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15 Years Later: How U.K. Whistleblower Katharine Gun Risked Everything to Leak a Damning Iraq War Memo

Web ExclusiveJuly 19, 2019
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Image Credit: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

We speak 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. Katharine Gun was a young specialist working for Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters when she exposed a highly confidential memo that revealed the United States was working with the United Kingdom to collect sensitive information on United Nations Security Council members in order to pressure them into supporting the Iraq invasion. Gun leaked the memo to the press in 2003, setting off a chain of events that jeopardized her freedom and safety, but also opened the door to putting the entire legality of the Iraq invasion on trial. Her life story is depicted in the new film “Official Secrets.” In Part 2 of our discussion, we speak with Katharine Gun; the British journalists who reported on Gun’s revelations in The Observer newspaper, Martin Bright and Ed Vulliamy; and Gavin Hood, director of “Official Secrets.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you Part 2 of our extended look at a new film that’s out called Official Secrets, that’s coming out at the end of August, that tells the story of a British intelligence specialist, Katharine Gun, who risked everything to blow the whistle on U.S. dirty tricks at the United Nations in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. At the time, Katharine Gun was working for Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ. It’s the intelligence agency, like the NSA, the National Security Agency, in the U.S. She leaked a memo revealing that the United States was collaborating with Britain in collecting sensitive information on United Nations Security Council members, countries, in order to pressure the members, the ambassadors, into supporting the Iraq invasion of March 2003.

We continue our conversation now with Katharine Gun, the whistleblower and former employee of GCHQ. In the film, Official Secrets, she is played by Keira Knightley. We’re also joined by Martin Bright and Ed Vulliamy, the two journalists who reported Gun’s revelations in The Observer newspaper, at a time when the paper was editorially openly supporting the Iraq invasion. Also with us, the director of Official Secrets, Gavin Hood.

It’s so great to have you all with us. I’m going to start with you, Gavin. Why did you choose to do this film? I watched you last night at one of the premieres of the film, a kind of secret showing of Official Secrets.


AMY GOODMAN: And you actually said you hadn’t heard of Katharine Gun at the time, which is interesting in itself, because the story, in a sense, was almost killed for a bit.

GAVIN HOOD: That’s exactly right. I had made a film called Eye in the Sky, with the producer Ged Doherty, and we were looking for another project to do together. And Jed called me up and said, “Have you heard of Katharine Gun?” And you get this moment where you feel like you should have, because of the way he’s saying it. I’m going, “No, I—I don’t.” He said, “Just google Katharine Gun and official secrets.” So I googled “official secrets Katharine Gun,” because—the title of our film comes from the Official Secrets Act, which is what she breached when she leaked the memo. And I did this sort of dive. Before I knew it, I had spent two hours researching Katharine.

And I called Jed back, and I said, “This is an amazing way into how we got into the Iraq War, that—why isn’t it better known?” And he said—I said, “Could I come and meet Katharine? Do you think she’d meet with me?” Because I think we were both a little skeptical of each other. Jed didn’t sort of put the two of us together. We met in London. First day, what did you feel? Strange Hollywood person.

KATHARINE GUN: Well, yeah, yeah. I mean, this has been going on for a number of years, and it always sort of ended up kind of petering out, so—

GAVIN HOOD: Other people had approached you before—


GAVIN HOOD: —to do films. Right.

KATHARINE GUN: And also, I’m just—well, whether it’s natural inclination or whether it’s what was kind of drummed into us at GCHQ, but it was, you know, this the sense of being private and not trusting journalists or people who are trying to ferret out information from you. So, of course, I was a little bit sort of reserved.

GAVIN HOOD: So, we meet the first day, and after a few hours I think we warmed to each other.


GAVIN HOOD: And then, for five days, I interviewed Katharine and just made notes. And we worked five, six hours every day. And then I went on to interview Martin and Ed and then Ben Emmerson, the lawyer. And after about three weeks of this meeting these extraordinary people, I said to Jed, “I think I think I would like to do this.” And that’s where the story came from.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you had to sell this. So give us the nut—the nutshell description of this story.

GAVIN HOOD: Well, for me, what I love about the story is actually, on the one hand, it’s got this huge global political relevance, and it resonates still today. But on the other hand, it’s just a deeply personal story about—and I hope Katharine will forgive me saying this—about an ordinary person, like one of us, who does something extraordinary.

So, from a dramatic point of view, you have someone who’s just going to their job every day, as most of us do, happens to be a spy working for GCHQ, but could have been a person working for an accounting firm or Enron or Boeing or any other organization, who sees something that is simply wrong, sees, you know, and says—

AMY GOODMAN: And that memo says?

