Katherine Gun was a British translator who worked for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency. In 2003, she leaked top-secret information to The Observer, concerning a request by the United States for intelligence on diplomats from members of the Security Council, who were scheduled to vote on a second United Nations resolution on the planned 2003 attack of Iraq.
Katherine Gun’s regular job at GCHQ in Cheltenham was to transcribe Mandarin Chinese into English but while at work at GCHQ on 31 January 2003 Katherine Gun read an email from Frank Koza, the chief of staff at the division of the regional target of the American intelligence agency, the National Security Agency.
Frank Koza’s email requested assistance in a secret operation to bug the United Nations offices of six nations, Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan.
These were the six swing nations on the UN Security Council that could decide whether the UN authorised the attack of Iraq.
Some claim the plan defiled the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which coordinates global diplomacy.
Katherine Gun was outraged by the email and took a printed copy of it home with her and after studying the email over the weekend, she gave the email to a friend who was acquainted with journalists.
In February, she travelled to London to take part in a protest against war with Iraq and Katherine Gun heard no more about the email, and had forgotten all about it until Sunday 2 March, when she saw it printed on the front page of The Observer newspaper.
Less than a week after the Observer story, on Wednesday 5 March, Katherine Gun confessed to her line manager at GCHQ that she’d leaked the email and was arrested and in a BBC interview with Jeremy Paxman, she stated that she’d not raised the matter with staff counsellors as she truly didn’t think it would have any useful conclusion.
Katherine Gun spent a night in police custody, and eight months later was charged with violating the Official Secrets Act and while waiting to hear whether she would be charged, Katherine Gun embarked on a postgraduate degree course in global ethics at Birmingham University.
On 13 November 2003, Katherine Gun was charged with an offence under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989 and her case became a cause célèbre among activists, and many people stepped forward to urge the government to dismiss the case.
Among them was Reverend Jesse Jackson, Daniel Ellsberg, the US government official who leaked the Pentagon Papers and actor Sean Penn, who described her as a hero of the human spirit.
Katherine Gun intended to plead not guilty, saying in her defence that she acted to stop imminent loss of life in a war she deemed was illegal.
The case came to court on 24 February 2004 and inside half an hour, the case was dismissed because the prosecution failed to offer evidence, yet the reasons for the prosecution dismissing the case was unclear.
The day before the trial, Katherine Gun’s defence team had requested the government for any records of legal advice about the validity of the war that it had acquired during the run-up to the war.
A full trial might have revealed any such records to public inspection, as the defence was expected to demonstrate that trying to stop an illegal war of aggression overcome Katherine Gun’s responsibilities under the Official Secrets Act.
Speculation was prevalent in the media that the prosecution service had yielded to political pressure to dismiss the case so that any such records would remain undisclosed.
However, a Government spokesperson stated that the decision to drop the case had been made before the defence’s demands had been presented and that The Guardian newspaper had announced plans to drop the case the preceding week.
On the day of the court hearing, Katherine Gun stated that she was quite bewildered in the 21st century that we as human beings are still dropping bombs on each other as a method to resolve issues.
In May 2019 The Guardian said the case was dropped when the prosecution realised that evidence would surface and that even British government lawyers thought the attack was illegal.
In September 2019 Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecution, said the case against Katherine Gun was not dismissed to prevent the Attorney General’s advice on the legitimacy of the Iraq War from being exposed and he maintained that Katherine Gun wouldn’t have received a fair trial without the disclosure of information that would have jeopardised national security and one questions whether the disclosure in this criminal case might have been a little too embarrassing.
Two years after Katherine Gun’s trial, she penned an article called ‘Iran: Time to Leak’, which asked whistleblowers to make public information about plans for a possible war against Iran.
And she advised those in a position to do so to expose information which correlates to this prospective aggression, legal advice, meets between the White House and other intelligence agencies, assessments of Iran’s threat level, or better yet, evidence that assessments had been altered, troop deployments and army notifications and that we shouldn’t let intelligence and facts be fixed around the policy this time.
Katherine Gun uncovered dirty games of the secret services and paid a high price for them, was it worth it?
