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Katharine Teresa Gun (born Katharine Teresa Harwood in 1974) is a former British translator for 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.
Gun, who was raised in Taiwan, worked as a Mandarin Chinese-to-English translator for GCHQ. On 31 January 2003, she received an e-mail from a USA National Security Agency official named Frank Koza. This 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 admitted leaking the email to The Observer but said she did it "with a clear conscience", hoping to prevent the war. "I have no regrets and I would do it again", she said. 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." After her revelation, GCHQ terminated her employment.
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.) 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.
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 U.S. 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.