Heeding the dictates of conscience and true patriotism, Ms. Gun put her career and her very liberty at risk trying to prevent the launching of an illegal war. That she is here with us today and not in a prison cell bespeaks a tacit but clear admission by her government that the US/UK attack on Iraq in March 2003 was in defiance of international law.
Ms. Gun’s beacon of light pierced a thick cloud of deception. She set a courageous example for those intelligence analysts of the “Coalition of the Willing” who have first-hand knowledge of how intelligence was corrupted to “justify” war, but who have not yet been able to find their voice.
Presented this 14th day of April 2004 in Copenhagen, Denmark by admirers of the example set by our former colleague, Sam Adams.
Katharine Gun says expanded jail terms for leaking state secrets will deter people from revealing abuses of power
Published in The Guardian 2/13/2017
By Owen Bowcott, Legal Affairs Correspondent, published in The Guardian, 2/13/2017
A former GCHQ whistleblower has condemned plans by government lawyers to increase prison sentences and expand the definition of espionage for the digital age.
Katharine Gun, a former translator for the monitoring agency who leaked details of an operation to bug United Nations offices before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has spoken out following the publication of Law Commission plans suggesting that maximum jail terms for those leaking information should rise from two years to 14 years.
In the past, Gun has called for a public interest defence to be introduced into the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to protect whistleblowers and prevent governments from hiding politically embarrassing information.
She said: “The Official Secrets Act 1989 may need reforming for the digital era, but I would argue that at its heart there should be protection for whistleblowers. As it stands, the OSA is reputedly one of the most draconian secrecy laws in the world. It seems to me to have been very effective at dissuading and preventing the 99.9% of British citizens who have signed to it from making unauthorised disclosures.
“On the rare occasions where it has been breached, it could be argued that it was done to expose lies or misrepresentations of the truth and other forms of skulduggery. Examples include Clive Ponting, Peter Wright, David Shayler, myself, David Keogh and Leo O’Connor. Peter Wright’s case followed the publication of his book, Spycatcher, Lord Goff [a judge] said at the time, ‘In a free society, there is a continuing public interest that the workings of government should be open to scrutiny and criticism.’
“It seems to me that we are living in an increasingly unfree society. The government and its intelligence and security apparatus have amassed ever broader and deeper powers through legislation like the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. These laws enable it to survey all private communications and online activity, carry out bulk collection and storage of data, hack private devices, detain and interrogate at whim and demand CMP [closed material procedures] in court, preventing evidence and information from being disclosed in the interest of national security.
“If the proposals to reform or rewrite the OSA extend the overall dragnet nature of the act, increase the penalty limit and disregard a public interest defence, it will exacerbate the concentration of power in the hands of the government and deter or even prevent whistleblowers from revealing government lies and abuse of power.”
Gun was charged under the OSA in 2003, but the prosecution was dropped when it came to court the following year amid speculation that there would have been a political outcry.
Referring to the request in 2003 from the US National Security Agency to bug the offices of countries on the UN security council before the vote on invading Iraq, Gun said: “I was enraged by the subterfuge and potential blackmail they wanted us to carry out. I went public and it was published in the Observer.”
Commenting on the Law Commission proposals, the the Liberal Democrat peer and civil liberties campaigner Paul Strasburger said:“This attempt to suppress dissent and prevent the public knowing the truth is typical of Mrs May’s time at the home office. She has carried the same authoritarian approach into Brexit by doing everything she can to limit debate and keep voters in the dark.
“These proposals might be appropriate for a banana-republic dictatorship. They are completely out of the question in our democracy which depends on brave whistleblowers and a free press to hold the government to account when they let us down through incompetence or corruption.
“Liberal Democrats will strongly resist these extremely dangerous proposals.”
Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said: “It’s disturbing that the Law Commission considers a single meeting adequate consultation to inform such drastic and dangerous proposals. We don’t – and we will be submitting a thorough response to the public consultation.
“These oppressive plans have no place in a democracy. They would skew the balance even further in favour of state secrecy, irrespective of potentially profound public interest. By increasing the prospect of prosecutions for revelations that are merely embarrassing or inconvenient, they would silence whistle-blowers and gag our press.
“This is the latest hypocritical move from a government intent on operating in the shadows while monitoring every move the rest of us make. When the agencies’ illegal mass surveillance was exposed by Snowden’s courageous actions, this government responded with the eye-wateringly authoritarian investigatory powers act. That law makes it illegal to disclose even the mere existence of warrants to intercept people’s communications, meaning those who are unlawfully spied on, including journalists, will never know about it – unless whistle-blowers come forward.”
The National Union of Journalists said it would robustly defend the rights of its members. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public’s right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission’s consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.”
She said: “It was the present prime minister Theresa May who was the ‘Big Sister’ and original architect of the snoopers’ charter. We need to protect the public from a government which seems intent on threatening journalists from finding information the government finds inconvenient to be exposed. Democracy is under attack when a government does all it can to do its business in secret.”
We now know more about the shameful behaviour that led to the Iraq war. But with my experience at GCHQ, I could have helped the inquiry
Following the damning Chilcot report, much will be said about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But one thing will be missing: the information I leaked in the runup to the war. It won’t get an airing because I was never questioned or asked to participate in the Chilcot inquiry.
