Kelly’s connections

If David Kelly was the peace-lover described by some in the anti-war movement, what was he doing hanging around with the New York Times' Judith Miller?

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

Since his suicide in July 2003, Ministry of Defence scientist David Kelly has been adopted by some in the media and anti-war lobby as a ‘good man’ who was keen to ‘raise questions about the nature of the war in Iraq’ (1).

Left-wing writer John Pilger claims the ‘heroic’ Kelly was ‘the antithesis of those [in government], who have shown themselves to be the agents of a dangerous, rampant foreign power’ (2). If this is true, why does Kelly appear to have been a close acquaintance of Judith Miller of the New York Times – the most vitriolic pro-war journalist, whose shrill articles about Saddam and his WMD have recently become the subject of ridicule?

Shortly after Kelly’s death, it emerged that his final email was to Miller. This is the one in which he referred to ‘many dark actors playing games’, words that Miller first quoted in an article for the NYT and which quickly spread around the world. The submission of Kelly’s emails as evidence to the Hutton Inquiry this week reveals the rest of his message to Miller, in which he refers to her as ‘Judy’ and says ‘Thanks for your support. I appreciate your friendship at this time’ (3).

Hutton’s evidence also shows that Kelly’s email was in response to one sent by Miller, in which she asked Kelly how it went at the Foreign Affairs Committee where he gave evidence days before committing suicide. ‘I heard from another member of your fan club that things went well for you’, wrote Miller. ‘Hope it’s true, J.’ (4)

Why was Miller a member of Kelly’s ‘fan club’? Miller is one of the most arch pro-war journalists; she has published numerous articles for the NYT over the past two years claiming that Saddam was developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. For some of these reports, Miller appears to have relied on highly dubious sources. In May 2003, it was revealed that one of her anonymous Iraqi sources, who she admits ‘provided most of the frontpage exclusives on WMD’ (5), was none other than Ahmad Chalabi – the Washington stooge who heads the CIA-backed Iraqi National Congress, and who has lived in the West for the past 45 years before returning to postwar Iraq in April 2003.

For another report in April, as US forces continued to hunt for WMD, Miller claimed to have found more than a ‘smoking gun’; she had discovered the ‘silver bullet’, an Iraqi scientist who claimed that Saddam destroyed his WMD just before the war started, but also buried some ‘precursor materials’ from which illegal weapons could once again be constructed (6).

However, Miller said she was barred from naming the precursor material, or from visiting the scientist’s home, or from speaking to him – though she was allowed to, in the words of one Miller critic, ‘view the baseball cap-clad scientist from a distance as he points at spots in the sand where he says precursor compounds are buried’ (7). In later reports, Miller switched from calling this mysterious man on the horizon a ‘scientist’ to a ‘military intelligence officer’ (8).

In the aftermath of the war, and in the absence of WMD, many on the American left have ridiculed Miller’s journalism. Jack Shafer of the online publication Slate refers to her ‘wretched reporting’, writing: ‘If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources, Judith Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.’ (9) One of Miller’s many sources appears to have been David Kelly.

Judging from other comments made at the Hutton Inquiry, Kelly and Miller’s ‘friendship’/’fan club’ goes back a number of years. On 21 August 2003 Nick Rufford of The Sunday Times, who knew Kelly well, was asked by the Hutton Inquiry ‘if Dr Kelly spoke to other journalists’. Rufford replied: ‘I saw his name in other newspaper articles, particularly in the New York Times. His name was in a book called Germs, written or co-authored by somebody called Judith Miller.’ (10)

Germs: The Ultimate Weapon was written by Miller and two other NYT journalists, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, and published in October 2001. It is a shrill, scaremongering book on the alleged proliferation of chemical and biological weapons into the hands of terrorist groups and ‘rogue states’ following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among other threats to the free world, Miller and her co-authors refer to ‘the poor man’s hydrogen bomb, a biological or chemical weapon of mass destruction [that] can be made in a laboratory and transported in a briefcase – yet it can silently devastate an entire population’ (11).

Although the book was researched and written in the late 1990s, and covers mainly the Soviet Union and Iraq, it fed off the 11 September attacks for its publication in late 2001. ‘The atrocities in New York and Washington…highlighted as never before the Western world’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks of all kinds’, it says, surely making it one of the earliest publications to draw a dubious link between Iraq’s alleged chemical weapons programme and the possibility of further terrorist attacks in the West (12). The book jacket quotes a critic’s comments: ‘Deeply scary…. Alarming… tragically important book.’ And it would appear that some of the information for this deeply scary and alarming view of the world was provided by Kelly.

