Taking Back Our Stolen History
Katharine Gun Arrested After Exposing US / UK Illegal Spying on UN Diplomats Opposed to Iraq War
Katharine Gun Arrested After Exposing US / UK Illegal Spying on UN Diplomats Opposed to Iraq War

Katharine Gun Arrested After Exposing US / UK Illegal Spying on UN Diplomats Opposed to Iraq War

In 2003 Katharine Gun told the world about a secret plan by the United States and British governments to spy on United Nations diplomats reluctant to support America’s decision to invade Iraq.

From Wikipedia:

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.[5]

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.[6] The plan allegedly violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which regulates 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 heard no more of the email until Sunday 2 March, when she saw it 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 said that she had not raised the matter with staff counsellors as she “honestly didn’t think that would have had any practical effect.”[7] Gun spent a night in police custody, and eight months later was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act;[3] the case 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]

Court case

On 13 November 2003, Gun was charged with an offence under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989.[8] Her case became a cause célèbre among activists, and many people stepped forward to urge the government to drop the case. Among them were Reverend Jesse JacksonDaniel 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.[9] 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.[9] However, a Government spokesman said that the decision to drop the case had been made before the defence’s demands had been submitted.[9] The Guardian newspaper had reported plans to drop the case the previous week.[10] On the day of the court case, Gun said “I’m just baffled in the 21st century we as human beings are still dropping bombs on each other as a means to resolve issues.”[9] In 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.”[11]

See Wikipedia page  

The story of Gun, who was hailed for her courage and only narrowly avoided legal consequences for the decision to speak out, is rightly celebrated in the recent movie Official Secretsstarring Keira Knightley. But, although more than 15 years have passed, little has changed for people like her. Government, intelligence, and national-security whistleblowers remain largely unsupported by law, and sometimes vulnerable to prosecution simply for speaking up. We see this clearly in the current Ukraine whistleblower case.

Katharine Gun’s revelations were profound. Her disclosures informed US and UK citizens that their governments had deceived them to pursue an illegal war in Iraq — a war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and thousands of coalition troops.

Her impact was significant: a formal investigation commissioned by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the resignation of the UK attorney general’s legal adviser and two senior Labour MPs, all of whom departed in protest of the activities she revealed.

But no whistleblower protection laws helped Gun during this time. She was charged on November 13, 2003, with breaking the Official Secrets Act. Although the case against her was dropped a year later for reasons that remain unclear, she was left to struggle largely on her own, with only a little support from the media, the human rights group Liberty, and a handful of politicians.

But that was then, right? Surely things are changing for the better, with recent calls from across the Western world to revise whistleblower protection laws.

However, isolating government and national-security whistleblowers, leaving them legally exposed, and in some cases prosecuting them still seems to be a global phenomenon. In the US, whistleblowing protections for intelligence staff are weak and largely ineffective.

A number of high-profile intelligence and national-security whistleblowers have been punished for revealing systematic human rights violations conducted by the state, including Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, and John Kiriakou. Reality Winner remains in prison for leaking a half-page document about Russian attempts to gain information about the US election process.

It is with this in mind that Edward Snowden refuses to return to the US. There is little doubt he would be convicted under the Espionage Act, which has been criticized for being unsuitable to whistleblower cases and for prohibiting a “public interest” defense.

It appears that state institutions in many places are happy to make laws to protect those who call out corruption, just so long as they don’t focus on the state’s own activities. In some instances, intelligence communities actively interfere with the passing of such whistleblower protections. According to Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, two senior House Intelligence Committee members threatened to kill the US Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in 2010 if national-security rights were included.

This is not simply a US issue. Five months ago government transparency advocates celebrated the approval of the new EU whistleblowing directive in Brussels, the widest set of protections for whistleblowers to have been introduced anywhere in the world. Countries have 18 months to  implement these new rules.

The changes are significant: They provide minimum standards for whistleblower protections across all member states. The EU directive is to be welcomed. But despite its sweeping measures to protect employees, one group remains out in the cold: government and national-security whistleblowers.

A 2019 whistleblowing-focused debate at the UK House of Commons called for improvements to the UK’s flawed Public Interest Disclosure Act. The debate and associated report focused on the importance of protecting National Health Service and financial services whistleblowers, but government whistleblowers were again ignored. There was a notable silence about the rights of staff in the very Westminster buildings where the debate was happening.

How should we respond? The best way to ensure healthy democratic institutions is to foster a culture of criticism from within, as enshrined in the US First Amendment and the idea of a free press. Edward Snowden has called for a transnational organization — similar in concept to the United Nations — for the protection of genuine whistleblowers who speak out against the state. Others argue for a reworking of the new EU Whistleblower Directive to include this group.

Katharine Gun sure could have used such protections. Her remarkable story shows us that real-life heroines deserve support. But vindication in the media is no substitute for the legal protections and real support that whistleblowers often lack after speaking out. These are absolutely essential if we are to avoid the kind of brutal and dramatic retaliation against whistleblowers depicted in Official Secrets. The openness of our democracies is at stake.

Source: https://whowhatwhy.org/2019/10/10/us-others-have-abysmal-record-of-protecting-whistleblowers/