The Iraq inquiry delivered a comprehensively damning verdict on Tony Blair and the decision to join the US-led invasion, but some questions remain
Back in early 2003, Tony Blair was keen to secure UN backing for a resolution that would authorise the use of force against Iraq. I was a linguist and analyst at GCHQ when, on 31 Jan 2003, I, along with dozens of others in GCHQ, received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN security council (UNSC) members”, and that it wanted “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”.
In other words, the US planned to use intercepted communications of the security council delegates. The focus of the “surge” was principally directed at the six swing nations then on the UNSC: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan. The Chilcot report has eliminated any doubt that the goal of the war was regime change by military means. But that is what many people already suspected in 2003.
I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story: “US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war”, I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. I pleaded not guilty and, assisted by Liberty and Ben Emmerson QC, offered a defence of necessity – in other words, a breach of the law in order to prevent imminent loss of human life. This defence had not and, to my knowledge, has still not, been tested in a court of law.
I believed that on receiving the email, UK parliamentary members might question the urgency and motives of the war hawks, and demand further deliberations and scrutiny. I thought it might delay or perhaps even halt the march towards a war that would devastate Iraqi lives and infrastructure already crushed by a decade of unrelenting sanctions. A war that would send UK and US service men and women into harm’s way, leaving hundreds of them dead, disfigured and traumatised. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It couldn’t, for now we know via Chilcot that Blair promised George W Bush he would be “with him, whatever”.
It took eight months before the Crown Prosecution Service announced I would be charged. It had a change of heart two and a half months later, after my legal team demanded to see all the legal advice to Blair in the runup to the war. I left the Old Bailey with a huge weight gone from my shoulders. It was a day I will never forget.
Chilcot’s report does not apportion blame. But it does provide ample evidence of what many of us knew all along: that this was an illegal war, that military intervention was by no means a last resort, that all avenues were not exhausted and that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the UK. Furthermore, the post-invasion plan for Iraq looked like it had been scribbled on the back of a beer mat. Blair was warned by the intelligence services that the threat levels to the UK would increase, that Iraqi weapons would fall into the hands of al-Qaida. The consequences of his lack of concern about these things can be felt to this day.
We know a lot more now than we knew before, but what about the email I leaked? Who did the NSA talk to in the UK to OK it? Did it talk to anyone? How did an NSA official feel bold enough to write to UK civil servants anticipating their cooperation in an attempt to undermine the UN’s diplomatic processes, in a secret effort to garner information to secure “results favourable to US goals”? How far did the surveillance operation proceed? Whose communications did they intercept and record? What, if anything did they discover and did they use any information they may have gathered? Was this email sent to other organisation or agencies besides GCHQ? It seems reasonable to ask why this crucial information was not included in the Chilcot inquiry?
It was a huge relief when the CPS dropped its charges. But I had admitted the leak. Why did it decline to offer evidence? The catastrophe of the Iraq invasion and occupation is painfully evident today. Terrorism and risk has spread across the globe as many said it would. So much for “keeping us safe” and protecting our freedoms.
Chilcot has shone a light on what happened, but it is clear there are still bits of the puzzle that are missing. Now that we know better, will we do better?
(Katharine Gun is a former mandarin specialist at GCHQ and whistleblower. She leaked an email about US plans to spy on the UN, and was charged under the Official Secrets Act. She is the recipient of the 2003 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. Original op-ed at The Guardian.)
While many are calling the just-released British Iraq Inquiry — the so-called Chilcot Report — a “damning indictment” of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and others who led the way to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the report contains stark gaps.
Particularly glaring is that there is no mention of Katharine Gun in the 2.6 million-word report. She exposed U.S. and British spying against United Nations Security Council members prior to the invasion.
While President George W. Bush was claiming during the buildup to the invasion that “we are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq” — in fact, the U.S. government was going to great lengths to ensure war.
Shortly before the invasion, as the UN was considering a second resolution authorizing war, Katharine Gun, who worked at the Government Communications Headquarters — the British equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency — exposed a damning NSA memo.
The memo talked of “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council” to get an “edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals.”
Her exposure of the effort helped scuttle efforts for a UN resolution authorizing war. The U.S. and Britain proceeded with the “shock and awe” bombing campaign and invasion without such approval.
Katharine Gun faced years in prison for exposing the document, but after she mounted a legal defense that demanded to see legal advice Blair had received regarding the invasion of Iraq, the charges against her were dropped.
A piece by Katharine Gun is set to appear tomorrow in the British Guardian.
KATHARINE GUN, kthgun[at]yahoo.co.uk
For background see: “Katharine Gun’s Risky Truth-telling,” by Sam Husseini (from 2014) and “For Telling the Truth,” by Norman Solomon (from 2003). Also see: accuracy.org/gun.
The Institute for Public Accuracy issued several news releases prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq exposing false U.S. government claims, including: “U.S. Credibility Problems,” and “White House Claims: A Pattern of Deceit.”
WikiLeaks notes: “Cable reveals #Chilcot report fixed to ‘protect U.S. interests.’”
(Institute for Public Accuracy at: http://www.accuracy.org/release/chilcot-report-avoids-smoking-gun/)