GAVIN HOOD: —and says, “I’m going to speak up.”

AMY GOODMAN: What she discovers says?

GAVIN HOOD: What she discovers says—is a request from the NSA to GCHQ to hack, bug the private communications and the office communications of U.N. Security Council members, in particular the nonpermanent members, the more junior members. There are 15 members of that council, and there are these nonpermanent members who could swing the vote in favor of an invasion of Iraq in U.N. resolution.

AMY GOODMAN: And these ambassadors are the ambassadors of?

GAVIN HOOD: These are representatives at the U.N.—


GAVIN HOOD: Chile, Bulgaria, Angola, Cameroon, Pakistan, Mexico. These folks—because there are two legal ways you can go to war in international law. The first is a U.N. resolution for war. We, as a collective group of countries, decide that we need to stop an event, a humanitarian disaster or a genocide or whatever. And the other way is the good, old-fashioned self-defense. We are defending ourselves.

Well, if Bush and Blair could have got a U.N. resolution, they would have had perfect cover for going to Iraq without having to bring up the WMD, the weapons of mass destruction, argument, because the whole weapons of mass destruction argument is the self-defense, that they needed a legal—you know, you do want to be going to war legally. Strange concept, but you do. And so, they’re first prize was get the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution saying that we, as a collective United Nations, are going to take out Saddam Hussein. No need for weapons of mass destruction arguments. No need to prove anything further.


GAVIN HOOD: They failed. And they failed, in part, I believe, because Katharine Gun leaked that memo. And it’s so—the nonpermanent members, who realized they were being hacked and their personal things were being—in order to try and blackmail them into a vote. You know, let’s say I—you’re a bit of a gambler, aren’t you? You’re a bit—

AMY GOODMAN: So, there is an uproar. And you said in places like Chile—

GAVIN HOOD: There’s an outrage. And they say, “We’re not even going to vote on this resolution.” And the next day, we invade. I mean, that’s why Martin—I remember Martin and Ed. This was a huge story, crushed by a bigger story. The biggest story was: Who cares why we’re in the war? Look at those bombs falling on Baghdad. And all of a sudden the news media is not interested in how we got into the war. They’re watching, you know, video games and bombs landing on Baghdad—shock and awe. So a very big story got crushed very quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: And your feelings at that time, Katharine? You didn’t know what would happen with this memo you leaked to someone, who gave it to someone, but you knew you felt it was—I mean, you weren’t part of a movement. You didn’t have that kind of support. You hardly told anybody what you had done. But this gets out, and suddenly you see it on the front page of The Observer when you go to buy, what, milk in the morning for you and your husband. You come home. You’re terrified. And now you go back into work. You think everyone sees on your face that you’re the leaker. But you are—is this part of the film true, where you have the authorities come in and say, “We’re questioning everyone, because someone here did this.”

KATHARINE GUN: Oh, yes, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, they knew, in fact, GCHQ, I think, because there’s this system whereby, you know, before the news goes to print, the government and various organizations get the front pages, so they know what’s—like, before it goes to press. So, GCHQ had been aware of this for over 24 hours, and they were waiting for everybody to come back into work on Monday, and they were prepared.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did you do when they said, “We’re going to take each one of you into a room.”

KATHARINE GUN: Well, I mean, it’s terrifying. But as it happened, I wasn’t called up on Monday. I was called up on Tuesday. So I saw people going in and coming out and going in and coming out. And then, on Tuesday, they called me in, and I went in. And I just—I just determined to deny it. You know, my initial instinct was I’ve got to remain anonymous. And so I did. I denied it.

And I don’t know how authentic it appeared to the person interviewing me, but I just felt terrible. I felt awful after I denied it. And I went back, and I felt worse that day at home. I mean, I literally—I couldn’t eat. And I had already not been able to eat for about 24 hours. So I was in a dreadful state.

And my husband was desperately worried about what was going on. You know, he couldn’t—and it was the first time he had heard about it. He didn’t know I had leaked this memo. So, of course, it was just—you know, he was kind of thinking—he knew I worked for the intelligence services, but he didn’t know what that was. And all of a sudden his safe, you know, this civil servant wife is in a whole lot of bother that he never expected to have to deal with.

ED VULLIAMY: A whole lot of bother.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you decide to go back and reveal—who was it that was questioning you? Which agency was it?

KATHARINE GUN: It was GCHQ internal security, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you go in.

