Katharine Gun

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Katharine Gun
Katharine Teresa Harwood

1974 (age 49–50)
Alma materSt Mary's College, University of Durham
OrganizationGovernment Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
Known forwhistle blowing

Katharine Teresa Gun (née Harwood;[1] born 1974) is a British linguist who worked as a translator for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).[2] In 2003, she leaked top-secret information to The Observer concerning a request by the United States for compromising intelligence on diplomats from member states of the 2003 United Nations Security Council, who were due to vote on a second UN resolution on the prospective 2003 invasion of Iraq.[3]

Early life[edit]

Katherine moved to Taiwan in 1977 with her parents, Paul and Jan Harwood. Her father studied Chinese at Durham University and taught at Tunghai University in the city of Taichung, central Taiwan. She has a younger brother who was teaching in Taiwan.[4]

After spending her childhood in Taiwan, where she attended Morrison Academy until age 16, she returned to Britain to study for her A-levels at Moira House School, a girls' boarding school in Eastbourne. Her upbringing later led her to describe herself as a "third culture kid".[5] In 1993 she began studying Japanese and Chinese at Durham University.[5]

She graduated with an upper second-class degree, then took a job as an assistant English teacher with the JET program in Hiroshima, Japan.[6] She left teaching in 1999, and after some temporary jobs, finding it difficult to find work as a linguist, she applied to GCHQ in 2001 after reading a newspaper advertisement for the organisation.[6] She was previously unaware of GCHQ, and later said, "I didn't have much idea about what they did...I was going into it pretty much blind. Most people do."[5]


Her regular job at GCHQ in Cheltenham was to translate Mandarin Chinese into English.[5] While at work at GCHQ on 31 January 2003, she read an email from Frank Koza, the chief of staff at the "regional targets" division of the American signals intelligence agency, the National Security Agency.[7]

Koza's email requested aid in a secret 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.[8] The plan might have contravened Articles 22 and 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which regulates global diplomacy.

Outraged by the email, she took a printed copy of it home.[5] After contemplating the email over the weekend, she gave it to a friend who was acquainted with journalists.[5] In February, she travelled to London to take part in the demonstration against the impending invasion of Iraq.[5] She heard no more of the email, and had all but forgotten it until Sunday 2 March, when she saw it reproduced on the front page of The Observer newspaper.[5] Less than a week after the Observer story, on Wednesday 5 March, she confessed to her line manager at GCHQ that she had leaked the email, and was arrested. In a BBC interview with Jeremy Paxman, she said that she had not raised the matter with staff counsellors as she "honestly didn't think that would have had any practical effect".[9] She spent a night in police custody, and eight months later was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act.[5] While waiting to hear whether she would be charged, she embarked on a postgraduate degree course in global ethics at the University of Birmingham.[5]

Court case[edit]

On 13 November 2003, she was charged with an offence under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989.[10] Her case became a cause célèbre among activists, and many people stepped forward to urge the government to drop the case. Among them, from the US, were Reverend Jesse Jackson, Daniel Ellsberg (the US government official who leaked the Pentagon Papers), and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.[11]

The case came to court on 25 February 2004. Within half an hour, the case was dropped because the prosecution declined to offer evidence.[12] At the time, the reasons for the Attorney-General to drop the case were murky. The day before the trial, the defence team had asked the government for any records of legal advice about the lawfulness 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 was expected to argue that trying to stop an unlawful war of aggression outweighed her obligations under the Official Secrets Act. She was defended by Alex Bailin KC.[13] 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.[12] A government spokesman said that the decision to drop the case was made before the defence's demands were submitted.[12] The Guardian newspaper had reported plans to drop the case the previous week.[14] On the day of the court hearing, Gun said, "I'm just baffled in the 21st century [that] we as human beings are still dropping bombs on each other as a means to resolve issues."[12] In May 2019 The Guardian stated the case was dropped "when the prosecution realised that evidence would emerge ... that even British government lawyers believed the invasion was unlawful."[15]

In September 2019, Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said the case against Gun was not dropped to stop the Attorney General's advice on the legality of the Iraq War from being revealed. He said that a fair trial would not have been possible without the disclosure of information that would compromise national security. Gavin Hood, the director of Official Secrets, expressed scepticism about Macdonald's statement and called for the declassification of the official documents to which Macdonald referred.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Gun's husband, Yaşar Gün,[17][18] is a Turkish Kurd.[19] As of 2020, Gun lives in Turkey and visits Britain.[20] After the charges against her were dropped in 2004, she found it difficult to find new employment. As of 2019, she had been living in Turkey for several years with her husband and their 11 year old daughter.[21][22]

Later life[edit]

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."[12]

Two years after her trial, Gun wrote an article titled "Iran: Time to Leak",[23] which asked whistleblowers to make public any information about plans for a potential war against Iran. She urged "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."[23]

In film[edit]

