Yet many basic facts about the story are still murky – even to its protagonists.
In testimony to the court on 1 September, Janice Kelly said she was never “quite aware” who her husband worked for. The British government denied on several occasions that David Kelly was working for their intelligence agencies.
However, a former MI6 officer, Richard Tomlinson, told Aljazeera.net, “David Kelly did have very close relations with the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6 as it is popularly known). When he was working as a weapons inspector in the UN, SIS debriefed all the British weapons inspectors and considered it part of their duty to recruit them all.”
Tomlinson was an SIS agent in Bosnia, Russia and the Middle East.
In 1997, shortly after he was sacked, he was sentenced to a year in a maximum-security prison for illegally printing the names of SIS officers on a website, a charge he denies.
Reports linked his fall from grace to a revelation that the Bosnian Serb war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, had made substantial donations to the British Conservative party.
Today, Tomlinson lives in France, unable to return due to the threat of arrest.
“Kelly obviously spent a lot of time working for the SIS,” he says. “Defence Intelligence Service people often get seconded and while their salaries are DIS or Ministry of Defence, they’re completely in the command structure of the SIS.”
“It’s fairly common that when people’s expertise becomes that specialised, they float around various departments. It gets very blurred at that level.”
But if Kelly was floating between the intelligence agencies, could he have been pitching their ideas when he spoke to the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan?
“That’s quite possible, yes,” Tomlinson agrees. “The SIS often use people like that. What will be interesting is if Lord Hutton demands to interview Kelly’s SIS case officer.”
“There’s no doubt that he would have been dealing with one person and that is who the Hutton inquiry should talk to. It would be a brave step, but I can see zero chance of it happening, given Lord Hutton’s background.”
On the legal circuit, Hutton is seen as an establishment voice likely to clear the intelligence services of any blame for Kelly’s death.
He was one of the law lords who ruled that David Shayler, an MI5 officer accused of leaking state secrets to the press, should not be allowed to mount a public interest defence.
Lord Hutton seen by some as too
The UK press was subsequently prevented from reporting his key allegation: that British security services had paid al-Qaida operatives to assassinate Colonel al-Qadhafi.
Hutton was also involved in a decision to confiscate the proceeds from Tomlinson’s book, The Big Breach.
“Lord Hutton is a notorious sympathiser with the intelligence services,” Tomlinson says, with some restraint. “His inquiry is not as impartial as I would have liked it to have been.”
Suspicions that the intelligence agencies exercise undue influence over the courts inevitably feed suspicions that they exercise undue control over elected governments.
As Phillip Knightley, an author and expert on the British security services, puts it, “They see their allegiance as lying with the realm. One former intelligence officer said to me, ‘We owe our loyalty to the realm and not the government of the day. Government’s come and go, we go on forever’.”
When I put the quote to him, Tomlinson voice lights up with recognition. “That’s right,” he says. “That’s exactly what we were taught.”
Phillip Knightley, however, believes that this attitude is now shifting. “British intelligence is being changed irrevocably,” he says. “The change began in the US and where the CIA leads, other western intelligence agencies follow.”
In fact, the “change” began in the weeks after 11 September 2001, when a powerful intelligence cell, the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was set up at the Pentagon under the tutelage of the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
INC led by Ahmad Chalabi gave
The OSP filtered material supporting war against Iraq to the White House, bypassing established State Department and CIA channels.
Much of it came directly from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an emigre body led by the convicted fraudster Ahmad Chalabi, who now sits on the Iraqi Governing Council.
The reaction from staff at the CIA and MI6 was visceral.
In the run-up to war, a former CIA officer in the Middle East described a Washington Post story alleging links between Saddam and al-Qaida as “toilet paper”.
“I think they [the Bush administration] are desperate to make a case for war to the world,” he said. “I don’t believe this is coming from the CIA, it’s coming from the White House and the Pentagon. Unfortunately, their information is not good.”
“They’ve become dependent on the INC (Iraqi National Congress) because Iraq is such a black hole in terms of reliable information. People tend to pick up whatever information will serve their goals.”
The question, I ventured, was how such information could be verified. “No,” he replied. “The question is whose information is now more reliable, the White House or Saddam’s?”
Knightley says that the CIA was thrown into convulsions when, post 11 September, Rumsfeld decided that it should be subject to the same scrutiny as other government departments.
“Two questions were at stake,” he says. “Should policy lead intelligence? And should the same people who gathered intelligence, assess it? Rumsfeld answered the first question yes, and the second question, no.”
“If the current heads of British intelligence are reluctant to do what the government tells them, then they’ll find someone who will”
These answers, Knightley says, have now crossed the Atlantic.
“The Blair government believes that the British intelligence services are like any other department and it’s their duty, if requested, to provide information to help government policy.”
In this case, that meant a dubious and unverifiable single-sourced, second hand quote about Iraqi WMD missiles being ready for launch in 45 minutes.
But in Britain, moves to franchise out security service provision began in the 1990s, according to Richard Tomlinson.
“It was ridiculous,” he says. “They brought in management consultants who set targets for how many reports you had to produce and how many sources you had to recruit. It had a dramatic effect on the quality of our work, because the threshold of what was considered good intelligence was drastically lowered.”
“The battle is on,” Knightley adds. “The future of British intelligence for the next 50 years will be decided very soon.”
Battle of succession
If the Hutton Inquiry really is to determine the relative power of MI6 and elected government in the British state, a pointer to which side has won will come with the announcement of a successor to the outgoing head of MI6, Richard Dearlove.
Dearlove has groomed his deputy as a replacement but the government is known to prefer the current chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, who loyally backed the official line about the Iraqi threat in the run-up to war.
Knightley suspects that “the Blair government will get their candidate in. If the current heads of British intelligence are reluctant to do what the government tells them, then they’ll find someone who will.”
However, Tomlinson, who worked under Scarlett in MI6’s Moscow office, gives him only a 20% chance of getting the job. “I think he’s probably been tainted by his association with Blair and Campbell now,” he says.
“He’s a bright and astute guy but also very harsh, a ‘hang the bastards’ type. There would be opposition from people in SIS who are unhappy with his public profile. I think his days are numbered.”