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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 12:21 GMT
Katharine Gun
Katharine Gun
There had been no on-the-record explanation for the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to abandon its planned prosecution of a woman at GCHQ who admits to breaking the Official Secrets Act.

Was it because a court case might have involved disclosing what advice the Attorney General gave about whether the war with Iraq was legal? Was it for fear of political embarrassment? Was it for fear the war was so unpopular a jury would fail to convict her?

Does the decision amount to carte-blanche for anyone else who thinks their conscience tells them to disclose.

Jeremy Paxman spoke to Katharine Gun and began by asking her whether she had acted as a result of the memo she'd seen or out of a principled objection to going to war.

KATHARINE GUN:
I think a bit of both. The actual e-mail itself angered me. I felt that what they were suggesting we did was wrong, both legally and morally. And I had a lot of questions about the war as well, as did millions of people around the world.

PAXMAN:
As you know, since 1987, everyone at GCHQ has had access to an external staff counsellor. Did you make your concerns known to them?

GUN:
Well actually I didn't know they were external. But as for contacting anybody within GCHQ before I made the leak, I honestly didn't think that would have had any practical effect.

PAXMAN:
You should have done, shouldn't you?

GUN:
To be honest, my sort of instinct at the time was the public needs to know about this. Now, telling somebody within GCHQ that I had concerns wouldn't have got it out to the public in time.

PAXMAN:
But you are aware, I suppose, that what was being proposed in this memo was not necessarily, in itself, illegal?

GUN:
No, I don't know about that. I think it was suggesting an illegal act.

PAXMAN:
But the 1994 Intelligence Services Act gives GCHQ the task of furthering national security and furthering the defence and foreign policy interests of Her Majesty's Government. So what was being proposed was not necessarily illegal, was it?

GUN:
Yes, but was it in national security interests? I don't know. I think what I had problems with was the fact that people's lives were at stake. And, you know, we have seen this subsequently, thousands of people have died, and people are going to be suffering for - well, possibly for the rest of their lives because of what's happened in Iraq.

PAXMAN:
But who are you to make a judgment about whether it's legal or illegal, moral or immoral?

GUN:
Well, I was working there as a civil servant, and my conscience compelled me to reveal it to the public. And I think the reaction that I've seen and also the fact that they've dropped the charges is pretty much vindicating what I did.

PAXMAN:
But you are conceding, are you not, that the arrangements you advocate, or by which you acted, under those arrangements, anybody could leak anything, couldn't they?

GUN:
No, I didn't say that. What I said was that what I did was in conjunction with undermining UN diplomatic processes, and people's lives were at stake.

PAXMAN:
It makes people wonder, I guess, why on earth you joined GCHQ?

GUN:
That's a good question. I was a Mandarin linguist when I left university and, you know, I wanted to use my languages, I didn't want to waste my expertise, if you like. And I didn't really know what GCHQ did. Most people don't, before they join GCHQ.

PAXMAN:
You applied to work for a Government intelligence organisation without knowing what it did?

GUN:
Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of light has been shed on the activities of the intelligence services, but prior to all of this, it's pretty covert.

PAXMAN:
Well, of course it is. It's an intelligence organisation.

GUN:
Yeah, yeah.

PAXMAN:
But you wouldn't go so far, would you, as to tell people not to work for GCHQ?

GUN:
No, because of course the matter of national security is important, and they do do a necessary job. But I think that when issues such as this come up, it's - it puts people in a difficult position, obviously, but I think people must listen to their consciences.

PAXMAN:
Katharine Gun, thank you.

GUN:
Thank you.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



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