Monday, 27 September 2010

Implausible Deniability #2: David Kelly

While I'm gathering unto me various bits and pieces from the four corners of the webosphere, below is a couple of comments I submitted to the tail end of  a rather good Aaronovitch Watch thread, relating to David Kelly's death and similar events, expanding on the notion of implausible denial.

But first, a piece from Private Eye which reports the first known use of the Kelly Affair as a threat. In these particular circumstances, the threat is rather implausible, and it's beginning to sound rather as though the scumbag issuing it got a bit carried away, to the point of slavering dementitude. But I'm sure other scumbags may be more plausible, in which case the threats are less likely to be splashed all over the Eye.

Regardless of the matter of actual explicit threats, what is called in the context of debates about libel law the 'chilling effect', and in general may be called the 'latent deterrent effect', probably has a rather wider application. Even if you only suspect that Kelly may have been rubbed out, you, a possessor of highly discreditable government secrets, are likely to keep you gob firmly shut, without anyone having to shout threats at you. In fact, this applies whatever you think actually happened to Kelly, since even on an unassisted suicide hypothesis he was pretty clearly hounded, and probably the most plausible motive for him to kill himself would have been the threat to remove his pension rights. (Whether this is actually very plausible depends on such matters as whether he would have expected his life insurance to be invalidated by suicide - which I admit I haven't looked into, not being an investigative journalist.)

PFI at all costs
Private Eye #1271, p12
17 Sept 2010
IN 2003 Dr Peter Brambleby, then director of public health for Norwich Primary Care Trust (PCT), received requests from senior clinicians at the PFI flagship Norfolk and Norwich hospital (Eyes passim) to look into their concerns about changes to the design and build that they believed put patients at risk.
The ventilation system and isolation facilities were top of their list, but so were a lack of management response and a culture of secrecy.

When his preliminary inquiries confirmed cause for concern, evidence of covering up and a lack of proper supervision by Norfolk' Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA), Brambleby put the matter in the hands of the National Audit Office (NAO) on 31 March 2004. The NAO, led by Sir John Bourn (Eyes passim), referred it straight back to the SHA and hospital to investigate.
External scrutiny did at least prompt some remedial building work (at the NHS's expense), a belated clinical risk assessment (from which Dr Brambleby was barred), an internal inquiry (which omitted key witness testimony and declined to track down critical records on changes to design specification), and a flurry of press interest. Much was at stake — not just the safety of patients and staff using the hospital, but also the reputation and value of this scheme to its financial backers and the credibility of the whole multi-billion-pound NHS PFI programme to follow.
On 4 May 2004' the PCT asked Dr Brambleby to give a statement to the media but to check first with the SHA press officer, who was briefed and ready for the call. The press officer said he had read all the "libellous" correspondence, had briefed the secretary of state (then John Reid) and warned Dr Brambleby that unless he dropped the whole matter he would end up "like Dr David Kelly who was found dead in the woods with his wrist slashed". Complaints to the NAO and SHA about that threat fell on deaf ears.
Documents recently released on the instruction of the Information Commissioner's Office show that Norwich PCT chief executive Dr Chris Price took up the complaint in a letter to SHA chief executive Peter Houghton on II June 2004: "...the unacceptable behaviour... was an orchestrated and deliberate attempt to bring pressure to bear... to intimidate me into making public statements which would discredit Dr Brambleby... [the press officer] made wholly inappropriate referral to the death of the late David Kelly as an illustration of what happens to whistleblowers... I know he said these things because he had a very similar conversation with me... I would hate to think that he might subject some other less robust individual to the same sort of treatment in the future and I guess that is the real reason I feel compelled to make this complaint."
And the response? Nothing. It was months before the SHA looked into it, and years before the findings were released, albeit in redacted form, and through the intervention of North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. In it, the press officer claimed his advice was: "Wholly appropriate given the circumstances... talked through the advice with colleagues... the recent case of David Kelly was a perfect illustration of someone who ended up caught in the crossfire between politics and the media... Peter Brambleby, as a public servant, had no democratic legitimacy... it was advice I would give to others in similar situations."
This latest example of top-down bullying of those who raise legitimate concerns in the NHS reveals Labour's desperation to make PFI work at all costs. While safety concerns were suppressed, former health secretary Alan Milburn was paid handsomely to speak at a "strategy seminar" in the south of France, as guest of Financial Securities Assurance, the bankers who remortgaged the Norfolk and Norwich PFI.

Which is nice.

