In a Democracy Now! U.S. exclusive, two former intelligence officials from Britain and Denmark discuss why they blew the whistle on their governments in relation to the war in Iraq. Katharine Gun is a former British employee who leaked details of a secret U.S. spy operation on UN Security Council members in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Major Frank Grevil is a former military intelligence officer from Denmark who was fired for leaking classified reports that showed no weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. He currently faces charges for breaching the country’s official information law. [includes rush transcript]
In the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the British newspaper The Observer exposed a highly secret and aggressive surveillance operation directed at United Nations Security Council members by the U.S. ahead of the vote on Iraq.
The Observer obtained a top-secret NSA memorandum that outlined a surveillance operation involves intercepting home and office telephone calls and emails of UN delegates focusing “the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises.”
The target of the surveillance were the so-called “Middle Six” delegations, including Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan, who could swing a Security Council vote on Iraq.
In a story that has received almost no media coverage in the U.S., the former British intelligence employee who leaked the memo, Katharine Gun, faced up to two years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act before charges were lifted.
In her first appearance in the United States, Katharine Gunn joins us from Washington DC today where she is attending a gathering of whistleblowers organized by perhaps the country’s best whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg.
In 1971, Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The 7,000 page document exposed the true story behind U.S. decision making in the Vietnam War. He was charged with 12 felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years. The charges were dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him.
Also attending the whistleblowers gathering is Major Frank Grevil, a former military intelligence officer from Denmark who was fired for leaking classified reports that showed no weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. He currently faces charges for breaching the country”s official information law. He also joins us from Washington DC.
- Katharine Gun , former British employee who leaked details of a secret US spy operation on UN Security Council members in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. In February spy charges against her were dropped.
- Major Frank Grevil , former military intelligence officer from Denmark who was fired for leaking classified reports that showed no weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. He currently faces charges for breaching the country’s official information law.
AMY GOODMAN: In her first appearance in the United States, Katharine Gun joins us from Washington, D.C., where she’s attending a gathering of whistleblowers organized by perhaps the country’s best known whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. In 1971, Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and The Washington Post. The 7,000-page document exposed the true story behind the U.S. decision-making in Vietnam. He was charged with 12 felony counts, posing a possible sentence of 115 years. The charges were dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him. Also attending the whistleblowers gathering is Major Frank Grevil, a former military intelligence officer from Denmark who was fired for leaking classified reports that showed no weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. He currently faces charges for breaching the country’s official information law. He also joins us from Washington D.C. today. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Katharine Gun. If you could briefly tell us, though we have covered this story, unlike most of the U.S. press, about what you did, about where you were working, how you got the information about what the U.S. and Britain were doing around spying on U.N. Security Council members.
KATHARINE GUN: Hi, Amy. Well, first, can I just say that I am still covered by the Official Secrets Act, and I will be until my deathbed. So, I’m not about to jeopardize myself again. But, I was working for Government Communication Headquarters in the U.K., which is the equivalent to N.S.A. here in the U.S., and I was a Chinese linguist at the time, and this email crossed my desk in my in-box in January of 2003. At that time, as we all know, it was a crucial time for the U.N. in its decision-making process as to whether or not a resolution was needed with regard to Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction. So, when I saw this email asking GCHQ’s help to bug the six swing nations to gather a vote for war with Iraq, I was very angry at first and very saddened that it had come to this, and that despite all the talk from both Tony Blair and George Bush about how important it was to get the U.N. on board and to legitimize any kind of aggression, that they were actually going around it in such low-handed manner. So, I decided that the risk to my career was minute compared to the upcoming war in Iraq, and the best thing to do for me was to leak this information to the press, so that everybody else could have the information, and hopefully it could avert this disastrous course of events that have occurred.
AMY GOODMAN: And ultimately, you faced trial. What exactly was the sentence you faced, and what did you think before you did this about the penalty?
