Katharine Gun

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Person.png Katharine Gun   SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Katherine Gun in 2003
Alma materDurham University
Exposed • GCHQ/Illegal spying
• NSA/Illegal spying
A Chinese translator who exposed illegal efforts by the GCHQ to illegally bug the UN offices of 6 nations in an effort to start an illegal war. Considered a hero by many.

Katharine Gun is a former employee of GCHQ, a UK intelligence agency. In 2003 she leaked top-secret information to the press concerning illegal spying by the US and UK in their push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The UK government prosecuted her but the case was dismissed as they decided not to offer evidence against her.


Gun's job at GCHQ in Cheltenham was to translate Mandarin Chinese into English.[1]

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 National Security Agency.[2]

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. The plan was illegal under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Gun was outraged by the email, and took a printed copy of it home with her. After contemplating the email over the weekend, Gun gave the email to a friend who was acquainted with journalists.

Legal action

"The most important and courageous leak"

On 13 November 2003, Gun was charged with an offence under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989. Many people stepped forward to urge the UK government to drop the case, including, Daniel Ellsberg 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.

Case collapses

The case came to court on 25 February 2004. Within half an hour, the case was dropped because the prosecution declined to offer evidence.

"I have no regrets and I would do it again" she said.

Courageous leak

Democracy Now! speaks with a British whistleblower whose attempts to expose lies about the Iraq invasion was called "the most important and courageous leak" in history by acclaimed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Her name is Katharine Gun.[3]

"Official Secrets"

In June 2019, the film "Official Secrets" was released.

In 2003, as politicians in Britain and the US angle to invade Iraq, GCHQ translator Katharine Gun leaks a classified e-mail that urges spying on members of the UN Security Council to force through the resolution to go to war. Charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989, and facing imprisonment, Katharine and her lawyers set out to defend her actions. With her life, liberty and marriage threatened, she must stand up for what she believes in…

Directed by: Gavin Hood

Produced by: Ged Doherty, Elizabeth Fowler, Melissa Shiyu Zuo

Starring: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes[4]


Documents by Katharine Gun

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)Description
Document:Britain’s secret statearticle5 March 2020"National security"
Official Secrets Act 1989
Britain’s secret state and the need for whistle-blowing explained by 2003 Iraq War whistleblower Katherine Gun
Document:Ex-Intelligence Officers, Others See Plusses in WikiLeaks Disclosuresstatement7 December 2010WikileaksA statement of support for Wikileaks. "The big question is not whether Americans can 'handle the truth.' We believe they can..."


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:The Woman who nearly Stopped the Wararticle19 March 2008Martin BrightIn January 2003 Katharine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, learned something so outrageous that she sacrificed her career to tell the truth. Martin Bright on a brave deed that should not be forgotten.
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