given a job at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, run by the Department of Health.
In February, 2000 he founded a company called Regman Biotechnologies. Its articles of association said it was a privately owned company “working to provide powerful alternatives to antibiotics”.
Kelly was a frequent visitor to the company. And he often took the Russian with him to Porton Down.
To go there Pasechnik had signed the Official Secret’s Act – forbidding him to talk about his work. A similar stricture governed Kelly’s work and all the other scientists at Porton Down.
But Mossad sources have said that Pasechnik was a leading specialist in DNA sequencing – sophisticated research which is a vital element in developing biological weapons – and defences against them.
On November 2, 2001, later described by friends as being in the best of health, the 64-year-old Russian was found dead in his village home outside Salisbury. The cause of death was certified as a stroke.
Only a handful of colleagues attended his funeral. It was only a week later that news of his death surfaced when Christopher Davis confirmed the fact.
Dr. Kelly was not one of the mourners at the funeral. He disliked them – any public occasions.
His own death has ensured that he would not enjoy similar anonymity.