Government Deniability


Norman Baker’s book has been generating some questions. It is very encouraging to see that those using FIRE Project portals read the book reviews and take time to email questions and comments. As the FIRE Project is a volunteer-staffed operation, we have scarce volunteer time available for administration. As a result, we have limited the facilities on our portals for group discussion because of the amount of time required in removing spam and unacceptable offensive postings that have become so common on the Internet. At the present rate of emails, we may end up producing a David Kelly FAQ section but, in the meantime, we will attempt to post comment on BSD and Broadly Risks. For those who wish to email questions and comment, please send your emails to where we will attempt to respond generically to groups of questions, researching as necessary and posting comment as below:

An area of great confusion has been around the claim from the Blair Brown regime that David Kelly gave ‘unauthorized’ information to BBC journalists. Norma Baker has covered this issue in his book although in a number of separated points.

The confusion is generated by the way in which Britain, and many other democratic countries, set up and staff their intelligence services.

The James Bond school of intelligence is a long way from the reality, which is more accurately presented by the fictional Smylie character. The real core of any intelligence service is its information systems and the skills of analysts.

It recovers raw data in many ways. In recent years over-dependence on technology has resulted in SIGINT (signals intelligence obtained by monitoring communications systems) and PHOTINT (photographic intelligence originally from airborne cameras but now more commonly from satellite surveillance and often radar and infrared images rather than photographs) providing a major percentage of total intelligence input. HUMINT (human intelligence collected by spies, traitors, independent contractors, embassy staff, businessmen) has been making a comeback with the belated realization that it provides information that cannot reliably be collected by technology.

Much of the intelligence gathering process is not glamorous. It is mostly mundane, carried out in a typical office environment using computers and telephones, reading newspapers and magazines, and in meetings. The computer increasingly takes over the most tedious tasks and is very good at sorting quickly through a mass of information. The greatest enemy of intelligence services is not the difficulty in collecting information, but in extracting those nuggets that are most valuable when recovered quickly and accurately from the mass of information. It is not uncommon after some disaster to find that the warning intelligence had been obtained well in advance but no one had appreciated its value in the mass of other information.

There are also information sources from research work conducted by government employees and from ‘friendly’ commercial organizations.

Dr David Kelly started off his career as a Government scientist, working as a micro biologist on germ warfare projects. His work was primarily in developing counter measures to germ and chemical warfare agents that might be used against British forces in battle or against the civil population at home. He was very good at his job and received promotions. He reached a stage where he could have enjoyed more rapid promotion had he wished to move from practical work to management duties. He chose to remain as a practitioner but he did receive promotion and recognition through pay upgrades and his unique skills made him a natural for inclusion in the various inspection teams that were being set up with the ending of the Cold War.

The result was that David Kelly was a much more senior public servant than is apparent from any entries in the Civil Service Yearbook. The CSY is often misleading in respect of public employees who are working in some military and intelligence areas. One particular intelligence worker was listed for many years as working at a relatively junior level in the Ministry of Agriculture, before vanishing from the yearbook after another promotion.

In David Kelly’s case, he was later working in the MOD and particularly in the Defence Intelligence Service community, but regarded himself as an employee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, this department of State paying his wages. He was also employed in inspection teams under various international arrangements. An important part of his work was to acquire information and make this available to the British Government. Particularly for inspectors who are part of UN inspection programmes or some other multi-national inspection, this duty of passing information to a national intelligence service is always a controversial issue.

To obtain information and to maintain a working relationship with journalists, people working in the areas David Kelly worked have to be able to pass out some information. That is a recognized part of the job. It also has to be largely at the discretion of the individual intelligence worker because there is rarely the time available to go to a superior and request formal written permission to release specified information.

In David Kelly’s case, he was working at a senior level, had many years of performance that could be measured and was known to be a responsible and honest public servant who had demonstrated, over many years, good judgment.

There are a number of people working at a similar level within the intelligence community who have equivalent duties and general authorization to talk to people outside, including journalists. However, there differences between particular departments, with FCO generally having a more relaxed view on these discussions than the MOD does. In part that reflects the diplomatic nature of FCO and the different environment in which it works.

The result is that David Kelly was not only authorized to talk to journalists, but actively encouraged on occasions when it suited Government. It is probable that David Kelly never ever received a specific instruction or authorization. He was of course expected to report back at some convenient time so that his superiors had an appreciation of what was going on and could require some modification of approach. There is plenty of evidence that David Kelly met journalists on many occasions over many years to the point where some journalists were more friends than business acquaintances.

When David Kelly met with Andrew Gilligan and met or spoke with other journalists, he was doing so under the general terms of his remit and that can be argued as authorization, even as instruction. The time, date and content of those meetings was not specifically authorized in writing. That means that Government is able to deny all knowledge and responsibility and claim that the event and information was unauthorized, implying, falsely, that it was expressly forbidden.

Baker has given some examples of earlier press briefings given by David Kelly to selected journalists, demonstrating correctly that this part of his job was not secret and was in fact known to his superiors, who had made no attempt to prevent him doing so, or disciplined him after the event.

Generally, someone in David Kelly’s position is providing background information to correct any research mistakes by journalists and although some information may still be protected and not to be discussed, much of the area of knowledge can be discussed in broad terms.

That the content of the discussions with BBC journalists was highly embarrassing to the Blair Brown regime, is so because they had set out to deceive the British people and allies abroad. David Kelly may have been skating on thin ice, but he had not been specifically instructed not to discuss the matters and, in providing general back ground guides to a journalist to encourage accurate research and reporting, it was broadly in line with established and accepted practice.


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