Twelve years after the Gulf War in 1991, the United States Bush administration proposed an attack of Iraq in early 2003 and the United States, with its most intimate ally Britain and international support, wanted to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein and was under huge justification pressure.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented alleged evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the UN Secretary Council on 5 February and the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair aided with comparable assertions.
Shortly before, Frank Koza of the US secret service NSA sent a top-secret mail and bluntly asked his colleagues of the British GCHQ for unlawful assistance, saying “As you know by now, the Agency launches a wave of interception against UN Security Council members, minus Great Britain and the USA, of course”.
Desired is the full spectrum of information that could help start a war against Iraq. Frank Koza wrote on January 31, 2003, that six members with voting rights were to be blackmailed.
But even Katherine Gun couldn’t stop the start of the war but it did trigger a scandal and a global outrage and it was the most important and courageous leak that had been seen and for weeks it’s all the world spoke about but nobody thought about how Katherine Gun was feeling.
Katherine Gun felt isolated at the time and wasn’t sure who she could trust or what the consequences of what her action might be and that must have been extremely stressful for her.
Today we have a much clearer understanding of what transpired then but at the same time, many questions continue to be unanswered about the relationship between the intelligence agencies NSA or GCHQ, that’s the super political issue, did they act independently? Or by directives, through official channels?
The affair began with an email and in it, the NSA asked the GCHQ for assistance listening to the UN and segments of the Security Council were to be blackmailed to vote for the Iraq war.
Katherine Gun was already cognizant that the people were not being told the truth throughout the Iraq war and that numerous journalists, sadly, didn’t investigate what the politicians claimed but Katherine Gun had investigated herself and had come to the conclusion that there wasn’t any justification for an Iraq attack and when she saw the email, the red line was crossed for her.
The email revealed what was going on behind the scene and it jarred Katherine Gun on how blatantly politicians wanted to manipulate the vote and she knew that was ammo for opponents of war but sadly, British politicians didn’t seize this opportunity later, which bothered Katherine Gun because if you have evidence, you should use it.
After Katherine Gun read the email she thought about all over the weekend but she didn’t speak to anyone about it, not even her husband and it was a restless weekend, hard to describe as if she’d suddenly landed in an unfamiliar world like the Wizard of Oz.
It seemed as if no one was aware of what was happening, only her and she was so nervous because leaking this email was punishable and she feared that the GCHQ could feel her guilty conscience or that they could read her mind but still, she acted.
It was about a war contrary to international law and that was her motivation, so she printed it out and put it in the mailbox on Monday and that was it, it was out of her hands.
She had posted the letter to a contact who wanted to pass it to The Observer but then nothing happened for weeks and there was a mixture of emotions, at first a bit discouraged and then somewhat relieved and she had participated in the big anti-war protest in London in February 2003 and she was touched because millions around the world protested that day and she thought that was enough, the war will not come.
But in March 2003, the story was on the front page of The Observer and it was a huge shock because it was terrifying for a person who’s committed themselves to never giving out documents in the Official Secrets Act to see such a document on the front page of a major newspaper and it was scary.
There was also an error in transcribing the email where an overeager secretary consistently translated all terms from American English into British English, so some journalists questioned if it was simply a scam.
Katherine Gun didn’t see the error at first because she was practically in a state of shock and besides, what could she have done, should she have called The Observer and say, “Hi, that’s mine, it’s real”.
The GCHQ immediately searched feverishly for the leak and when she was questioned for the first time, she denied everything but she said that she’s a poor liar and sensed that she couldn’t keep going to work that way because she was a sincere person, so she went to her superiors.
Her superior responded differently from what she expected she would. She was extremely sympathetic and concerned and she told Katherine about other past employees who had thrown for ideological reasons.
Katherine Gun was taken into custody and was charged 8 months later but there was never a point where she regretted what she’d done but there were times when she felt discouraged, demotivated, broken and fearful and she tried to survive day after day without the system wearing her down.
The process concluded in February 2004 with a surprise, because minutes after the opening, the case was closed because Attorney General Peter Goldsmith didn’t present any evidence.
The Attorney General had issued a lengthy report to Tony Blair, with whom he was a close friend and concluded that there was no legitimate justification for war, only that was his assessment several weeks before the war.