KATHARINE GUN: So, on Wednesday morning, I called in sick. But then I thought, “Well, no, I just can’t go on calling in sick.” So I went in, and my manager said, you know, “Katharine, you look dreadful. Why did you come in? I thought you said you’re sick.” And I said, “I need to talk to you.” And so we went into a small room, and I just said, “I did it.” And then she put her arm around me and went, “Oh, Katharine.” And then I burst out crying.

AMY GOODMAN: But you weren’t sorry.

KATHARINE GUN: No, I felt a huge sense of relief after I had, you know, confessed.

AMY GOODMAN: So then you have Scotland Yard taking over.

KATHARINE GUN: Mm-hmm. So, they immediately—well, first of all, my manager said, “What would you like to do?” And I said, “Well, pfff, what can I do?” You know, we have to tell internal security. And so, we went down together to internal security, and they called Scotland Yard. And we had to sit and wait for two hours while they winged it down from London.

AMY GOODMAN: And then what happened? You’re—

KATHARINE GUN: And then I was taken away—

AMY GOODMAN: —arrested?

KATHARINE GUN: —to police custody, yes, and kept overnight in a police cell.

AMY GOODMAN: And did they say they were going to charge you with the Official Secrets Act?

KATHARINE GUN: No, nothing at—well, they said they were arresting me on suspicion of breaking the Official Secrets Act.

AMY GOODMAN: And when did that come out? Now, Martin, at this point, you’ve defended your story.


AMY GOODMAN: The networks, like Fox, and The Drudge Report, CNN refused to interview you, saying that this couldn’t be a real memo because, unfortunately, your newspaper translated it into British.

MARTIN BRIGHT: Well, they didn’t even say why. You know, these things happen. Sometimes you break stories, and networks ring you and say they want to interview you, and then they drop you because of the agenda.


MARTIN BRIGHT: You know, I mean, you don’t want to get too conspiratorial about this. But, you know, these things happen.

AMY GOODMAN: But once everyone did, you knew.

MARTIN BRIGHT: But once everyone did, there was—we knew that there was something—there was something going on.

AMY GOODMAN: And so—go ahead.

MARTIN BRIGHT: Well, I was—of course, the irony of the situation is that when we heard that a GCHQ employee, a 27-year-old GCHQ employee, Mandarin translator, I think we even said at the time, had been arrested, we were absolutely delighted, because we knew for sure that we had a big story at that point. We knew for sure—

AMY GOODMAN: This was the proof.

MARTIN BRIGHT: —this was the real deal. You know, any tiny lingering doubts we had about whether this was a sophisticated Russian forgery, as some people suggested, or, you know—we absolutely knew that this was real. I mean, obviously, at that point, then felt very sorry that someone had been arrested, but it was a huge relief at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Katharine, as all of this is unfolding, the U.S. and Britain bomb Iraq.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re watching that on television.


AMY GOODMAN: Whatever you tried to do didn’t succeed. What were your thoughts then?

KATHARINE GUN: Devastation. I felt awful. In fact, I—you know, I couldn’t bear to watch the scenes. But, you know, it—

AMY GOODMAN: What did you think about your own prime minister?

KATHARINE GUN: Need I say more? I mean, really, these people need to be held accountable for what they’ve done.

GAVIN HOOD: They do.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin, you went on to work with Tony Blair, didn’t you?

MARTIN BRIGHT: I did, yes. I mean, not the greatest decision of my life, I have to say.

AMY GOODMAN: You only lasted what? About five months or something?

MARTIN BRIGHT: I had lasted about—

AMY GOODMAN: What was it called? The Tony Blair Conscience Fund or something?

MARTIN BRIGHT: Well, if only.

ED VULLIAMY: An oxymoron.


MARTIN BRIGHT: No, it was the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

AMY GOODMAN: Faith Foundation.

MARTIN BRIGHT: I have an abiding interest in the link between religion and conflict. And I was tasked to set up a website to look into this. So, I thought it would be great. But, I mean, I ended up being a whistleblower myself within that organization. So…

AMY GOODMAN: But so, did you have any conversations with the former prime minister at the time, Tony Blair?

MARTIN BRIGHT: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you’re the guy who broke the story that showed that Britain was collaborating with the U.S. in trying to get dirt on U.S. ambassadors—


AMY GOODMAN: —to get them to vote for the war in Iraq, which ended up killing—what do you say at the end of the film? Something like—

GAVIN HOOD: Almost a million. Almost a million Iraqis. You know, the conservative estimates are 125,000 up to a million. So, 600,000 Iraqi people died. I think the number is—and forgive me, I should have the figure—three-and-a-half thousand British and American soldiers, 37,000 wounded. You know, this is hundreds of thousands of people killed. Never mind the number injured. It’s millions.