Miller’s seeming kinship with Kelly is reflected in the way that he is depicted as something of a hero in her book, as one of those who, after the first Gulf War, opened the West’s eyes to the continuing threat allegedly posed by Iraq. The book claims that at times some US and UN officials were lax in their hunt for Iraqi weapons in the early 1990s, but that Kelly argued that he and the weapons inspectors should be allowed to ‘broaden [their] itinerary’ and search warehouses and other suspicious buildings as well as known weapons factories.

Miller and her co-authors give ‘fulsome’ praise (13) to Kelly for ‘seeing missed opportunities in CIA reports’ and for having ‘instincts [that] were sharper than he knew’ (14). After talking to Kelly and many others involved in intelligence in the Soviet Union and Iraq, the authors conclude their book by writing: ‘We remain woefully unprepared for a calamity that would be unlike any [the USA] has ever experienced.’

After Germs, Miller continued to use Kelly as a source for some of her articles in the run-up to the Iraq war. One such article was entitled ‘CIA hunts Iraq tie to Soviet smallpox’, published in the NYT on 3 December 2002. This is another of those deeply scary works, with claims about dastardly Russian scientists, weapons-obsessed Iraqis, and the potential of a smallpox attack (a big concern back in 2002). Miller wrote: ‘The CIA is investigating an informant’s accusation that Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist who worked in a smallpox lab in Moscow during Soviet times’ (15).

According to Slate’s Jack Shafer, this article too raised more questions than it answered. He wrote at the time: ‘The prolific blind sourcing in Miller’s article to “senior American officials”, “foreign scientists”, “American officials”…and an “informant whose identity has not been disclosed” calls into immediate question who talked to Miller about the alleged Madame Smallpox and why.’ (16)

One of the few named sources in Miller’s piece was David Kelly. Miller writes that a Russian scientist ‘might have shared the Aralsk strain [of smallpox] with Iraq scientists in 1990’, and quotes Kelly as saying, no doubt in suspicious-sounding tones, that there had been a ‘resurgence of interest’ in the smallpox vaccine in Iraq in 1990, ‘but we have never known why….’ (17).

Kelly and Miller would appear to have little in common. He was apparently the quiet Oxfordshire man who couldn’t cope with the glare of publicity, she is the bolshy New York journalist who mixes with politicians and spies. And where he has been adopted as some kind of peacenik by anti-war activists, Miller is one of the anti-war lobby’s top hate figures. The truth is that for all the dubious anti-war claims about Kelly wanting to raise questions about the war in Iraq, he and Miller appear to have had one thing in common: a belief that Iraq was a threat to the civilised world, and that it was up to the West to put Iraq back in its place.

Read on:

spiked-issue: The Hutton Inquiry

spiked-issue: War on Iraq

(1) ‘David Kelly must have felt terribly isolated and scared. He was crucified’, Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, 27 July 2003

(2) John Pilger, New Statesman, 31 July 2003

(3) Email from Dr Kelly to Judith Miller (.pdf 10.3 KB), Hutton Inquiry evidence, 3 September 2003

(4) Email from Dr Kelly to Judith Miller (.pdf 10.3 KB), Hutton Inquiry evidence, 3 September 2003

(5) Intra-Times battle over Iraqi weapons, Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, 26 May 2003

(6) Illicit arms kept till eve of war, an Iraqi scientist is said to assert, Judith Miller, New York Times, 21 April 2003

(7) The Times scoops that melted, Jack Shafer, Slate, 25 July 2003

(8) The Times scoops that melted, Jack Shafer, Slate, 25 July 2003

(9) The Times scoops that melted, Jack Shafer, Slate, 25 July 2003

(10) Hearing transcript: Nick Rufford, Hutton Inquiry, 21 August 2003

(11) Germs: The Ultimate Weapon, Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William Broad, Simon and Schuster, 2001

(12) Germs: The Ultimate Weapon, Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William Broad, Simon and Schuster, 2001

(13) ‘Bit by bit, the real Dr Kelly emerges from the shadows’, Independent on Sunday, 27 July 2003

(14) Germs: The Ultimate Weapon, Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William Broad, Simon and Schuster 2001

(15) CIA hunts Iraq tie to Soviet smallpox, Judith Miller, New York Times, 3 December 2002

(16) Leak of the week: Madame Smallpox, Jack Shafer, Slate, 6 December 2002

(17) CIA hunts Iraq tie to Soviet smallpox, Judith Miller, New York Times, 3 December 2002

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Topics Politics


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