A former British intelligence analyst-turned whistleblower has warned of increasing surveillance powers, 15 years after she exposed a spy plot ahead of the Iraq war.
Katharine Gun, who revealed a US “dirty tricks” campaign to justify invading Iraq, said on Thursday that the government wanted to increase repressive measures against whistleblowing.
“The government has increasing powers,” she said referring to the Investigatory Powers Act, known as “snooper’s charter”. Made law in 2016, the Act makes it easier for cops and spies to hack phones or emails.
Gun said, “The Official Secrets Act was already the most draconian secrecy law in the world and there’s this whole criminalisation of whistleblowing and journalism.
“Once governments gain that level of power they don’t relinquish it. They just build and build on it.”
Gun was speaking on a panel of whistleblowers to mark 15 years since her revelations were published in the Observer newspaper. It was organised by ExposeFacts and RootsAction.org.
The panel described the methods states use to facilitate and cover up their crimes—and the lengths they go to to punish those who expose them.
As a translator for British communications monitor GCHQ, Gun received a memo from US NSA spy agency describing plans to grease the wheels for war.
The US and Britain wanted the United Nations (UN) to back invasion and planned to step up spying on countries that could be persuaded to support them. The memo backed up the claim—later supported by evidence submitted to the Chilcot Inquiry—that this so-called UN route was a pathway to invasion.
Gun said she knew that “Iraq was not a threat”. She added that it had been “devastated by decades of war, decades of sanctions” and was “really no threat whatsoever.”
She said, “When I saw this email I thought, this is going to be a disaster. The public need to know what‘s going on.
“Surely if the public, if the politicians, if journalists see this email they will want to know why are the US and the UK so desperate to get legal authorisation for this pre-emptive attack on Iraq.”
Another panellist Thomas Drake, who was a senior NSA executive at the time, described how US spooks fabricated intelligence to justify the war.
“From the autumn of 2002 the war was clearly going to happen anyway. It did not matter what stood in the way.
“I became aware of the intelligence that was being put forward to justify the invasion. I asked our senior Arab linguist, what intelligence do we really have?
“He said, everything that was given was an utter fraud. There was no intelligence to justify an invasion or any form of conflict with Iraq.”
He added, “The intelligence behind the pre-emptive invasion was a complete and utter fraud. It was meant to serve as that strawman to justify the invasion.”
Drake explained that one role of the intelligence services is to produce “propaganda”.
“They have to generate a whole pack of lies to justify what they do,” he said. “What is most disturbing today is that to expose the wrongdoing and criminality of people in power is a criminal act in itself,” he added.
“You’re holding up a mirror—and they want to break the mirror and the person holding up the mirror.”
But Gun said it was still possible to challenge the government and state institutions—through leaks and through protest.
Her leak came amid the mass Stop the War movement that had swept Britain. She joined the massive demonstration in London on 15 February 2003—shortly after she leaked the documents but before they story was published.
“At the time of the march I didn’t know what had happened to the leak. I was in limbo. But going on that march, I thought the people have spoken out.
“It was so historic. It was an incredible feeling being squashed in that crowd of people. I thought Tony Blair must listen to us. Nobody can ignore this.”
She added, “Tony Blair was in fear. They really were very worried. If that level of protest had been maintained for several more days that may have had an effect.”