Brian Kel­ley, coun­ter­spy sus­pected of be­ing KGB mole, dies at 68

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

Re­tired CIA of­fi­cer Brian J. Kel­ley, a vet­eran coun­ter­spy who broke the code on how Moscow se­cretly com­mu­ni­cates with deep-cover agents and who mis­tak­enly was hounded by the FBI as a sus­pected KGB mole, has died. He was 68.

Mr. Kel­ley died in his sleep of an ap­par­ent heart at­tack and was found Sept. 19, ac­cord­ing to his wife, Patricia Mc­Carthy Kel­ley.

Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Ge­orge Lit­tle, a former CIA spokesman, called him “a national trea­sure.”

“I’m sad­dened by the loss of this out­stand­ing CIA of­fi­cer, some­one who coura­geously con­fronted ev­ery chal­lenge that came his way on the job,” Mr. Lit­tle said. “He was the con­sum­mate in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sional, a pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can and an in­spi­ra­tion to a gen­er­a­tion of younger CIA of­fi­cers.”

“Brian’s courage and strength of char­ac­ter never ceased to amaze me,” said Michelle Van Cleave, a former national coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence ex­ec­u­tive who worked with Mr. Kel­ley. “He gave his heart and soul to im- prov­ing the pro­fes­sion that had been both his ac­cuser and his call­ing in life. He was an ex­tra­or­di­nary Amer­i­can.”

CIA spokesman Pre­ston Gol­son praised Mr. Kel­ley for a dis­tin­guished ca­reer of ser­vice to the United States. “He was a rec­og­nized ex­pert in coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence, and he never broke faith with his coun­try or his col­leagues,” Mr. Gol­son said.

Mr. Kel­ley had a sto­ried ca­reer as a coun­ter­spy, first in the Air Force and then at CIA, with the of­ten ar­cane and dif­fi­cult mis­sion of find­ing and neu­tral­iz­ing for­eign spies.

He was born Jan. 8, 1943, in Water­bury, Conn., and grad­u­ated from Saint Michael’s Col­lege in Ver­mont with a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence. He joined the Air Force in 1964.

Mr. Kel­ley spent 20 years with the Air Force Of­fice of Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions, do­ing coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence work un­til 1984, when he moved to the CIA and joined its coun­teres­pi­onage branch.

Late in his ca­reer, he worked in the Of­fice of the National Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Ex­ec­u­tive, and re­tired from ac­tive ser­vice in 2006.

He earned nu­mer­ous in­tel­li­gence awards while in gov­ern- ment and was a teacher dur­ing re­tire­ment.

A land­mark in his ca­reer oc­curred in April 1989. While work­ing in the CIA’s clas­si­fied coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence of­fice, Mr. Kel­ley fig­ured out a still-clas­si­fied method used by Moscow to clan­des­tinely com­mu­ni­cate with deep-cover agents called “il­le­gals.”

The dis­cov­ery led to the unmasking of State Depart­ment diplo­mat Felix Bloch, a sus­pected spy who was pho­tographed meet­ing a KGB “il­le­gal” of­fi­cer in Vi­enna, Aus­tria, and ex­chang­ing a brief­case thought to con­tain se­crets.

Bloch even­tu­ally got away af­ter Mr. Kel­ley alerted the FBI that the CIA was tail­ing the diplo­mat. It was learned years later that Bloch had been tipped off to the CIA in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Robert Hanssen, a long­time re­cruited So­viet agent work­ing in the FBI coun­teres­pi­onage sec­tion.

Af­ter CIA coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Aldrich Ames was ar­rested as a spy for Moscow in 1994, the FBI be­gan search­ing for a sec­ond mole and fo­cused on Mr. Kel­ley be­cause of the com­pro­mise of the Bloch probe.

At the time of the Bloch case, the FBI the­o­rized that the only per­son who could have tipped off the KGB to Bloch was Mr. Kel­ley, a the­ory that would prove false but not un­til years were wasted hound­ing him and try­ing to force him to con­fess to be­ing a KGB spy.

Hanssen learned of that mole hunt in the spring of 1999, at a time when he was sup­ply­ing se­crets to the Rus­sians, ac­cord­ing to an FBI in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port.

On Aug. 18, 1999, FBI agents grilled Mr. Kel­ley for four hours in an ef­fort to make him con­fess. Mr. Kel­ley re­fused and told the agents, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­view with this reporter: “Your facts are wrong. Your con­clu­sions are wrong. Your un­der­ly­ing hy­poth­e­sis is wrong.”

FBI agents con­tin­ued to ha­rass Mr. Kel­ley and his fam­ily for the next two years, sidelin­ing his CIA ca­reer.

“It’s one thing to beat me up, come down hos­tile on me,” Mr. Kel­ley said in the in­ter­view sev­eral years ago. “My fam­ily was an­other mat­ter. What the FBI did to my fam­ily — the threats, the out­right lies, and the in­tim­i­da­tion — was in­ex­cus­able.”

An­other false lead that caused the FBI to tar­get Mr. Kel­ley was the fact that a KGB of­fi­cer was spot­ted in a park near Mr. Kel­ley’s McLean, Va. home. Agents were con­vinced the KGB was pick­ing up doc­u­ments left se­cretly by Mr. Kel­ley in the park, but failed to re­al­ize un­til later that the park was also yards from Hanssen’s house in the same neigh­bor­hood.

The false ac­cu­sa­tions against Mr. Kel­ley and his fam­ily con­tin­ued un­til the FBI bought an au­dio­tape from a KGB de­fec­tor in 2000. Agents lis­tened to the tape ex­pect­ing to hear Mr. Kel­ley’s voice, but iden­ti­fied the mole as Hanssen, who was ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary 2001, end­ing Mr. Kel­ley’s night­mare.

Mr. Kel­ley even­tu­ally was cleared, and the FBI apol­o­gized af­ter be­ing pres­sured by Congress and not un­til five months af­ter Hanssen was ar­rested.

He went back to work at the CIA and con­tin­ued with the agency un­til 2006, when he re­tired.

In an in­ter­view in 2006, Mr. Kel­ley said in ex­plain­ing his story that “I just want to make sure that what hap­pened to me never hap­pens again to any­one.”

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife, sons Barry Kel­ley and Brian T. Kel­ley, daugh­ter Erin Kel­ley Aldrich and grand­chil­dren.

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