Then he met with lawyers from US Security Advisor Rice and Vice President Cheney and changed his assessment and there were various theories which were later known and had Katherine Gun’s case come to court, all of that might have come out earlier.
The Blair Government wasn’t interested in a trial because then Katherine Gun could have justified her breach of the law with the defensive necessity, emergency in case of imminent danger, ie Red and they didn’t want a court to decide for that would have raised in detail the question of the legitimacy of the war.
For Katherine Gun, the acquittal was great, but not for the country and it was quite costly because Katherine Gun lost her colleagues and friends but she also gained a lot of new friends and acquaintances.
It was also true that she never got a long-term job again and it took her two years to adjust to her life and her new circumstances and she was a little traumatised, hardly speaking about it because it stressed her out but then her daughter was born and she wanted to spend a lot of time with her.
Before the Iraq war, the US Government was desperately looking for a smoking gun, undeniable evidence that supported the war along with all the sick jokes that Katherine Gun had to endure as a whistleblower with the surname ‘Gun’.
Mr Koza stated the information would give the US policymakers an advantage in getting results beneficial to US goals or to head off surprises and the eavesdropping would have involved interception of international traffic between delegations and home governments, but also the bugging of offices and homes as well.
And the nature of the memorandum suggests the familiarity between GCHQ and its much larger American ally, the British organisation being treated more like an outstation than an independent entity and it simply shows how anxious the Americans were to pre-empt any effort at a settlement resolution that might result in a weakening of the hardline position they and their British collaborators had assumed towards Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Emails like Mr Koza’s would have usually have faded into the intelligence ether but unluckily for the British Government, it turned out to be the one that got away and at some time during the next month it popped up on the computer screen of Katherine Gun.
How she came to have access to the memorandum presumably addressed to senior officers is unclear but because of her independent spirit, she determined that the memo’s contents revoked her responsibilities under the Official Secrets Act.
And even though she had little thought on what went on at GCHQ, it was a position where she could use her language abilities. She was not inclined to leak secrets but she felt it was a clear and significant matter that needed to get out to the people.
Katherine was pretty shocked and she felt the British intelligence services were being asked to do something that would threaten the entire UN democratic process and when she first leaked it she had no idea if anybody would be interested but she felt very strongly about it and hoped the newspapers would get their fangs into it.
She was hoping to pour some cold water on people’s heated debates about war and she wanted people to stop and have a rational and impartial debate about why they were going to war.
Katherine Gun wasn’t exactly seeking anything, it just happened and she felt it was rather important because the email did shock her and when she was asked if she knew she was breaking the law, she responded that she guessed she was.
The article proposed a sneering attempt by the Americans and British to manipulate the UN and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time, with the attack of Iraq less than three weeks away.
And it was a major humiliation for GCHQ, which was under pressure from its big brother to demonstrate how a sensitive bugging operation had become public knowledge.
Katherine Gun was a rather sensitive person and she felt that she couldn’t go on working for GCHQ after what she’d done but that what she’d done was a matter of duty and she never regretted her action because it was wrong to bug the Security Council to manipulate the vote.
It was a cynical operation that went far beyond normal bugging and it was the run-up to the second resolution which the US desperately wanted to provide a basis for starting a war, sadly what she did, did not realise the intended end, but she was right to try.
Katherine Gun broke the Official Secrets Act and she admitted that but in her defence she was acting under the pressure of events and it was the right thing to do and she may have sort of disgraced her country but it was a principled stand, and what she did was never politically motivated.
She was not especially political and Katherine was arming herself for the possibility of prison, violation of Section 1 carrying a two-year sentence but in the end, it didn’t come to that because the Crown Prosecution Service withdrew the charge against her without giving a reason, although I’m sure political opportunism unquestionably executed its part.
Katherine Gun’s lawyers who were provided by the civil rights group Liberty warned the prosecution that they would seek disclosure of the advice offered to the Government by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, in the run-up to the attack of Iraq.
But the Government declined to deliver the entirety of his comments, which may have included argument against military action and any objections made by the Government’s senior law officer could have proved political dynamite if exposed in court.