MARTIN BRIGHT: OK, you’re making me feel really bad about going to work for him now. But, yes, I did. I had, you know, encounters with Blair.

I mean, my initial encounter with him at the Faith Foundation was extremely concerning, in fact, because he said that what he wanted me to do was develop a heat map, you know, an interactive map of all the madrassas, you know, Islamic schools, around the world, with my tiny team of two or three interns, showing—and he looked me in the eye, and he said, “I want you to be able—I want people who are looking on our website to be able to see how radical those madrassas are, by color coding.”

And I can remember sitting back and thinking, “This guy is not all there. How am I possibly going to do that? I mean, MI6 couldn’t do that. You know, banks of civil servants couldn’t do that. So how am I, with my tiny team of researchers, going to do anything like that?” And so, it’s one of those moments where you realize—I mean, the chill went up my spine, like I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” So, yes, that was not a good moment, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: That was 2014. But let’s go back to the moment. So, you get this memo. You don’t know who the GCHQ person is.


AMY GOODMAN: She’s then arrested. At first they don’t name you, but then they do. When do you first meet, you, the person who exposed this story, Martin Bright, and Katharine Gun?

MARTIN BRIGHT: Not until around the time of the trial. And so, a lot, a lot later.

AMY GOODMAN: So, before the time of the trial, Katharine, you—they have clamped down on you. You cannot talk to anyone about your intelligence work. And they attempt to deport your husband, who is a?

KATHARINE GUN: Actually, time-wise, I was bailed for eight months. So I was bailed until November, when they charged me. After they charged me, that’s when they tried to deport my husband.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he goes in for a regular check-in. He was Kurdish—he is Kurdish.

KATHARINE GUN: Well, he’s Turkish, from a Kurdish background, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Turkish Kurd, mm-hmm.

KATHARINE GUN: And yeah, because—anyway, he was going in every week to basically prove that he was still resident or that they could pinpoint where he was.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you actually in the car with him, waiting for him to go in for his check-in?

KATHARINE GUN: I was waiting outside in the police station, yes. And he didn’t come back out again.

AMY GOODMAN: So you just thought this was routine. You weren’t particularly worried. You were just waiting.

KATHARINE GUN: Oh, no. I was—no, as soon as he didn’t come out, I—

AMY GOODMAN: No, you thought it was routine when he walked in.

KATHARINE GUN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Of course I did, yes. And when he didn’t come out, I was panicking, you know, and I ran inside. And they had already taken him down into the custody suite, which is, by the way, where I had been before. But anyway.

GAVIN HOOD: Same cell.

KATHARINE GUN: I don’t know. Yeah, so it was panic stations after that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they’re processing him. They’re going to send him back to Turkey.

KATHARINE GUN: Yeah, and he had no money in his pocket. And, you know, he had nothing on him. They were just going to pick him up, and took him out. And so, I immediately went home, and I—and at the time, actually, well, my dad was staying with me, because it was Chinese New Year, and he was back from Taiwan, and he was supporting me, so he was at home. As soon as I opened the door and he saw me coming in, and he could see something was wrong, and then—and I said, “They’ve taken him.” And he went, “The bastards!” So, anyway, I was on the phone. I was calling Nigel Jones, my MP.

AMY GOODMAN: Your representative.

KATHARINE GUN: My MP, yes, at the time. And I managed to get through to his assistant. And they said they would try their best. And yeah, it was absolutely terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: You succeeded in preventing his deportation. But let’s talk about that moment in the courthouse. Is that when you both met?

MARTIN BRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, around that time. I mean, we certainly did meet in the courthouse. And yeah, it was—

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think, when—before you had seen Katharine and met her, what did you imagine she would be like, this young woman, 27-year-old woman of conscience, who—

MARTIN BRIGHT: Yeah, I must say, when I found out how young she was, it did take me by surprise, and the fact that she was a translator. I mean, we had imagined all sorts of things about who our source might be. We thought maybe it would be some crusty old senior guy from a rival agency. We thought that maybe it would be a security expert who had got wind of this, or someone, I mean, relatively senior within GCHQ who was worried about what was going on, and, you know. But to discover that it was such a young and such a junior employee was extraordinary to us, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you tell Katharine at that time?

