Katharine Gun

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Katharine Teresa Gun (née Harwood, born 1974) is a British[1] former translator for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency. In 2003, she became publicly known for leaking top-secret information to the press concerning illegal activities by the United States of America in their push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Some of these activities include the US National Security Agency's eavesdropping operation on countries tasked with passing a second United Nations resolution on the invasion of Iraq.[2]

Early life

Gun was born in Taiwan, to British parents, her upbringing later led her to describe herself as a "third culture kid".[3] After spending her childhood in Taiwan, Gun studied Japanese and Chinese at Durham University in England.[3] Finding it difficult to find work as a linguist, Gun applied to GCHQ after reading a newspaper advertisement for the organisation. Gun had previously been unaware of GCHQ, later saying that "I didn't have much idea about what they did...I was going into it pretty much blind. Most people do."[3]

The leak

Gun's regular job at GCHQ in Cheltenham was to translate Mandarin Chinese into English.[3] While at work at GCHQ on 31 January 2003, Gun read an email from Frank Koza, the chief of staff at the "regional targets" division of the American intelligence agency, the National Security Agency.[4]

Koza's email requested aid in a secret and illegal 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 determine whether the UN approved the invasion of Iraq. The plan allegedly violated the Vienna Conventions, which regulate global diplomacy.

Gun was outraged by the email, and took a printed copy of it home with her.[3] After contemplating the email over the weekend, Gun gave the email to a friend who was acquainted with journalists.[3] Gun would hear no more of the email until Sunday 2 March, when she saw the email reproduced on the front page of The Observer newspaper.[3] Less than a week after the Observer story, on Wednesday 5 March, Gun had confessed to her line manager at GCHQ that she had leaked the email, and was arrested. In a BBC interview with Jeremy Paxman, she admitted that she had not raised the matter with staff counsellors as she "honestly didn't think that would have had any practical effect."[5] Gun spent a night in police custody and was subsequently charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act eight months later.[3] The case against Gun was dropped after the prosecution declined to offer any evidence. Gun later embarked on a postgraduate degree course in global ethics at Birmingham University.[3]


On 13 November 2003, Gun was charged with an offence under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989. Her case became a cause célèbre among activists, and many people stepped forward to urge the government to drop the case. Among them were the 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". Gun planned to plead "not guilty", saying in her defence that she acted to prevent imminent loss of life in a war she considered illegal.

The case came to court on 25 February 2004. Within half an hour, the case was dropped because the prosecution declined to offer evidence. The reasons for the prosecution dropping the case are unclear. The day before the trial, Gun's defence team had asked the government for any records of advice about the legality of the war that it had received during the run-up to the war. A full trial might have exposed any such documents to public scrutiny as the defence were expected to argue that trying to stop an illegal act (that of an illegal war of aggression) trumped Gun's obligations under the Official Secrets Act 1989. Speculation was rife in the media that the prosecution service had bowed to political pressure to drop the case so that any such documents would remain secret. However, a Government spokesman said that the decision to drop the case had been made before the defence's demands had been submitted. (The Guardian newspaper had reported plans to drop the case the previous week.[citation needed]) On the day of the court case, Gun was quoted as saying:

I'm just baffled that in the 21st century we as human beings are still dropping bombs on each other as a means to resolve issues.

Later life

Gun received the Sam Adams Award for 2003 and was supported in her case by the UK human rights pressure group Liberty and in the US by the Institute for Public Accuracy. Following the dropping of the case, Liberty commented:

One wonders whether disclosure in this criminal trial might have been a little too embarrassing.

Two years after her trial, Katharine Gun wrote an article "Iran: Time To Leak" (20 March 2006) which asks whistleblowers to make public information about plans for a potential war against Iran. She states:

I urge those in a position to do so to disclose information which relates to this planned aggression; legal advice, meetings between the White House and other intelligence agencies, assessments of Iran's threat level (or better yet, evidence that assessments have been altered), troop deployments and army notifications. Don't let "the intelligence and the facts be fixed around the policy" this time.

See also


  1. IPA's editor (25 February 2004). "The Katharine Gun Case". accuracy.org. Institute for Public Accuracy. Retrieved 9 July 2013. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Ex-GCHQ officer 'preventing war'". BBC. 27 November 2003. Retrieved 28 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Oliver Burkeman and Richard Norton-Taylor (26 February 2004). "The spy who wouldn't keep a secret". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Martin Bright (3 March 2013). "Katharine Gun: Ten years on what happened to the woman who revealed dirty tricks on the UN Iraq war vote?". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Katharine Gun". BBC News. 26 February 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links