KATHARINE GUN: Well, the maximum sentence is two years. I don’t think anybody has actually served more than six months for the breach of Official Secrets Act, but they didn’t in fact charge me straight away. I was arrested on suspicion of breach of Official Secrets Act in March 2003, but they didn’t charge me until November. Now, the in-between months, I was bailed and re-bailed, and my life was on standstill. I was in limbo. It was a difficult time for me and my family, because we just did not know what the future held for us. As it turned out in November they decided to charge me, and we were all pretty astounded by that decision, because we knew that so many people supported my action, and the result of their charging me in November was that in February of this year, they were forced to drop it, because my defense team requested the full legal advice from Britain’s attorney general, Lord Goldsmith and they refused to hand this over, so they either had something to hide or they felt that they were on a losing battle.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to Major Frank Grevil, a Danish case. The Danish prime minister telling parliament that government intelligence suggested Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that this justified Danish involvement in the war. Then two Danish journalists ran a story in one of Denmark’s largest newspapers that there had in fact been no credible evidence that Iraq had possessed such weapons. The journalists’ source turned out to be a Danish military intelligence officer, Major Frank Grevil, who said he had written some of the intelligence assessments himself. He was fired for passing secret documents to the media, and the prime minister denied misleading the parliament. Frank Grevil now joins us as well in the Washington studio. Can you tell us your story, how you assessed that there were no wmds, and why you decided to pass this information on?
MAJOR FRANK GREVIL: Hi, Amy. Well, to make it short, it all started back in August of 2002 when we were prompted to provide reports and we did so continuously afterwards. Reports on Iraq. And at that time we realized — I mean, I was a member of a small group dealing with wmd. We realized that we had virtually no sources of our own so that we had to rely entirely on U.S. and U.K. information, and that would be final reports, intelligence estimates issued and then handed to us, so that what we did then was virtually [inaudible]. It continued all the way until the Danish parliament passed the law on the 19th of March 2003 to join the so-called Coalition of the Willing, and the parliament in my opinion at that time didn’t receive the information it needed to make a sound decision. I waited to react until about one year later, that was in January or February of this year when I saw that there was an ongoing debate in the Danish parliament where the opposition was in vain trying all the time to get hold on at least some of the documents that the government had that were not at that time presented to the parliament, and I couldn’t as a democratic citizen live with the fact that the government was withholding crucial documents. So, finally, I decided to make contact to these journalists who wanted to see some hard facts, hard evidence, before they would run a story on it. I only had had a few days to decide whether I would hand out the documents or not, and finally, I did.
AMY GOODMAN: And Major Frank Grevil, what do you face right now? You are going to trial?
MAJOR FRANK GREVIL: Yes. My trial is scheduled to start next month. The verdict is expected on November 2. Actually, I face up to two years imprisonment. I don’t expect it to get such a harsh treatment. Actually, there’s a loophole stating that if the information leaked is vital to the interest of the public, I could actually go scott free. So, I’m not quite certain what will happen, but the good thing is that this is only the first court hearing. There is still the possibility of making an appeal to the next level court, and in my case, I will also see it as a possibility to go to the Supreme Court.
AMY GOODMAN: You are now in Washington, along with Katharine Gun. Do you have a message for government employees perhaps, people in Washington, around the issue of whistleblowing in the U.S. government?
MAJOR FRANK GREVIL: Well, as a non-U.S. citizen, I cannot make an appeal directly to U.S. government employees to reveal whatever information they have, but I can only say that I’m going to do that at home, and I strongly support the U.S. movement, the U.S. network of former whistleblowers or former employees in their efforts to convince present employees to give away whatever they have.
AMY GOODMAN: Katharine Gun, we just have 15 seconds. I ask you the same question about a message you have to government employees, perhaps, or others in this country?
KATHARINE GUN: Yeah, well, like Frank, as a non-U.S. citizen, I cannot advocate or pressure people to do anything. All I can say is that you have to live with your conscience at the end of your life, and it’s the only thing that you have that belongs to yourself and nobody else. So, I would just say always follow conscience.
AMY GOODMAN: Katharine Gun and Major Frank Grevil, I want to thank you for being with us.