MARTIN BRIGHT: Well, I mean, I think at that time, you know—we knew, I suppose, by that point, that our paths were destined to cross. I mean, I don’t think we imagined that we would be still friends and still talking about it 14, 15 years later. But yeah, I mean, I was hugely impressed. And I had to thank her for—I mean, you know, in totally selfish terms, helping me break the biggest story of my life. But it was, yeah, a moment of great humility, actually.

AMY GOODMAN: And a story that could have saved so many lives, except—

MARTIN BRIGHT: We did—I tell you what, though, we did feel that we had failed. I mean, I think we did feel that we journalistically—you know, we could have done more as a newspaper. We could have—you know, you always have regrets, don’t you? When you think, “Oh, well, I wish we tried hard with the American—with our American colleagues. I wish we’d pushed it harder with the boss class within The Observer.” You know, in the end, there was a feeling, I think, what—I know that Katharine and I have talked about this a lot. There was a feeling of—as what you felt, Ed, in this case, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Vulliamy, you were the U.S. correspondent for The Observer. You’re the guy who got the goods on the author of the memo in the NSA, who wrote to GCHQ and said, “We’re going to bug the U.N. ambassadors.”

ED VULLIAMY: Yes. And as Martin has just said, and as Katharine put it so well in the film, you know, wars, unlike football and basketball games, do not end when the whistle blows. Sorry, no pun intended, Katharine. And nor do newspaper stories. And what’s so marvelous about what Gavin’s done is to just sort of bring this back into the present. It’s all so resonant. Iraq now, nightmare. The people who went in and smashed it up in 2003, do they watch the news? How do—do they join the dots?

I was the U.S. correspondent indeed, but very soon I was in Najaf, Nasiriyah, Fallujah, unembedded, watching this bloody carnage, this—the implosion of this country. We can all have a view on Saddam Hussein and whether he should be deposed or not. I mean, no one’s going to—no crocodile tears over that. But this is not the issue. The war did not end when George W. Bush said, “Mission accomplished.” It was only just beginning. And nor did the story end.

These were, as I said before, bitter times. I had had my own story on the fabrication of the weapons of mass destruction, the existence of a shadow intelligence-cooking agency within the Pentagon, which we at The Observer had for five months before Sy Hersh, with great respect to Sy, published it in The New Yorker. You know, we had it in October 2002. This was all cooked up, unpublished and—

AMY GOODMAN: And this is a critical moment, when you say October, because that’s when the U.S. Senate voted to authorize war.

ED VULLIAMY: Thank you. That’s [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton among them.

ED VULLIAMY: —said on the program, I filed that story seven times. I could not get it in. A very good book by Britain’s most decorated journalist, called Nick Davies, called Flat Earth News—it’s about the British press, but it applies everywhere—realized that actually the then-editors of our paper were effectively accountable to the Tony Blair enforcement machine.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain that. I mean, you’re talking about the editorial leadership of The Observer, the editor-in-chief—

ED VULLIAMY: Yes, at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: —the person in charge of news.

ED VULLIAMY: At the time, yes, the editor and the political—

AMY GOODMAN: The people Martin was fighting to get this story out.

ED VULLIAMY: Yes, the people who were giving Martin traction to get this story out, and who effectively, according to Mr. Davies’s book, censored mine, about the cooking-up of the WMD and the fact that we knew Saddam didn’t have any. I mean, this is difficult for me to say this, but, for those of your viewers who are interested in what happens in the media—Martin and I, here we are, doing our best—the two people involved, who are in the film—

AMY GOODMAN: The top people are?

ED VULLIAMY: The top people are, respectively, managing editor of the Daily Mail, which is a sort of rather—

AMY GOODMAN: So, who is that?

ED VULLIAMY: Mr. Alton, screechy, ultra-right-wing. It’s a paper that supported fascism between the wars, and sort of still does, in its way.

AMY GOODMAN: And Alton went from The Observer and ultimately made his way—

ED VULLIAMY: Via various—via Rupert Murdoch’s Times, yes. And Mr.—

AMY GOODMAN: So, the Daily Mail, very sympathetic also to President Trump.

ED VULLIAMY: Yes. Well, extremely. And Mr. Ahmed is now the editorial director of the BBC, the revered BBC.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who he is.

ED VULLIAMY: Well, he was the political editor at the time, who was giving me a lot of trouble over getting my cooked intelligence story into the paper. Mr. Davies, in his book, has done more recently—

AMY GOODMAN: And he said to you, Martin, at least in the film, “This will jeopardize our access.”

ED VULLIAMY: But my point is not against Mr. Ahmed. Good for him. But it may say more about the BBC than it does about him, that with this track record you can get to the top. So, I just lay that out, really. So, you know, it doesn’t end, as Martin said. This is, sadly, a story of failure.

