The cause was cancer, said his wife Anita Kay.
dr A reserved Texan with a PhD in international affairs, Kay taught political science at an early age before joining organizations like UNESCO in Paris and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. In 1991, he became a household name while serving in Iraq as chief nuclear weapons inspector for the United Nations and IAEA after the United States and its allies liberated Kuwait from Hussein’s forces.
The mission of all UN teams was to detect and destroy any prohibited nuclear, biological or chemical weapon or material. In September 1991, Dr. Kay’s nuclear team, using the powers of a UN resolution, conducted an unannounced inspection of a military facility in Baghdad to look for incriminating documents on Hussein’s secret nuclear weapons development efforts.
Since it was close to his team’s hotel, Dr. Kay already monitored the building, walking past it on his morning jog to see where security was greatest. During the inspection, his party of 44 was arrested after attempting to remove documents and videotapes they deemed significant and endured a four-day standoff followed by media around the world.
Using a relatively newfangled satellite phone, Dr. Kay made calls from news outlets, particularly CNN, while surrounded by Iraqi guards. He and his team slept in their vehicles – a bus and several cars. As pressure mounted from the UN Security Council and the world, the Iraqis let them go with the documents and tapes.
“The chemistry program was huge,” he later told reporters on the PBS series Frontline, in which he summarized all of the UN teams’ findings after the 1991 war. “The actual storage area of their main chemical weapons storage facility was larger than the District of Columbia. … In the nuke area, where two facilities were identified before the war … instead we discovered 25 major sites of which we were unaware and were probably six to 18 months away at that point with their first working nuke . It wouldn’t have been a pretty device, and it wouldn’t have been launched with a rocket, but it would have been a working device that would then gradually roll forward in that area.
“When the biological program was finally fully uncovered in the mid-1990s,” he added, “we discovered that not a single site hit in the airstrike of the first Gulf War actually had an active biological program. They had moved them all to places we didn’t know about and successfully hidden them. In fact, they had a very large anthrax program, a botulinum toxin program, ricin, and a fairly mature biological program.”
UN teams destroyed Iraq’s illegal weapons and programs in the 1990s, but after the inspectors were ousted in 1998, the CIA feared that Hussein was secretly remanufacturing his weapons of mass destruction. After the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush White House presented these suspicions as irrefutable evidence of a direct Iraqi threat to America and its allies.
As the March 2003 invasion quickly toppled Hussein’s regime, a Pentagon team swarmed across Iraq but found no sign of weapons of mass destruction. That summer, George W. Bush put the CIA in charge of the hunt, and then-CIA Director George Tenet chose Dr. Kay to lead the newly named Iraq Survey Group.
Although he went to Iraq confident that sites suspected of containing weapons of mass destruction would be found, he soon concluded that there were none and that the CIA and other intelligence agencies had grossly misjudged the available evidence. Frustrated by the CIA’s refusal to agree, Dr. Kay left the gun hunting group in January 2004. Days later, he gave explosive testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here,” he told the panel. “It turns out we were all wrong, probably in my opinion, and that’s deeply disturbing.”
Shortly thereafter, Bush called him to the White House. Although there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Dr. Kay the President believes the invasion is the right thing to do because of the suffering of the Iraqi people under Hussein.
Bush thanked him for his work, but Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld played Dr. Kay’s conclusions further down, hinting that Hussein may have smuggled some illegal weapons out of the country and planned at least the WMD program.
dr Kay found himself a veritable outcast for saying publicly that the CIA was wrong. He was treated “coldly,” he said upon returning to CIA headquarters.
“Some of it is almost comical to me,” he told Frontline. “In fact, I laughed at the time because it was so much like a poor spy novel. I was given an office that didn’t have a working phone, surrounded by packing cases, in the depths of Langley, with a secretary who wasn’t usually around. You have to be pretty stupid not to pick up the signals. But not even having a secure phone in the office where you can’t talk to anyone, nor a computer where you can email – I get it.”
However, Bush felt compelled to rely on Dr. Kay’s bombshell and immediately installed a bipartisan presidential commission headed by Reagan-appointed federal judge Laurence H. Silberman and former Senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), which was confirmed in March 2005. The pre-war intelligence fiasco.
“The performance of the Intelligence Community in assessing Iraq’s pre-war WMD programs was a major intelligence failure,” the commission concluded. “The failure wasn’t just because the intelligence community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious flaws in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policymakers.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, too, faced the anger of opponents of the Iraq invasion he backed, and was forced in February 2004 to announce an inquiry, known as the Butler Review after its chairman, Lord Robin Butler, which lasted until July to issue a report , which concluded that the intelligence used to justify the invasion was “unreliable” and relied too heavily on renegade Iraqi sources.
One of the main sources of the false information was an Iraqi defector to Germany codenamed Curveball. The CIA interviewed him only a year after the invasion, but his misrepresentation of Iraq’s biological weapons became the linchpin of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council in February 2003 that paved the way for war.
In his 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, journalist Bob Drogin wrote that Dr. Kay spent months trying to find evidence of Curveball’s account and was distraught when he finally concluded it was a scam.
“I always saw David as a heroic yet tragic figure,” Drogin wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “He publicly admitted that all experts, including himself, were wrong about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. The CIA and the Bush White House could not forgive him for that. He became an outcast for telling the truth to those in power.”
David Allen Kay, whose father was a real estate agent, was born on June 8, 1940 in Houston. He graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin and attended the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where he received a master’s degree in 1964 and a doctorate in 1967.
Earlier in his career, he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, during which time he also served as adviser on international organizational affairs to the US Mission to the United Nations.
From 1974 to 1983 he was Senior Program Advisor at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris before working as an observer for the development of nuclear energy technologies at the International Atomic Energy Agency. After serving as UN Weapons Inspector in 1991 and 1992, he served as Vice President of Science Applications International for nine years. Later he was a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a private research group in Arlington, Virginia, taught at several universities, and was a commentator specializing in arms control.
His first marriage to Jane Agnew ended in divorce. In 1978 he married Anita Hall. In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Karen Simmons of Moneta, Virginia; and two grandchildren.
While retiring to Ocean View, Mr. Kay became interested in photography. “He particularly enjoyed photographing surfers at Indian River Inlet and sunrises at Bethany Beach, and also visiting Charleston, SC, and New Orleans for photos,” said Anita Kay. “He had a wicked, dry sense of humor and could laugh over a drink and chat about photography as well as conferring on democracy with world leaders.”