The catastrophically misguided U.S. invasion of Iraq still reverberates in our lives today. The destruction of Saddam Hussein’s government created space for the global jihadist movement to flourish. It also created democratic space for Iraq’s Shiite majority and their Iranian supporters. Trump’s confrontation with Iran today can be seen as a rearguard action to take away the gains that the Bush-Cheney administration handed them.
How did that happen? And why didn’t anyone prevent such criminal stupidity? Well, some people did. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a British linguist, Katharine Gun defied the country’s powerful secrecy laws. While working at Britain’s signals intelligence agency, the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), she leaked a National Security Agency memo about the surveillance of U.N. delegations opposed to Washington’s war plans to reporter. She was trying to stop that rush to war.
Now Gun’s story is a movie.
“Official Secrets,” a film with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes due to be released Aug. 23, tells the true story of Katharine Gun, a linguist at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s counterpart to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and what happened when she exposed an operation to gather intelligence that could be used to coerce U.N. Security Council members into supporting the war.
Gun’s leak showed how the United States and Great Britain sought to sway the United Nations to support their plans to invade Iraq to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction–which turned out to be non-existent.
The memo, apparently written to senior NSA officials and asking for help from GCHQ, said the agency was “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course).” That meant collecting “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises,” Koza wrote.
The NSA official went on to explain that the operation was targeted at Security Council members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, and Guinea, with an “extra focus on Pakistan UN matters.” The countries had been holdouts on whether they would support a second Security Council resolution that the U.S. and the U.K. had pledged to pursue before going to war.
Gun’s story was forgotten after the invasion. British officials charged her with violating secrecy laws and then dropped the charges, after she pleaded innocent for reasons of necessity. The necessity of preventing a war justified her actions, she said. It is telling that the British government chose not to challenge that defense in open court. By then, the catastrophe of the war was evident. There was no defense. But it was too late for the people of Iraq.