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. is still in Iraq.

ED VULLIAMY: It’s a story of endeavor, to no avail. But as we said last night, this is the purpose of Albert Camus’s great story La Peste, when Dr. Rieux is given the child dying of plague. He knows he can’t save the child. Does he try to treat it? Of course he does. That’s our job.

MARTIN BRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, the story doesn’t end. There are lots of loose ends here still. There are plenty of opportunities here for other journalists to take up the baton and find out what really happened. We still don’t know who Frank Koza is, or he’s still not given a public interview about about what went on. And we still don’t know why the British government dropped the case. We still don’t know who within the American administration ordered the operation. So, lots of leads there.

AMY GOODMAN: So, and we want to get to all that, but now—we want to get to all that, but right now you’re showing this film around the country. It opens on August 30th. And you had a showing in San Francisco.


AMY GOODMAN: The San Francisco Film Festival. Explain what happened at the Q&A, Martin.

MARTIN BRIGHT: Yes, we had a great, a dramatic moment at the Q&A session. It was shown in the Castro Theatre. It was a very big audience, lovely, lovely theater. And towards the end of the Q&A session, an elderly gentleman put up his hand and said, “I’m very interested in the issue of Frank Koza. You want to know where he is?”

AMY GOODMAN: This is the NSA guy who wrote the memo.

MARTIN BRIGHT: Yeah, who wrote the memo. “You want to know where he is?” he said. “I think you’ll find he’s hiding in plain sight.” And there was a dramatic hush in the audience. And through the lights, I couldn’t quite see who the guy was. And at the end of the Q&A, I went to try and find him, and he’d gone. So, was that Frank Koza? We will never know. But he certainly was suggesting that people would know.

AMY GOODMAN: Gavin, introduce us to Ben Emmerson.

GAVIN HOOD: Ben Emmerson. Ben Emmerson is—

AMY GOODMAN: Who is played in the film by?

GAVIN HOOD: By Ralph Fiennes. Ralph Fiennes, fantastic, wonderful actor. Ralph Fiennes plays Ben Emmerson. I mean, couldn’t have been happier with the casting choice, because Ben Emmerson is a force of nature, absolute force of nature, and a great international lawyer. And he was the barrister who ultimately put the case before the court, as short as that trial was, on behalf of Katharine, and came up with a truly original defense to the Official Secrets Act, which is the defense of necessity.

Now, the defense of necessity is usually used in very more simple circumstances. For example, you’re racing to the hospital with your wife. She’s pregnant. You’re breaking the speed limit. You get pulled over. The cop says, you know, “Here’s your ticket.” You’re guilty of breaking the speed, but you’re guilty of a crime. Your defense becomes: It was necessary to break the law in order to achieve a higher purpose, which is the saving of human life. And a fireman does that if he bashes your house down to get to you.

Never used in the idea of, you’ve broken the law, breached the Official Secrets Act. She’s confessed to breaching the Official Secrets Act. There’s no doubt. What’s the defense? There are almost no defenses to this act. And Ben comes up with this idea. He says, “Wait a minute. If the war was illegal and she broke the law in order to expose an illegal war and potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives, I can use this defense of necessity”—that’s usually used in more mundane, dare I say, contexts—”in this great political trial.”

And so he says, “All right, now I need to know whether the war was legal or illegal.” And he says, “I need to find out what Lord Goldsmith’s, the attorney-general’s, legal position was in the run-up to that war. What was he telling Blair until the 11th hour, where he changed his mind, it seems, at the 11th hour, and said, 'Oh, well, you can justify on the basis of Resolution 678 from 1991,' this fringe idea that no decent international lawyer”—and I’m an ex-lawyer—”believes to be even remotely sensible?”

And he says, “I need to”—so, I’m interviewing Ben in a pizza shop, right? And I’m saying, “Ben, but how did you know, when you called for those documents, that they’d be there?” And there’s this pause. And he says, “Well, I called Elizabeth Wilmshurst,” who is the assistant attorney general, who had resigned. And she hadn’t said why she had resigned. And so he went to Elizabeth and had a cup of tea, as you do in England. And, he says to me, she explained that Goldsmith’s position—if I called for those documents, I would find out that he had been consistently saying that war without a U.N. resolution would be illegal.

And I went back to Martin. I said, “I think I’ve got a scoop, Martin. I think I found like the missing piece.” Anyway, that’s why the scene—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. So, this woman—

GAVIN HOOD: —is in the movie.