The Foreign Office was no doubt eager for the Katherine Gun thing to wither away because there was always the possibility that Katherine Gun might win because during an appeal by David Shayler, the MI5 whistleblower imprisoned for exposing top-secret information to a Sunday newspaper, the House of Lords accepted that the terms of the Official Secrets Act might be overcome by a defence of emergency, so, therefore, Katherine Gun might have demonstrated that she was motivated, unsuccessfully by a wish to save human life.
Katherine Gun was also becoming too popular with high profile personalities in America, including the actor Sean Penn, the rights activist Jesse Jackson and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers on US involvement in Vietnam, which provided valuable support.
The humiliation for Tony Blair became all the more prominent when five members of US Congress sent him an open letter saying that the British and American people deserved to know all the elements involved in the build-up to the war.
Following Katherine Guns expulsion from GCHQ, she registered at Birmingham University to study for a master’s degree in global ethics, a position that was seemingly more suited to her personality but she delayed her start date.
But whatever she’d done, she unquestionably joined a long list of whistleblowers, Tisdall, Ponting et al, who’ve for a mere second put the secret world in the spotlight and Katherine Gun has unmistakably ceased to be a fan of Tony Blair and the government.
Katherine Gun was a pretty brave woman but it’s particularly worrying that the US seemed to be inclined to give United Kingdom spies orders or that the United Kingdom has gone along meekly with blatantly unlawful and unethical acts.
Can you visualise what the United Kingdom government would say if other countries attempted to do the same thing? But unfortunately, the CIA, GCHQ, NSA and MI6 et cetera are criminal cartels and they’re involved in abduction, cruelty, death, drug running, weapons smuggling, and money laundering and they dodge law by controlling the politicians of their countries by extensive spying, extortion and bribery.
And any politician who supports defending these organisations or who supports secret courts or who supports spying on their nationals can never be trusted.
Katherine Gun was brave and we needed someone of her character to blow the whistle on secrets like this and this is the hard evidence and stark proof that Great Britain government officials, together with other US lackeys have become US mercenaries and are acting with such conviction as if there was no other option and no other alternative but to bomb Iraq.
Katherine Gun gave us hope that perhaps there could be an end to this mortifying servitude from this predator called the USA and people should be proud of what she did and should continue to be so.
Katherine Gun is a person who we can all aspire to be like but when the moment comes, do we do the right thing? Well, of course, we should but at a probable price of losing everything and being prosecuted but as far as she was concerned, she did the right thing and we should never overlook her part in highlighting how far the US and Tony Blair were willing to go to ensure they went to War.
Tony Blair and George Bush should have found themselves facing war crime charges because they started a war of aggression without UN permission and if this had of happened then Katherine Gun’s contribution would not have been in vain.
Some people might not remember this story about Katherine Gun, others might remember it well, but this is a reminder that at the bottom of Pandora’s box, lies hope but this was a shameful illegal act to use the GCHQ to spy on delegates to the United Nations in order to blackmail them and coerce their votes of a military action that was justified by misrepresentations and dishonest deception.
Katherine Gun was, of course, a hero for exposing these violations at the expense of her career and she’s an extraordinary woman and we should be taking our hat off to her because she paid the price of doing what she did, like other whistleblowers in similar situations have.
And it appears that a true sense of principle and honesty usually comes into conflict with these large bureaucracies and where integrity and a sense of discipline take priority over ethical considerations.
We’re frequently told that strength and character are good traits, but in reality, they’re usually penalised, particularly when it’s the best way to improve oneself in the hierarchy.
Bravo to Katherine Gun and in the future when Government has been defeated, hopefully, her name will stand beside other heroes and other brilliant persons who put their conscience before their profession.
And what she did might have appeared to have been in vain but it was also critically important to place on the public record that our governments are misbehaving and do misbehave.
They do falsify causes of war and they do attempt to deceive us with the idea that our boys and girls only behave honourably, whether before, during and after the war and it’s important to stress that patriotism should never trump the truth.
And in the wake of modern propaganda tactics, war has become a get out of jail free card for failed and shameful politicians and the biggest evil in the modern world is that it’s become easy for enthusiasts of war to trump up the causes and it has become easy for the victors to record their version of history to the near exclusion of others.