Bahai News -- Monterey Herald - Dead British weapons expert had ties on Central Coast Posted on Wed, Sep. 03, 2003

Dead British weapons expert had ties on Central Coast

David Kelly reportedly came to study Baha'i faith


The British weapons expert whose death led to Prime Minister Tony Blair's biggest political crisis had close ties to the Monterey Peninsula through a woman who helped him convert to the Baha'i faith here four years ago.

Microbiologist David Kelly had met U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mai Pederson, an Arabic linguist and translator, while they were working in Iraq with the United Nations Special Commission in 1998, according to the Times of London.

Later, Kelly visited the Peninsula more than once to study Baha'i teachings with Pederson, according to members of the Baha'i faith locally. Baha'i, which espouses pacifism and multiculturalism, is an amalgam of major faiths, incorporating elements of Muslim, Christian and Jewish theology.

The commission was charged with making sure Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein complied with a U.N. resolution ordering him to destroy his weapons of mass destruction and dismantle the programs for making them.

Kelly's apparent suicide July 17 in a wooded area near his home in Oxfordshire has sparked international intrigue and has led to a continuing judicial inquiry that is creating daily headlines in London.

At the heart of the controversy are assertions that the British government purposely exaggerated some of Kelly's findings about Iraqi weapons capabilities to bolster the argument for war.

His widow, Janice Kelly, testified at the inquiry Monday that he became despondent when his name was linked publicly to a BBC news story that claimed the British government had overstated the threat of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons to justify the war.

Kelly was a recognized expert on biological weapons and a longtime advisor to the British government who had visited Iraq more than 30 times as an inspector.

After the U.N. commission was kicked out of Iraq, Kelly visited Pederson in Monterey in 1999 to take instruction in the Baha'i teachings, members of the Baha'i community said.

Pederson had come to the Presidio of Monterey as an administrator after her overseas assignment, and she and Kelly "came to our house several times," said Marilyn VonBerg, who was secretary of the Monterey Baha'i assembly at the time and had opened her home to religious gatherings.

"He was a scientist and was really studying the faith. I gave him a book, and he took the book back to England with him and bought another one there and sent it to us. He said the book helped lead him to God."

Pederson, VonBerg said, taught Kelly the Baha'i faith, both on the Peninsula and elsewhere.

"She was his translator; it was very hush-hush. I didn't know where they were; I assumed it was in Iraq.

"He was impressed with her demeanor, her calmness."

Military authorities at the Presidio said Tuesday they have no knowledge or records of Pederson's time there. The Times of London reported that she was attached to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio.

According to Air Force media sources, Pederson was serving at the Pentagon as recently as May, where she was involved in Air Force re-enlistments as chief of enlisted skills management. She now lives in Alabama.

Two men who served as U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq were surprised to learn that Kelly had visited the Peninsula and not called on them.

Tim McCarthy and Raymond Zilinskas, both now with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies, also worked with the United Nations Special Commission.

Zilinskas said he knew Kelly but did not work with him in Iraq. McCarthy said he worked with Kelly in Iraq but did not recall meeting Pederson there.

"David was one of the most respected inspectors," McCarthy said, "extremely well-liked and respected."

"The whole thing was quite shocking," McCarthy said of Kelly's death.

Kelly was a private, quiet, careful, secretive man, "not the guy to ever draw attention to himself, very circumspect," Zilinskas said.

If he had come to Monterey for religious purposes, Zilinskas said, Kelly might have wanted to keep it to himself.

From his own acquaintance, Zilinskas recalled, Kelly "would never tell you he worked for intelligence or did anything like that. He would just say he worked for the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but not define it any further."

McCarthy said Kelly was among the inspectors who believed Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction when he worked with him in 1998.

"At the time, absolutely," McCarthy said. "I remain convinced that they had them."

Inspectors were given some information but the Iraqis were consistently evasive "in very specific areas, in very strange ways," McCarthy said.

"When you look at this case like a detective over six years, you start to pick up patterns, where the lies are in the same places."

©Copyright 2003, Monterey Herald (CA, USA)

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