Aaronovitch Watch comment:

Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Bit late, but a few rambling afterthoughts:

Further to the ludicrous 'house of cards' model [EDIT - the idea that one whistleblower's evidence would always bring down a conspiracy, rather than being dismissed in any one of a variety of ways] - and Phil,Bensix on bumping people off [EDIT - read the thread]: the inescapable fact is that if, say, the CIA wanted to do that to some defenceless shmoe, they could relatively easily make it look like accident or natural causes. 

Unless they are after implausible deniability, i.e. making it fairly - but not rankly, MSM-acknowledgably, obvious as a warning to others. 

Another inescapable fact: spooks, strategists etc. are sneaky like that. It's their job. 

Implausible denial not only ensures the warning gets across, but intensifies it, since it's not just 'we will kill you' but 'and look how blatant we can be about it'. If one were to accept that David Kelly was killed, then the sub-hypothesis that there was an element of deliberate implausibility would be a live one.

To add a complication consonant with the subject matter, blatantness can actually work to reduce the likelihood of (official) detection. See 'Intelligence and the Problem of Strategic Surprise' by the great theorist of strategic deception, Michael I Handel. 

He proposes this (ceteris paribus/pro tanto) 'paradoxical' generalisation: The greater the risk, the less likely it seems to be, and the less risky it becomes. 

Another complication is that implausibility can be dog-whistled, and of course sending different messages is even easier when it's a question of being plausible to the (low) standards of a domestic/local audience, while having foreign, and more sophisticated, audiences get the message loud and clear. 

Talk about stuff like this inevitably starts sounding a bit febrile, but any discussion about general aspects of CT qua CT must discuss general aspects of conspiracy, or it is just hot air.

7/27/2010 10:00:00 PM


  1. Rentoul Watch comment - just why did Rentoul need to write this in the Independent? a couple of weeks ago? Clearly pleased to have more journo bodies in the pro-Kelly suicide corral but having the usual sideswipe at the Mail. Perhaps Rentoul ought to have at no. 1 of the questions to which the answer is no - "Did Dr David Kelly commit suicide? (The PARTY LINE referring , of course the sneer about the Mail actually being more open minded about the demise of Dr Kelly than the Guardian, Indy, Times etc etc whose writers slavishly follow a party line for which nobody knows the reason)
    Actually, all the comments by people like Aaronovitch, Rentoul & co amount to nothing when the only things to consider in the Kelly case are simple laws of physics - like Newton's Third Law of motion, or similar medical or physical truths, like where does 5 pints of blood go, how do dead bodies move around, where do drug metabolites disappear to, why do people leave fingerprints, or not, at crime scenes.
    A parallel of the Kelly crime scene is walking into a room and all laws of physics, like the laws of Thermodynamics, Universal Gravitation , are suspended. One would think it rather odd,but I am sure that Rentoul, Aaronovitch and Co, with their intellectual background, would surely come up with some copy to put down anyone who thought it strange and label them as CT nutters.
    Peter Simplex

  2. PS The reason the Kelly case is so important (and for whatever reason the status quo verdict must be backed up by Rentoul, Aaronovitch et al) is that it is the closest we have got in Britain to seeing how the wool is usually pulled over our eyes by Government/Special Branch/Secret Services , with the help of venal and compliant journalists. The stakes are indeed very high and whether a proper inquest is allowed or not will not make our suspicion of what we are ever told by Government go away. So they either lie at a higher level of complexity, leading to even more absurd logical contortions or the establishment shuts the book on it - we're not telling you. (cf Dunblane)
    A crime was committed and nobody is interested in finding out what happened at Harrowden Hill. The same happened when Jill Dando was executed and a simple nut-case was hung out to dry so that the real perpetrator (as in the Kelly case) needed not to be tracked down (for whatever reason - cf Kelly, where speculation on the motives, perpetrators,etc., is in my opinion quite pointless)
    The interesting Kelly blog or forum post was the "from our friends on the riverbank", someone very close to the action wrote it at probably quite a risk.
    Peter Simplex

  3. Peter Simplex:

    The Dando case - I remember thinking the conviction looked like a fit-up, but never really looked into it much. I may have assumed the fit up was routine corruption driven by the need for a quick conviction. I never got round to trying to guess what the purpose of the actual assassin (it did look like a professional hit) might have been. In fact that would be a variation on 'implausible deniability' - whoever actually procured the hit (assuming it to be such, as the balance of probs suggests it was) would have had something rather better than plausible deniability - since there was no evidence made public that would even point to a suspect, let alone require them to deny anything. At the same time, the fact of the hit was actually rather clear, so anyone who knew what the reason for the execution really was would certainly get a pretty unambiguous message.

