Theater of Cruelty

"I failed to stop the Iraq war"

THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL / Katharine Gun leaked information about the NSA's request to the British intelligence service GCHQ to spy on members of the UN Security Council in connection with the planned invasion of Iraq.


One January day in 2003, an e-mail came to linguist Katharine Gun (b. 1974) from the United Kingdom Signal Intelligence Agency (GCHQ) in Cheltenham. She was a translator and expert in Mandarin Chinese. The text was a request from NSA in the United States to the British for help in spying on members of the UN Security Council. What the sheet did on her desk, she does not know to this day. Maybe it was from someone who hoped that Katharine would pass on the information?

As a host country for the UN, the United States was required by law not to monitor Security Council members. The British, on the other hand, did not have such a restriction. In retrospect, the twin newspapers The Observer / The Guardian have stated that the British help would ensure a smooth process for the Security Council to legalize the invasion of Iraq in a new vote as required by law.

"I do not collect information so that the government can lie to the British people."

Gun took home a copy of the text to think about the contents over the weekend. After a few hours, she came to the conclusion that she could not be part of an illegal operation aimed at facilitating a new war in the Middle East and Africa over the last decade. She contacted a journalist in the weekend newspaper The Observer and did something that the whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg later characterized as unique in whistleblower history: She leaked a tragedy that had not yet taken place.

After The Observer leaked her entire story on the front page on March 2, 2003, she emerged as the whistleblower behind the leak to save her colleagues from being suspected.

Was fired and arrested

The reactions from the British authorities were not absent. She was arrested. The public prosecutor filed a lawsuit against her, and the intelligence service dismissed her with immediate effect. They tried to deport her husband, who is Turkish. However, it soon became clear that they did not dare to proceed with the accusations against her without risking blaming the entire foreign service – which it later turned out had followed the espionage call about the Security Council.

The film about her experiences was given the title Official Secrets (2019). There, Keira Knightley stars as the whistleblower Katharine Gun. The film recreates an authentic scene from an interrogation: "How could you do this?" snarls the interrogator, "you work for the British government!"

"No, I do not," Gun replies, "I work for the British people. I do not collect information so that the government can lie to the people. "

Katharine Gun, at Birkbeck at London University March 1, 2018 flanked by Jesselyn Raddack and Thomas Drake,
known whistleblowers and proponents of whistleblowers. (Photo: John Y. Jones)

The press conference

On March 1, 2018, I sat down with Katharine Gun's parents at a very emotional press conference in a lecture hall at Birkbeck at London University to mark the tenth anniversary of the event.

"I did not make it," Katharine confessed at the press conference. "I failed to stop the invasion." As early as March 19, the bombs began to rain on Baghdad. The United States' illegal cooperation with Britain never led to a Security Council yes to invasion. The great powers emerged supreme in contempt for the world organization.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell openly lied to the UN General Assembly, and only the most US loyalists were convinced of the credibility of his evidence. The tragic result with hundreds of thousands of victims is well known. The disorders are still ongoing. But Gun's revelation undoubtedly made it difficult for the United States to request an additional Security Council vote to legalize the bombing and invasion. The warning worked, commentators said.

No regrets

Today, Katharine Gun lives on a farm in Turkey with her husband and children and translates to and from Mandarin – online. The persecution of whistleblowers in the United Kingdom is not as grotesque as that carried out by the United States, which can be seen in the treatment of Julian Assange. If not welcome, Gun at least does not feel threatened when she visits her home country.

She worked as a translator in Hiroshima as a young woman. And the horrors Gun witnessed there, and later also in Iraq in 2001, occupied her strongly, even though she has not perceived herself as a peace activist. She "just did what she had to do," she says.

In the days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she took the two-hour train from Cheltenham to London to demonstrate against the war. That same year, she received the Sam Adams Award for the alert and ended up in the same company as personalities such as Jesselyn Radack, Karen Kwiatkowski, Edward Snowden, Seymour Hersh and John Kiriakou.

That her selfless war resistance put an end to a well-paid translation career at Cheltenham has not made her regret what she did: "I did mine, but it was not good enough," she says. "I could not stop the war. But I can not believe that in 2018 bombs will still be dropped from the air to resolve international conflicts ", she said at the press conference.

This was also Alfred Nobel pondered over more than a hundred years earlier. Katharine Gun is not a bad name in the collection of peace activists who pay tribute to him.

The picture above is from the movie about Gun, Official Secrets, available on Viaplay, YouTube and Google Play.

John Y. Jones
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES

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