My last post expressed concern about the possibility our intelligence services might seek to unduly influence British elections, and since then it has transpired that a former SIS officer, and a few of his former SIS colleagues, sought to do precisely that to the last US Presidential election. Months before the vote, Christopher Steele was privately touting a now notorious dossier of entirely fictional Trump allegations supplied to him (so Steele claimed) by impeccable sources in Russian intelligence. The finer details of this episode are unclear to me, but what I find particularly interesting is the light it casts on an aspect of the Hutton Inquiry, which was held (14 years ago now) to examine “the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly”.
I have no idea if Christopher Steele and David Kelly ever met, although considering Steele was working under diplomatic cover in Moscow while Kelly toured the country as part of a secret biowarfare inspection team, I think it’s safe to say they may well have done. Although they both relied on obviously unreliable humint to draft dodgy dossiers, no working relationship suggests itself. What I am more interested in is Christopher Steele’s current whereabouts.
After Steele was named as the originator of this dossier the press were at his family home within hours. The exact process by which he was identified, and his home tracked down, is also unclear, but by the time the journalists arrived, he had gone. According to reports, Steele and his family had left the night before. They had dropped their three cats off with a neighbour for safekeeping, and without saying where they were going, they disappeared in such a hurry that they left all their lights on. Where they are now, nobody knows. Every single mainstream media outlet has it that Steele’s family are in a safe house some where, and “security sources” (whoever they might be) are briefing journos to this effect.
When David Kelly first came to the attention of the world’s media, when he was “blown”, he too, together with his wife Janice, very suddenly disappeared from their family home. Nobody knew where they went. To this day, we – the public – do not know where the Kellys were between the 9th and 12th of July 2003. Without providing actual addresses (or being asked for them), Janice Kelly told the Inquiry they stayed at a hotel in Weston-Super-Mare and a friend’s house in Cornwall. The problem with this is that eyewitnesses saw them at other locations during this period. Rod Godfrey, a fellow weapons inspector living near Swindon, told the Inquiry he was visited by Kelly at his home on the morning of the 10th. And a few locals in Kelly’s village told me (and plenty of other people) that Kelly still attended the cribbage night in the Hind’s Head as usual.
As I maintain in Kelly’s biography, Dark Actors, the couple were almost certainly accommodated in a government safe house during this period. It is, after all, exactly what is happening to the Steeles. It is standard procedure for anyone who maintains and utilises covert human sources for SIS. The holy, unbreakable bond between source and handler can never be broken: this is perhaps the only cardinal rule of intelligence work, and it is obeyed even when the sources feed the handlers nothing but rubbish. Even rubbish has its uses, as long as it’s the right kind of rubbish, and it isn’t hard for sources to guess at what is required. The point is that to keep these relationships secure, both source and handler must be protected.
Now that he has gone to ground, Steele may never publicly surface ever again. Kelly, in comparison, was shoved back into the media limelight by his own government within days. He was never allowed back into Iraq, and shortly after his televised appearance before the Select Committee, he killed himself. Kelly’s sources were rounded up by the Americans, put into orange jump suits, and repatriated into other countries under false identities. Those who are still alive experience very close supervision by their new host governments and by the US. Steele’s sources, on the other hand, are still out there, and still selling. To say this situation opens a can of worms is an understatement. But the point I wanted to raise is this:
Steele’s safe house reminds us that Janice Kelly’s testimony to Hutton was deliberately stripped of any SIS content. The same went for any other “witness” appearing at Hutton who depended in any way on a civil service pension. These witnesses had to secure permission from the government before they appeared, and their testimony was vetted in advance by Treasury solicitors. The late Brian Jones relates all this in his book. Those witnesses who couldn’t be cowed in this way weren’t called. And Hutton, of course, agreed to it all, his deference to national security being absolutely typical of the British judiciary.
Anyone who thinks you can hold a satisfactory inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly while allowing the government to omit any detail its deems pertinent to national security is deeply deluded, or stridently dishonest.
It’s worse than Denning in ’63.
An inquiry into Steele is equally important, given that it would touch not just on the subversion of democratic processes but also, critically, the toxic interplay between private sector money and intelligence community sources. Kelly got crucified, Steele gets to sneak off into the shadows a wealthy man. Why? Both of them peddled rubbish. But only one of them ever briefed truthfully against his own government.