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The 'mole,' the BBC and WMD

Dr. David Kelly
Kelly became embroiled in a row between the government and the BBC

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Dr. David Kelly became embroiled in the row between the BBC and the government over allegations that a dossier outlining the case for war against Iraq had been "sexed-up" by a government official.

Q: Who was Kelly?

A: David Kelly had been an anonymous scientist working behind the scenes at the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

He was a top microbiologist who visited Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime dozens of times, becoming senior adviser on biological warfare for the U.N.. He held the post for five years between 1994 and 1999.

The 59-year-old also played a key role between 1991 and 1998 in inspecting Iraqi weapons after the Gulf War. (U.N. tribute)

Q: How did he come to prominence?

A: Kelly hit the headlines in July 2003, after the British government named him as a possible source for a BBC report that alleged Downing Street had "sexed up" a September dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction against the wishes of the intelligence service.

BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan later accused the government's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, in a newspaper article of hyping intelligence to justify the war, in particular a line that Iraq had the capability of launching a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes of an order being given.

Gilligan had quoted an unnamed senior British intelligence official as the source of the information.

The source said the 45-minute claim was a "classic example" of how uncorroborated evidence was given undue prominence, especially as it allegedly came from only one source.

The government fiercely denied the allegation in an increasingly bitter row between itself and the BBC. The government demanded to know the name of the source, accusing the BBC of poor journalistic practice. It said allegations that intelligence had been invented to back its case for war were "absurd."

Campbell threatened legal action against Gilligan, while the reporter countered with a threat to sue the government official.

The BBC backed its reporter, including the board of governors who met hours before Gilligan was due to appear before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee -- a panel of MPs investigating the government's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

They said the government was using the issue as a "smokescreen" to avoid the fact that no WMD had been found.

The BBC initially refused to name its source. The MoD then wrote a letter to the BBC naming Kelly as the source and requesting confirmation that this was correct. The BBC refused

Then, three days after his death, the BBC admitted that Kelly had, in fact, been the principal source of its stories. (Statement)

Q: What was Kelly's role in the debate?

A: Kelly decided to attend a Foreign Affairs Select Committee meeting in July after telling his line manager at the MoD that he had spoken to Gilligan and discussed the 45-minute issue.

The committee had heard evidence from Gilligan earlier in the week.

Kelly denied to the committee that he was the main source for the story, but admitted he had met the reporter a week before the story was broadcast.

The scientist told the committee that Gilligan's account of his conversation with his source was so different from their conversation that he did not believe he could be the source.

He told the committee: "I believe I am not the main source.

BBC's Gilligan and the committee's report on Iraq's WMD
BBC's Gilligan and the committee's report on Iraq's WMD

"From the conversation I had (with Andrew Gilligan) I don't see how he could make the authoritative statements he was making from the comments that I made."

During the hearing, MPs suggested he was being made a "fall guy" for the MoD.

Tory MP Sir John Stanley said Kelly had acted in a "proper and honorable manner" in coming forward to suggest that he may have been Gilligan's source but had been "thrown to the wolves" by the MoD.

"You were being exploited to rubbish Mr. Gilligan and his source," he said.

Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay said he believed Dr Kelly was "chaff," thrown up by the MoD to divert attention.

"Have you ever felt like the fall guy? You have been set up, haven't you?" he told him.

Chairman Donald Anderson wrote to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saying committee members believed it was "most unlikely" Kelly was the source.

He also cleared Campbell of any wrongdoing in the preparation of the dossier. The government has since demanded an apology from the BBC.

Q: But that was not the end of the matter was it?

A: No. Gilligan was called before the committee for a second time and grilled by some MPs in a closed-doors session, and accused of changing his story.

The committee was accused of losing some of its impartiality in the line of questioning adopted, and some opposition Conservative members, who had been unavailable to attend, distanced themselves from the meeting.

Gilligan said he had been questioned by a "hanging jury" and that its chairman had deliberately "misinterpreted" his evidence.

Kelly disappeared at the same time Gilligan was being questioned.


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