A former British government translator who blew the whistle on efforts to sell the Iraq war says a movie adapted from her life would help pave the way for “discussions and dialogue” on the “truth and accountability” of war.
In 2003 Katherine Gun got a confidential email from a U.S. spy agency seeking help in wiretapping UN figures ahead of a crunch vote on Iraq, and it was then she decided to go public, risking her career, her future, and her freedom.
After the leak, Gun was fired, arrested, and charged with breaching the UK’s Official Secrets Act. But within half an hour, her case was dropped because the prosecution declined to offer evidence.
She couldn’t stop the war in Iraq, but her story was adapted into a movie – titled Official Secrets, starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans – set to be released this Friday in Turkey.
“I hope the film will be well received in Turkey and that people here will enjoy the film,” Gun, 45, told Anadolu Agency via email.
“I also hope it will create discussions and dialogue about the issues of truth and accountability, of the devastating consequences of war,” added the ex-employee of GCHQ, Britain’s top-secret intelligence agency.
Of the film’s influence on audiences in Turkey, which borders Iraq and has felt the war’s long-term regional consequences, Gun said: “Turkey fortunately or not, is situated in a globally strategic hot spot.”
“By showing that it is a country which embraces values of democracy, justice, and liberty and [can] be seen as a beacon in the region, this in my view would be a good thing for the whole region,” she said.
Just the facts
Gun, who now splits her time between Turkey and Britain, said that the film’s completion and release took many years.
“I and the journalist portrayed in this film have been involved from the beginning of this final version,” she said.
Gun was 27 when she leaked the email to a contact who passed it on to British journalist Martin Bright, played by Matt Smith in the film.
“The director Gavin Hood and his producer were both very keen to make a film that stuck closely to the facts,” she added.
“We advised and consulted with them throughout the process and are very happy with the result,” she said.
Gun was working as a Mandarin-to-English translator at GCHQ when she got the email from a senior figure in the U.S. National Security Agency.
The NSA wanted to intercept the communication of six non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan) thought to be undecided on a UN resolution needed to approve military intervention against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Gun shared the secret with the public.
“By exposing the illegal spying operation at the UN, I lost a secure job with a reasonable income and benefits,” she said.
“I also lost contact with some friends and colleagues, but today my conscience is clear,” she added.
“I have never regretted my action,” she said. “Over the years, I have met so many kind and inspirational people, it has been wholly rewarding.”
Asked if she would do the same given the opportunity, Gun was clear: “If the circumstances were the same, I would do the same again.”
“But I completely understand and empathize with people who choose their family or security over blowing the whistle,” she said.
“There are insufficient protections for people in this position and this should change,” she added.
Asked about the responsibility of the press in the face of whistleblowers exposing alleged acts of official corruption, Gun said: “There has been a lot of change for the worse since 2003 and it is a great shame and sadness to me.”
She added: “In many places around the world, investigative journalism and the free flow of information are being repressed and this is worrying for democratic institutions and citizens.”
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