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I had no choice, says GCHQ whistleblower

Martin Bright
Sunday February 29, 2004
The Observer

The GCHQ whistleblower who walked free from court last week after the Government dropped secrecy charges against her says Tony Blair lost all moral credibility when he went to war in Iraq without the backing of the United Nations.

Speaking in her first major interview since the collapse of the trial, Katharine Gun told The Observer she now believes that President Bush and Blair always intended to go to war.

The 29-year-old Mandarin-language expert, speaking at a secret location, said the email she leaked last February showed that Britain and the United States were prepared to go to any lengths, including bribery and blackmail, to get the United Nations Security Council to authorise war with Iraq at the beginning of last year.

The Observer first broke the story of the joint British-American spying operation on security council members last March, three weeks before the outbreak of war in Iraq.

Gun told The Observer she felt she had no choice but to act when she saw the email from Frank Koza, head of regional targets at the National Security Agency, asking GCHQ to cooperate in spying on security council delegations from Chile, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola.

'I didn't think there was anything else I could do. I did what I thought was appropriate. But looking back on it now... it seems pretty evident that war was the ultimate goal. There was pretty much nothing anyone could do to stop it.'

Finally looking relaxed after the media frenzy that surrounded her unprecedented acquittal, Gun said she remained horrified by the actions of the British and American governments. 'They wanted [to get a second UN resolution] to maintain as much international credibility as possible. We did go ahead without a UN resolution and therefore they lost a lot of credibility. Of course, they would try and make it look as if there was a united front. But they were trying to achieve that by bribing and blackmailing and twisting people's arms.'

She found deeply offensive the flippant comment contained in the Koza email that it would not be necessary to spy on Britain or the United States. 'That really got my goat,' she said.

Gun is now working on an MSc in Global Ethics at Birmingham University and is considering a career in education. She said there had been many dark moments in the year she had spent waiting for her case to come to court. She said she spent her time drinking cups of coffee, watching daytime TV and keeping in touch with her supporters on the internet.

'I'm a bit ashamed I didn't utilise my time to learn another language,' she added.

Gun already has considerable language skills. She was taken to Taiwan by her parents at the age of three and therefore speaks fluent Mandarin. She also speaks Japanese and spent a year after university teaching in Japan. Her husband is of Turkish origin, so she has a smattering of Turkish.

As a child, all her friends were Taiwanese and she sometimes wished she had Chinese features. 'People automatically assume it was strange, but that's where I was brought up, so it was normal for me. I got a lot of attention, but as I got older I became a lot less inclined to want that attention. I was a blondie and obviously there were not many of them around.'

At the age of 16 she moved back to England to study for her A levels at Moira House, a boarding school in Eastbourne, where she said she gravitated to the foreign girls. She studied Mandarin and Japanese at Durham University, her parents' alma mater, and went to work at GCHQ three years ago.

Gun enjoyed her work at GCHQ and it helped keep up her language skills, but it was never her intention to make a career as an intelligence officer. 'There was this saying in GCHQ that, if you didn't leave after five years, you stay there for life. It was always my intention to leave before five years.'

The translator said she had been deeply moved by the support from civil rights campaigners Liberty in the UK and the Institute for Public Accuracy in the United States. Actors Sean Penn and Martin Sheen, black activist Jesse Jackson and feminist Gloria Steinem called on the British Government to drop the case. The campaign was led by US whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, which revealed secret details of the American presence in Vietnam. 'I still haven't met him, but I'd love to,' she said. 'I was just wondering if I'd ever get a visa to go to the US. Probably not.'