It's likely that most Americans have never heard of Katherine Gun. She is the former British secret service officer who leaked an email describing a plot orchestrated by the Bush and Blair administrations to force the hand of the United Nations in authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Gun was put on trial for leaking the email and the story garnered wide coverage in Europe. Unsurprisingly, in the hype that characterized the runup to the war here in the States, the story received little media play.
The larger story is being told for the first time in long form. PoliPoint Press has just released "The Spy Who Tried to Stop A War," Gun's story as written by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, the former a senior executive for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, the latter a former FBI special agent.
Off the Bus caught up with Gun on her recent trip to the U.S.
Off the Bus: How is the public and the traditional media responding to your story now as opposed to when you blew the whistle in 2003?
Katherine Gun: Well, I guess the response is much the same, actually. Everyone who reads about it in the mainstream media is just surprised about what was going on at the time. When my charges were dropped in 2004, almost 99.9 percent of people were supportive. I was on the "Diane Rehm Show" recently and many called in to say they supported me.
In your opinion why did the European media pay more attention to your story as opposed to the American media who did not? Does the European media function differently?
That's a good question. I'm not entirely sure myself. I attended a symposium at American University recently and one of the guests was The New Statesman's Martin Bright. Bright published the story on the leak in 2003. He said, in the U.S., the general assumption is there should be no secrets and information should be made public at all times. Whereas in the U.K., it's the opposite: the assumption is everything is secret. So when journalists get a top secret piece of information, they feel duty-bound to make it public in the U.K. Whereas, you suspect, in the U.S., if journalists get a top secret piece of information, the immediate reaction is, "Oh, well, there must be a reason why this is top secret. So we need to keep quiet about it."
The era of Tony Blair and George Bush has basically ended. What would you like to see happen: more transparency and accountability in government security operations? Charges brought against Blair and Bush for misleading their countries?
There are a lot of things I'd like to see. In the ideal world, transparency and accountability at all levels would be a good thing. But here in the U.S., you already have a Constitution. All of your public officials swear an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution. It seems to me that members of officialdom should be made to re-appraise their oath to the Constitution and see if what they do is in conflict with that. In many cases they are in conflict; they're breaking their oath. Of course it would also be good to see Blair, Bush and others held accountable for what we now know were blatant lies and deception. When the government starts beating the drums of war, the traditional media tends to bend over backward to support it. Just because the media says something, it's not necessarily the case. We need to do our own research and turn to alternative sources of media.
Much is being made now in the U.S. on the question of who is prepared to be commander in chief, who has the qualities to keep our nation safe, and so on... As someone who has worked in the intelligence field, who do you think could tackle intelligence issues better: Barack Obama or John McCain?
Obviously my personal preference is Obama and Biden. I think you need a new administration with new faces, people who are willing to look at diplomacy, who are pragmatic, people who see both sides of the coin, who are not dogmatic and can see the future is going to be difficult -- not just for the U.S. but the whole world, especially in relation to world's resources, the level of living we are accustomed to and whether it's sustainable for the future.
Given that key information related to major issues and policy decisions remains classified, how can voters best make decisions on the issues? In your view, how do we address that problem in a democracy, the "just trust us on this one" approach to governance?
Obviously there are hundreds of officials who have access to classified information. Intelligence is just the exact opposite of what the leadership is expressing. When it came to Iraq, I had no idea that I would receive that e-mail. I didn't have that many insights because I wasn't working in that field. I was working in China. So I did my own research. I bought books, such as Target Iraq by Normon Solomon, and I made an effort to educate myself about the issues, rather than accepting everything being said by Blair and Bush hook, line, and sinker. I do, I think you can educate yourself to make an informed decision.
In hindsight, how do you weigh Obama's vote against the war? What do you think was his motivation for doing so and why didn't more U.S. lawmakers stand against it as they did in the U.K.?
Well, yeah, surprisingly, there weren't that many in the Parliament who supported the war. [ Parliament] was told by Blair that the legality of the war would hold; that it was justified and former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith provided the backup with a one-page document.
Looking at the document now, it surprises me the members of Parliament who did read it did not have the intelligence to come up with their own assessments. With regard to the U.S., it's pretty much the same. I suspect that Congress was probably in the dark and took the word of secretary of state Colin Powell, vice-president Dick Cheney, and president Bush and believed the hype that was going on. The traditional media was at fault because there were a lot of alternative voices speaking out and saying that this just wasn't true. Those voices of course just never got the coverage that the Bush administration was getting.
I doubt very much whether [Obama] knew things other people didn't know. He was no doubt looking at the same material other members of Congress were looking at. I suspect Obama is extremely intelligent and I also suspect he will utilize the intelligence he receives and decide when war is justified or not. Saddam did not directly threaten the U.K. or the U.S., so a preemptive attack was contrary to the U.N. Geneva Conventions. There was also no genocide going on at that time and U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter said that the inspections team had dismantled 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The weapons they did have were beyond use.