Katharine Gun, a translator working for the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ
), leaked an e-mail sent to GCHQ from the USA National Security Council
, to the Observer
newspaper. The Observer ran a front-page story based on the leaked information on March 2, 2003
, stating that the USA was conducting a 'dirty tricks
' campaign to pressurise UN Security Council
delegates into supporting the case for a war
At the time the USA and UK were aiming to get a 'second resolution' passed by the Security Council in order to build a coalition and provide a legal basis for a war against Iraq. They were opposed by countries arguing to give UN weapon inspections more time, notably France, China and Russia. Among the rotating non-permanent members of the Security Council were Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan and their votes were being sought by both sides. The NSA was requesting help from the GCHQ for British spies to assist in covert phone-tap operations targeting delegates from these wavering countries.
After the Observer story was published, GCHQ set up an investigation to determine the source of the leak, at which stage Ms Gun came forward and confessed. She was dismissed from her job and arrested and then charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. But after pleading 'not guilty' the prosecution dropped the charges and Ms Gun walked free.
The decision not to prosecute was surprising, for Ms Gun had already admitted being covered by the Official Secrets Act and of revealing information covered by it. Her defense of whistle-blowing and attempting to "prevent an illegal war" has again highlighted that the British governments legal basis for the Iraq war appears flimsy at best. It was after advice by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith that the case was dropped, which can be read as a political decision to prevent advice given by the Attorney General regarding the legality of war being made public.
Gun was represented at her trial by the civil liberties group Liberty, and gained international support, including a letter from 5 US congressmen defending her actions. After her release she said:-
"I was pretty horrified and I felt that the British intelligence services were being asked to do something that would undermine the whole UN democratic processes....I'm just baffled in the 21st century we as human beings are still dropping bombs on each other as a means to resolve issues."
The retreat by the government, has also led to a review of the Official Secrets Act itself, which suggests that there is some undisclosed loopholes which may encourage other whistle-blowers to emerge. The 'necessity' argument that it is acceptable to break the act in order to save lives, a consequence of the David Shayler trial, may prove hard for prosecutors to rebut. After Gun's release there have been further allegations regarding bugging in the United Nations by the ex-Cabinet Minister Clare Short who claimed to have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan in private conversation, leading to further bugging stories appearing in the world's media.
Gun herself has been taking a post-graduate course at Birmingham University and is planning a holiday with her husband.
original Observer article - observer.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12239,905936,00.html