    BTW this is one of the obvious problems with the blithe insistence among reflex anti-CT types who claim that 'someone would talk'. This is actually a conditional statement: 'if this were a murderous conspiracy, someone would talk'. And that statement is a pretty stupid one, because if there were indeed a murderous conspiracy, one would have a very very good reason not to talk - that in doing so, one would be making oneslef a prime target of what is ex hypothesis a, er, muderous conspiracy. That's quite apart from all the other positive and negative reasons not to start singing like a canary: one's own actual or apparent complicity before or after the fact, the lack of lieklihood of being believed, the amount of effort one would have to put in to publicising one's whistleblowing, the fact that one may well approve of the conspiracy etc, etc.

    Kelly - I remember the riverbank post - have you got a link for it? The problem is that of their nature these kind of possible leaks are hard to distinguish from (a) random hoaxes, (b) disinformation. They still provide some kind of evidence, though (little if any evidence is ever utterly certain).

    BTW mention of blood soaking away into the ground reminds me that at the time I heard this conjecture I found it rather odd since I would expect the area below a tree normally to be covered in leaf litter (or possibly undergrowth, moss, grass - my feeling being that in general nature abhors bare earth)- to which blood would be expected to adhere rather than soaking away indetectably, as it might conceivably do into dark wet soil.

    But I hadn't come across any evidence about what the surface was actually like. During the latest resurgence of interest, I came across some which confirmed that the surface was indeed leaf litter rather than bare earth . But now I can't remember whether that was new (or newly published) testimony, or just some bit of the Hutton evidence or other statments from near the time that I hadn't previously come across.

    Rentoul - he recently did a particularly flagrant job of cherrypicking some of that eminently cherrypickable Hutton evidence. In fact Hutton did a lot of the cherrypicking himself, with leading questions, cutting off witnesses in the middle of asnwering questions, etc. But you know all this.

    Also, while looking up that link, just came across a bizarrely fact-resistant case endorsed by Rentoul on the same blog. I had never heard of these allegations of flotilla-related Twitter-hacking, nor do I have a very clear idea what to make of them. But that pisspoor attempt at rebuttal tends if anything to lend credibility to them.

  4. I will have to post bits and pieces as I find them. Here is an excellent US page where various Kelly/Hutton strands were brought together after dissection early on, and there is a ?reproduced? Friends on the Riverbank post there too All this 6 years ago

  5. One of the best digests of the Dando affair is in a website you might not intially approve of - The Libertarian Alliance here but it is an excellent account from a Daily Mail-Kelly-Sceptical viewpoint.
    Another Website The Tap Blog dissects the case here with comments. Just the sort of thing to get Aaro or Rentoul fired up.
    The Dando business rumbles on still in a very odd corner about which I have read nothing else, and it seems too Kafkaesque to have been made up.
    And the oddest and shortest blog ever
    Peter Simplex

  6. Thanks, I'll take a look at this stuff, though factual investigation is not really my strong point - too much like hard work, and too Sysiphean when you are dealing with cloak-and-dagger stuff.

    Re: a website you might not intially approve of well, (vehemently) disagree with on many but probably not all issues, going by the sound of it. Not a problem - take things on their merits and all that.

  7. Just another PS - There are 10 pages here which I just add for completeness, rather than for bedtime reading. They just draw it all together, as in his book, Norman Baker does.
    No new stuff really, how can there be? What I find so odd is that the Aaro/Cohen/Rentoul orchestra denounce suicide doubters as crackpots when the reality is that the Kelly "suicide" was the oddest one in history, and the subsequent investigation of the murder scene and victim one of the sloppiest in history apparently!

  8. Lord Hutton's role in the Kelly suicide (alleged suicide) itself seems a bit odd. He was immediately appointed after Kelly's death by like Her Majesty's secret service, apparently. After the hasty investigation, says-- why yes chaps it was suicide, and let's lock up all the reports for 70s years.

  9. There are similarities between the Kelly "suicide" and the "suicide" of Gert Bastian and the murder of his partner, the the well known Green politician in Germany, Petra Kelly See here
    In the Germany in 1993, the case was quickly dismissed as a suicide/murder pact despite the fact that Bastian shot himself in the middle of the forehead at close range, a very odd method. Furthermore, he was even in the middle of a word at his typewriter which was still on when the bodies were discovered. All evidence pointing to suicide was adduced to the exclusion of contrary thoughts, and the whole business quickly brushed under the carpet by the state and media. There were no suggestions that they were suicidal, and both, like David Kelly, were planning forward at the time of their deaths. There were also plenty of reasons why disparate groups might want to do it - as with David Kelly. Lucklily in the David Kelly case, we are firmly in the internet/blogging age and we have tireless campaigners for a proper inquest.
    Peter Simplex

  10. The "friends on the riverbank" post has disappeared from the location mentioned by Anonymous.

    It is still accessible here:

    You just need to scroll down a little.