Sunday, July 27, 2003

Is the Beeb the main story?

The main fight on the David Kelly affair seems to be a who said what spat between the BBC and the government. But is that the story?

A lot has emerged over David Kelly in the past few days. A decent synopsis is in this Independent article:

It was public knowledge that Dr Kelly had a distinguished career as a leading UN weapons inspector in Iraq and had been nominated to lead the British contingent in the Iraq Survey Group, formed to take the UN inspectors' place. But we now know that not only was he probably the Government's most knowledgeable adviser on the history of Iraq's weapons programmes, but he also had a high security clearance, sat in on MI6 interrogations of Iraqi defectors and was a member of a high-level committee reviewing all the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. His value was such that he had been appointed a "special deputy chief scientific officer", a rarely used civil service grade that allowed him to move in senior circles without having administrative responsibilities.

We are also now aware that he briefed at least three journalists. There were other people briefing the BBC as well as Kelly.

Is it more likely that this systematic briefing was the work of a lonely whistle-blower (with high level security clearance), or of a man doing this with the full knowledge of his colleagues? To me Kelly doesn't appear to be a David Shayler.

So who were these colleagues? Well John Reid, almost two months ago, had a word for them; "rogue elements". Who were they? Well they were within the intelligene community. What were they doing? Briefing the press that the dossiers were written with an eye to political expedience rather than intelligence information. Sounds like a close match to our Kelly.

What was the motivation of these "rogues"? It may be that they are dissatisfied with the special relationship, or are fairly pro-Arab (although Kelly doesn't seem to be particularly pro-Arab). My personal belief is that it was a matter of professional pride. The intelligence services were looking stupid because the dossiers that were supposedly based on their information was tosh, and they wanted the world to know who the real authors of these dossiers were. Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were pretty high on the list.

This is not really a battle between the BBC and the government, but a battle between some elements (how large we don't know) and the government. I suppose it will take some time before we know why they are fighting.


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