10.15.2019

Iraq War Whistle Blower Katharine Gun Shares Her Story

In 2003, Katharine Gun exposed a plot by U.S. security officials to spy on United Nations members as they ramped up pressure to secure a resolution to go to war with Iraq, and she leaked the classified memo to The Observer newspaper. Now her story has been adapted into the film “Official Secrets” starring Keira Knightley. Gun sits down with Christiane to share her story.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But basically, you tried to blow the whistle on what you thought was a false intelligence directive to try to cook up a reason for the Iraq war. You wanted to stop the Iraq war. You didn’t. But nonetheless, you wanted to do that. How scary was it for you to go ahead and do what you did?

KATHARINE GUN, WHISTLEBLOWER: It’s — you know, it’s very hard to explain the point of view I had or the mental state I was in at the time. All I could was this looming war. It seemed inevitable. It was as it happened. But it seemed inevitable. It seemed like it was, you know, the wagons were rolling fast and furious towards this awful situation and I was kind of in tunnel vision. I was sort of — I felt like I was blinkered as a horse. I couldn’t see beyond this war and all I wanted to do is just to — put a spoke in the wheel of this wagon.

AMANPOUR: And that spoke was this memo that had —

GUN: Yes.

AMANPOUR: — been leaked to you and then you leaked it to the press, not leaked but delivered to you —

GUN: Yes.

AMANPOUR: — by somebody within your organization.

GUN: Well, no, I was a recipient alongside about a hundred other recipients of that e-mail.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, what did it say and what was your decision-making process?

GUN: Well, simply the e-mail was from the NSA, which is the U.S. equivalent of GCHQ, and it was asking for our assistance, GCHQ’s assistance, in collecting information from six of the  swing — U.S. Security Council swing nations. So, that was Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan. And those six swing nations, their delegates, they wanted —

AMANPOUR: When you say swing nations, they were once at that the U.S. and the U.K. were trying to get on side —

GUN: Right.

AMANPOUR: — so you could get a U.N. resolution for the war, correct?

GUN: That’s right. Yes. They were going use information gathered from the intelligence to either bribe or blackmail them into voting for this war.

AMANPOUR: And in the film, your character played by Keira Knightley basically says — I mean, you say you were proud of working in GCHQ until you saw this memo. And you said — you say that, you know, I didn’t join in order to fix a vote in the U.N. to convince the world to go to a war — to go to war. Here is a clip of you being interrogated by the police detective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you work for the British government?

KNIGHTLEY: No, not really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No?

KNIGHTLEY: Governments change. I work for the British people. I gather intelligence so that the government can protect the British people. I do not gather intelligence so that the government can lie to the British people.

About This Episode EXPAND

Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, discusses the limits of executive power with Christiane Amanpour. Katharine Gun explains how she exposed a plot by U.S. security officials to spy on United Nations members in 2003. Former lead guitarist of The Band Robbie Robertson takes Walter Isaacson behind the scenes of his legendary rock career.

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