The cause was cancer, said his wife, Anita Kay.
Dr. Kay, a reserved Texan with a doctorate in international affairs, began his career teaching political science before joining organizations such as 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 the IAEA after the United States and its allies liberated Kuwait from the forces of Hussein.
The mission of all UN teams was to search for and destroy all prohibited nuclear, biological or chemical weapons or materials. In September 1991, using powers granted under a UN resolution, Dr. Kay’s nuclear team launched an unannounced inspection of a military installation in Baghdad to search for incriminating documents about Hussein’s clandestine efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Because it was close to his team’s hotel, Dr. Kay had previously surveyed the building by running past it on his morning jog to see where security was tightest. During the inspection, his group of 44 people were arrested after trying to remove documents and videotapes they considered important and endured a four-day standoff watched by media around the world.
Using a relatively new satellite phone, Dr. Kay fielded calls from news agencies, including CNN, while surrounded by Iraqi guards. He and his team slept in their vehicles – a bus and several cars. As pressure from the UN Security Council and the world mounted, the Iraqis let them go with the documents and records.
“The chemical program was huge,” he later told reporters on the PBS “Frontline” series, summarizing all the findings of UN teams after the 1991 war. “The actual storage area of their main chemical weapons depot was larger than the District of Columbia. … In the nuclear zone, whereas before the war there were two identified facilities … instead we discovered 25 main sites of which we had no knowledge, and which at that time , were probably six to 18 months apart from having their first working nuclear device. It wouldn’t have been a pretty device, and it wouldn’t have been launched on a missile, but it would have been a working device, then gradually rolling towards that area.
“Finally, when the biological program was fully exposed in the mid-1990s,” he added, “we discovered that no site that had been hit during the first Gulf War air campaign actually had a biological program active. They had moved them all to sites that we didn’t know about, successfully hid them. In fact, they had a very large anthrax program, a botulinum toxin program, ricin and a fairly successful biological program.
UN teams destroyed Iraq’s illicit weapons and programs in the 1990s, but after the inspectors were expelled in 1998, the CIA feared Hussein was secretly rebuilding his WMDs. After the terrorist attacks of Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, the Bush White House presented these suspicions as irrefutable proof of a direct Iraqi threat against America and its allies.
When the March 2003 invasion quickly toppled the Hussein regime, a Pentagon team fanned out across Iraq but found no signs of weapons of mass destruction. That summer, George W. Bush turned the hunt over to the CIA, and then CIA Director George Tenet chose Dr. Kay to lead the new Iraq Investigative Group.
Although he traveled to Iraq convinced that sites suspected of harboring weapons of mass destruction would be discovered, he quickly concluded that none existed and that the CIA and other intelligence agencies had it wrong. assessed the available evidence. Frustrated by the CIA’s refusal to accept, Dr. Kay resigned from the weapons hunting group in January 2004. Days later, he gave explosive testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here,” he told the panel. “Turns out we were all wrong, probably in my opinion, and that’s very disturbing.”
Soon after, Bush called him to the White House. Even though Iraq had no WMD, Dr. Kay told the President that he believed the invasion was 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 continued to play down Dr. Kay’s findings, suggesting that Hussein may have smuggled weapons out the country and might have at least planned a WMD Program.
Dr. Kay found himself a real pariah for publicly declaring the CIA wrong. He was treated “coldly”, he said, when he returned to CIA headquarters.
“Some of it is almost comical to me,” he told ‘Frontline’. “I actually laughed at the time because it sounded so much like a poor spy novel. I was given an office that didn’t have a working phone, that was surrounded by boxes, in the back Langley, with a secretary who wasn’t usually there. You’d have to be stupid enough not to have picked up the signals. But not even to have a secure phone in the office where you can’t talk to anyone, nor a computer where you can send e-mails – I get that.
Bush, however, felt compelled to respond to Dr. Kay’s bombshell and immediately set up a bipartisan presidential commission headed by Reagan-appointed federal judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D -Va.) which, in March 2005, confirmed the pre-war intelligence fiasco.
“The performance of the intelligence community in assessing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs before the war was a major intelligence failure,” the commission concluded. “The failure was not simply that the intelligence community’s assessments were flawed. There were also serious flaws in the way those assessments were made and communicated to decision-makers.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, too, in the face of fury from those opposing the invasion of Iraq he had backed, was forced in February 2004 to announce an inquiry, known as the of Butler Review named after its chairman Lord Robin Butler, which lasted until July to publish a report concluding that the intelligence used to justify the invasion was “unreliable” and too dependent on dissident Iraqi sources.
One of the main sources of the false intelligence was an Iraqi defector in Germany whose code name was Curveball. The CIA did not interview him until a year after the invasion, but his false account of Iraq’s biological weapons became a central part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council in February 2003, which 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 for Curveball and was distraught when he finally concluded it was a fraud.
“I have always seen David as a heroic yet tragic figure,” Drogin wrote to The Washington Post in an email. “He publicly admitted that all the experts, including himself, were wrong about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. The CIA and the Bush White House could not forgive him for this. He became an outcast for speaking truth to power.
David Allen Kay, whose father was a realtor, was born in Houston on June 8, 1940. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 1962 and went to Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he received a master’s degree in 1964 and a doctorate in 1967.
Early in his career, he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, during which time he also served as an international organizational affairs adviser to the United States Mission to the United Nations.
He was a senior program evaluator at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris from 1974 to 1983 before working as a nuclear energy technology development monitor at the International atomic energy. After serving in 1991 and 1992 as Chief Inspector of UN Weapons, he spent nine years as Vice President of Science Applications International. 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 served as an arms control commentator.
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, Va.; and two grandchildren.
Upon his retirement to Ocean View, Mr. Kay took up photography. “He especially enjoyed photographing surfers at Indian River Inlet, sunrises at Bethany Beach, also visiting Charleston, SC and New Orleans to take photos,” said Anita Kay. “He had a dry, wicked sense of humor and was just as comfortable laughing over drinks and discussing photography as he was chatting to world leaders about democracy.”