In January, 2019, the film Official Secrets, recounting Gun's actions in 2003, received its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, with Keira Knightley playing Gun.[24] Daniel Ellsberg praised the swiftness and importance of Gun taking action, saying it was in some ways more significant than his own whistleblowing on the Vietnam War.[25] In July 2019, in a lengthy interview on the US program Democracy Now!, Gun, Gavin Hood (the film's writer, director and producer), as well as Martin Bright and Ed Vulliamy (the journalists who broke the story of the leaked memo) discussed the events that the film describes.[26][27] Together with journalist Peter Beaumont, Gun advised and consulted over the years it took to make the film and they are "very happy with the result.”[20][22]

Further reading[edit]

  • Marcia Mitchell; Thomas Mitchell (2008). The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion. Sausalito, CA: Polipoint Press. ISBN 978-0981576916. (additional ISBN 000835569X ISBN 9780008355692 ISBN 9780008348564 ISBN 0008348561)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gunkel, Christoph (28 October 2019). "Whistleblowerin Katharine Gun - "Ich fürchtete, sie könnten meine Gedanken lesen"". Spiegel Online (in German). Archived from the original on 17 November 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  2. ^ "The Katharine Gun Case". accuracy.org. Institute for Public Accuracy. 25 February 2004. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  3. ^ "Ex-GCHQ officer 'preventing war'". BBC. 27 November 2003. Archived from the original on 17 May 2019. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  4. ^ "The US spymaster, the whistleblower, and the secret email she exposed". The Daily Telegraph. 26 February 2004. Archived from the original on 22 March 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Burkeman, Oliver; Norton-Taylor, Richard (26 February 2004). "The spy who wouldn't keep a secret". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 June 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Profile: Katherine Gun, Iraq war wistleblower". The Times. 25 February 2004. Archived from the original on 22 March 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  7. ^ Bright, Martin (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. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  8. ^ Koza, Frank (2 March 2003). "US plan to bug Security Council: the text". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 6 November 2019. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  9. ^ "Katharine Gun". BBC News. 26 February 2004. Archived from the original on 22 April 2020. Retrieved 25 January 2008.
  10. ^ "Ex-GCHQ woman charged over 'leak'". BBC News. 13 November 2003. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  11. ^ Patrick Radden Keefe (2006). Chatter : uncovering the echelon surveillance network and the secret world of global eavesdropping. Random House. pp. 30–36. ISBN 9780812968279. OCLC 74968795. Archived from the original on 31 May 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2020 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ a b c d e "GCHQ translator cleared over leak". BBC News. 26 February 2004. Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  13. ^ "Let's free the Official Secrets Act from its cold war freeze | Alex Bailin". the Guardian. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  14. ^ Bright, Martin (22 February 2004). "GCHQ mother: My girl is not a traitor". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 June 2018. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  15. ^ Norton-Taylor, Richard (4 May 2019). "Leaking or briefing? Inside the world of ministers' secrets". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 6 May 2019. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  16. ^ Townsend, Mark (1 September 2019). "Iraq war whistleblower's trial 'was halted due to national security threat'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 October 2019. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  17. ^ David Dayen (13 September 2019). "Official Secrets: A Conversation With Director Gavin Hood". American Prospect. Archived from the original on 15 January 2021. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  18. ^ Mark Kermode (20 October 2019). "Official Secrets review – Keira Knightley excels in Iraq war whistleblower drama". The Observer. Archived from the original on 7 December 2019. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  19. ^ "15 Years Later: How U.K. Whistleblower Katharine Gun Risked Everything to Leak a Damning Iraq War Memo". Democracy Now!. 19 July 2019. Archived from the original on 7 December 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  20. ^ a b Kazanci, Handan (2 January 2020). "Film on British whistleblower's life to hit Turkish theaters". Anadolu Agency. Archived from the original on 2 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  21. ^ Danny Marques Marcalo. "Whistleblowerin Katharine Gun - "Ich würde es wieder tun"". Deutschlandfunk.de. Archived from the original on 18 February 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  22. ^ a b Is Official Secrets Based on a True Story?, TheCinemaholic, Dhruv Trivedi, September 27, 2021. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  23. ^ a b Gun, Katharine (20 March 2006). "Iran: Time To Leak". TomPaine.com. Archived from the original on 24 April 2006.
  24. ^ Patten, Dominic (28 November 2018). "Sundance 2019: Premieres Include Harvey Weinstein Docu, Mindy Kaling, Dr. Ruth, UK Spies, Miles Davis & Ted Bundy". Deadline.com. Archived from the original on 21 March 2019. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  25. ^ Solomon, Norman; Sari, Huseyin; Oh, Michael; Robertson, Michael (24 February 2018). Daniel Ellsberg speaking about Katharine Gun. RootsAction.org and ExposeFacts. Archived from the original on 11 February 2021 – via Vimeo.
  26. ^ In 2003, This U.K. Whistleblower Almost Stopped the Iraq Invasion. A New Film Tells Her Story Archived 20 July 2019 at the Wayback Machine 19 July 2019 www.democracynow.org, accessed 14 March 2020
  27. ^ 15 Years Later: How U.K. Whistleblower Katharine Gun Risked Everything to Leak a Damning Iraq War Memo Archived 7 December 2020 at the Wayback Machine 19 July 2019 www.democracynow.org, accessed 14 March 2020