AMY GOODMAN: This amazing moment—

GAVIN HOOD: This amazing lawyer, with great dignity—Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who’s in the movie, Ralph Fiennes playing Ben Emmerson—has the cup of tea with her.

AMY GOODMAN: Works for the attorney general.

GAVIN HOOD: She did work for the attorney general, right up until a matter of weeks or so before the war, at which point, when he changed his mind, under massive pressure, having visited Washington and spoken to Gonzales and all the various lawyers who worked for Rumsfeld and Bush and Cheney, and they’d sold him on this idea of using Resolution 678, which authorized the 1991 Gulf War, and said, “Really, that war didn’t end, and we’re really still at war with Iraq. And we can say that, you know, that”—so, he comes back, under all this pressure. He gets more and more pressure from Blair. And at some point, with great respect to Lord Goldsmith, he caves. Ed Vulliamy’s character, played by Rhys Ifans in the film, says, you know, he effing caved at the time when his country needed him most. And, with great respect, I think he did. You know, you’re the attorney general. Be consistent. This is not—this fringe idea of the war has never ended since 1991, what nonsense.

And so, but there’s another irony about the position of the attorney general, which is, the director of public prosecutions in Britain generally has real autonomy in deciding what cases to prosecute, except in cases of the Official Secrets Act, when he or she must get the authorization of the attorney general to prosecute. So, in the film, when the director of public prosecutions says to Ben Emmerson, trying to wiggle out of it, “Listen, it wasn’t my decision to prosecute.” That’s actually true. He would have had to have the authority of Lord Goldsmith to prosecute. So, Lord Goldsmith decides to prosecute Katharine Gun. Ben Emmerson decides the way to defend Katharine Gun is to ask for Lord Goldsmith’s documents. Lord Goldsmith must have said—I mean, I imagine. I wish I could have written that scene. Somebody says, “Lord Goldsmith, the defense to your charge against Katharine Gun is they want your documents.” Case dropped. Maybe? I would love to know. Some journalist needs to go and have a hardcore interview with Lord Goldsmith. “Why did you drop the case? You authorized her prosecution. The law requires you to. They called for your documents. And the case was dropped.” Anyway.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Katharine, describe that moment, when you come into court in this very dramatic way—but this is not just a feature film; this is your life—and you’re facing years in prison, your husband not there because you’re concerned he will become the story as a refugee in Britain. So, you are there standing alone in the dock.

KATHARINE GUN: Yeah. It’s incredibly daunting, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: They said you could have pled. They said, “Plead out.”


AMY GOODMAN: “We don’t want you to go to jail for years. Plead out. Maybe there will be sympathy.”

KATHARINE GUN: Thank god I didn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: But what caused you to say no?

KATHARINE GUN: Well, OK, I know I was guilty in the facts of the matter. Right? But deep inside me, I didn’t feel guilty. You know, I felt vindicated. I felt that I had done the morally right thing to do. And also, I didn’t want to even risk having a criminal record. You know, I mean, once it’s—if you plead guilty and you go away for three months, and it’s, you know, maybe not so bad as going away for two years, but still I would have had a record. So, no, I mean, I didn’t want to say I was guilty when I didn’t feel guilty. And I didn’t want to have a record.

AMY GOODMAN: The horror of what you did not succeed in preventing, though, which was the deaths of so many in Iraq, and that continues today, but you certainly touched the conscience of not just the nation, but the world, in what you did, talking about what woman—what one woman could do. I wanted to go to the making of the film—Keira Knightley, did you meet with her?—and also ask you, Gavin, about Keira taking on this role.

KATHARINE GUN: Yeah, I was very excited to meet Keira in London before they started shooting. And, of course, I was sitting in the restaurant waiting for her to come in, and I had no idea what to expect. But she sails in with Gavin and comes straight up to me and goes, “Oh, Katharine!” and gives me a big hug. And that was it. You know, I felt totally at ease in her company. And so, we talked about motherhood and all sorts of things, but I was just so impressed with how intelligent she was and how incisive she was in getting to the crux of the matter. And really, you know, she had so many questions for me, and she really genuinely wanted to know about the whole situation.

AMY GOODMAN: How rarely a woman actress, an actor, gets to play, you know, the protagonist, the solid, strong hero, Gavin.

GAVIN HOOD: Well, it’s interesting you say that, because one of things Keira said to me that drew her to the script was, first of all, that she didn’t have to wear a corset, because she does all these period dramas. But jokes aside, the reason she said to me—the reason I constantly find myself going—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean period dramas of strong women have to be a hundred years ago.

GAVIN HOOD: Yes, strong women. Yes. She said, you know, it’s ironic that here we are in the age when women now have the vote, and they’re supposed to be—and we’re all supposed to be equal, and yet so many roles are still about women being the sidekick, women being raped, so much violence, use it—you know, a woman who’s in jeopardy. And she said, “I have to go, mostly—to find strong female characters, I have to go back 100 and 200 years and wear a corset to play a strong female character.” And she said, “This is—I want to do this, because it’s a strong female character not in a corset. I don’t have to be in makeup or wardrobe for hours.” And she just said what she loved about Katharine is—and I hope this isn’t said the wrong way, and I keep saying it—she’s one of us. She’s ordinary. She’s just wearing her jeans and jumpers, you know, to work. She’s not wearing tons of makeup. And she said, “Gavin, I don’t want to wear makeup. All I want to do is feel the emotions that this young woman felt, and don’t want to be fussed over.” And it was great. You know, you’re not waiting for someone for hours in makeup. She’s out. We’re on the set. And all we were focused on was what might it felt like in this moment to have been Katharine. That was in this moment, moment by moment, as the story evolves, what would it feel like if you were in her shoes.

AMY GOODMAN: Katharine, has your 11-year-old daughter seen the film?

KATHARINE GUN: No, she hasn’t. I hope, when she’s ready for this story, she will. She’s beginning to understand the issues, but she hasn’t seen it yet.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ed, you see what’s going on in this country, in the United States, not to mention where you’re from, in Britain. In a way, President Trump has been a gift for the previous president, George W. Bush, because it has really rehabilitated his reputation. You have the U.S. in the longest war in U.S. history, in Afghanistan. You have the Iraq War continuing today, 16 years after George W. Bush, knowing there were not weapons of mass destruction, invades Iraq with Britain.

ED VULLIAMY: Yes. I mean, this—I don’t want this to sound sanctimonious. I think. as Katharine knows, it can be tougher to be right than to be wrong sometimes, if on those lucky occasions that one is right. I’m sure that what Katharine felt when in 2010 we found out that Lord Goldsmith had declared the war, in his advice, illegal, must have been pretty painful for Katharine to hear, as it was for me when Congress said, I think around 2004, '05, we knew, actually, there were no weapons of mass destruction. I felt like saying, “I tried to tell you this seven times, and you would not let me print it.” You know, it's tough.

Your question about now, this is all terribly relevant. I mean, the pack of cards has gone from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria. The implosion continues. Indeed, your point about Bush is right. And the situation, the toxic abomination of Brexit in our country, has sort of rehabilitated Blair in a sort of bizarre way. He’s repackaged himself as sort of the European.

The difference, I think, is that here—and your program and your viewers are testimony to this—you have an opposition. It is loud, clear, confident, creative, interesting. Whatever you think of Kamala Harris, you can say, “Which America do you want? White bread, white Trump, white, or this America, the one of every color, creed?” You know, we don’t have that. We have sort of, you know, “I want to take my country back from all those Portuguese nurses and Polish plumbers, that we really must get rid of, and sort of what’s best for Britain.” You know, we don’t have an opposition in our country, whereas you do in yours, thank god.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Bright.

MARTIN BRIGHT: I mean, there are a series of questions of accountability here. And looking back, it’s easy to be nostalgic about how things were with Bush and Blair, because it looks like these people were easier to hold to account. Now, what we were doing when we were breaking this story was we were attempting to show that our governments had lied to us. If we found other information, it may have been different, but this information seemed to show us that we’d been lied to. And that mattered, because, for all their faults, it seems to me that Tony Blair and George Bush understood that if they were caught out in a lie, that was a problem for them. They knew the difference between truth, lies and propaganda. They may have chosen to push those boundaries, but they did know the difference, and they knew that it mattered if they were caught.

I think our problem now, and I think this applies on both sides of the Atlantic, is that we have populist politicians for whom that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you catch them out in a lie, because they don’t care, because they lie as a matter of course, and they change what they say from day to day. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to hold them to account. It just means that the job is even more difficult than it was before.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, and I want to thank you all so much for being with us, Katharine Gun, the whistleblower; Observer journalists at the time, Martin Bright and Ed Vulliamy; and Gavin Hood, who is the director of Official Secrets, the story of Katharine Gun revealing the lies that led to the Iraq War on both sides of the ocean, in Britain and the United States, and led to so many deaths.

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to I’m Amy Goodman. The film, Official Secrets, comes out officially at the end of August.

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