The former International Development Secretary, Clare Short, has
claimed that British agents spied on the United Nations Secretary
General in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
She said she had seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations.
Translator, Katharine Gun, walked free from court after the charge of leaking a secret e-mail under the Official Secrets Act was dropped.
Katharine Gun claimed the e-mail was from US spies asking British officers to tap phones of nations voting on war against Iraq.
What do you think? Was it in the national interest? Should the UK have spied on Kofi Annan? Send us your views.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
Hearing about the UN being bugged is no surprise. Maybe it's true what they say about international affairs - there are never any true alliances, just marriages of conveniences. Is anything sacred anymore?
Sathish V., NYC, United States
For goodness sake. We spy on everyone, not just enemies, because we want to know what's going on. When will the fantasising post-historical 'paradise of peace' brigade get real and keep quiet?
Jonathan Vause, Cancun, Mexico
Sure, why can't we spy on the UN, and others, but just as long as we don't complain if they do the same to us
will, Bristol, UK
Clair Short did the right thing. To use an old quote- "A true patriot, must be forever on his guard- Against his own Government.
Mike Talbot, Australia
Spying has always been an essential part of diplomacy. Any seasoned diplomat knows that they are under constant threat to being spied upon. That is the nature of the game. To think otherwise would be extremely naive. Personally, I think Clare Short has made a complete fool out of herself for the second time. The first of course being when she said she would quit if the UK went to war against Iraq and then didn't. Pathetic behaviour, which she has probably realised and is trying to make up for it with even more pathetic behaviour.
Please explain how what Mrs Short and Ms Gunn did could have harmed anyone or put anyone at risk. The UN and Kofi Anan are plainly not terrorists so why were they apparently being bugged? Bah & Humbug I say to T Blair and his cronies. The pigs really have taken over the farm.
Iain , Cambridge, UK
It is a good and healthy thing to regularly wash some dirty laundry in public, to keep the level of public awareness appropriately high, especially regards our security services and government. However, it's a bit difficult not to doubt Clare Short's motivation. This latest claim seems to be yet another example of her ongoing back-biting campaign since she left the government. Her statements are thus regarded with sceptism by the public because of this.
Jim, Baku, Azerbaijan
Everything can be classed as "in the national interest" apart from, it seems, honesty, integrity, trust and humanity. So go ahead but stop whinging when people don't turn out to vote for any politician of any party.
Peter Lee, Morecambe, England
I think this simply reinforces just what a serious error it was to allow Clare Short into government.
Andy Hoad, London, UK
Ironic that all the while Britain and America were lying about Saddam they referred to WMD "evidence" as a "smoking gun", and here we have someone called Gun, blowing away the smoke.
Alison Blake-Reed, Bath, UK
The case in point is symptomatic of the wider issue. The secret services are spying on people that they have no right to. Is Kofi one of them - who knows - but I hope this is a message to them that their power is not absolute and at the end of they day, they are answerable to the people.
I certainly hope this is the tip of the iceberg and that all of the offices of the major and many of the minor UN representatives have been bugged as well. I would hate to think that the Secretary General's office is the only source of spy information on the workings of the UN we have.
This is the real world and in that world everyone is so paranoid that they will do anything to gain knowledge of what others are doing. It is why spying is the second oldest profession.
Jeff, Fareham, England
The hypocrisy of the current US and UK governments that expose "secrets" when it suits their political interests but chastise others for doing the same is remarkable. Blair's administration exposed Dr Kelly, Bush's White House exposed Ms Plame and yet they each attack others for exposing the illegal bugging of the UN leadership and its members. These two have no shame and both our countries and the world will be better off when they are out of office.
S. Bellamy, MD,USA
Personally, I couldn't believe a word what Tony Blair or his New Labour cronies say as far as I can throw an elephant! Yes, spying on the UN would be wrong because Kofi Annan has to be able to carry out negotiations with confidentiality rather than having the likes of UK or USA's secret service undermining his credibility plus thwarting his efforts to create peaceful negotiations between two or more countries.
Stephen Lynn, Kilmacolm, UK
What would the positions of these two people (Clare Short and Katharine Gun) be if their revelations to the press actually caused hostilities between countries? They would be left in a situation where their own lack of observance of the Official Secrets Act had caused exactly the kind of problem they claim they were opposed to. This is one reason why government secrets should be kept by those entrusted with them. It is also one of the things those of us who have signed the Official Secrets Act acknowledge when we sign it.
David Hazel, Fareham, UK
Regardless of whether Clare Short did the morally right thing, she broke the law. The Official Secrets Act is LAW, and as such she should be treated as a criminal.
Tom, Plymouth, UK
The term 'national interest' is often used as an excuse by our leaders to engage in morally questionable activities that serve the specific interests of the politicians involved and not the interests of the people of the nation, which I think is undoubtedly the case here.
John Gibson, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
All countries with sophisticated security services bug each other, even "friendly" countries. Friendship between countries is not like personal friendship. It simply means that for the most part friendly countries share certain objectives and common interests. But even with friendly countries there are areas of conflict of interest and like any good poker player it is in a country's best interest to know what cards the other country holds in its hand.
You can't assume that the UK was running surveillance against Mr Annan just because the government had transcripts of his conversations. They may have been passed to Britain by another country that was spying on him or they may have been the product of bugging operations directed at the people with whom Mr Annan was speaking (i.e. the bug was at the other end of the line).
James Harvard, Nr. Oxford, England
Eavesdropping on UN calls could only be described as underhanded, sneaky, dishonourable, devious, shameful behaviour, I could go on all day. Kofi Annan must feel he has been treated very badly, whether the spying was done by bugging phones or other means it still amounts to the same degree of deceit.
Lillian McWilliams, Dublin, Eire
If everyone who worked for confidential areas of the government acted on their conscience in this manner then maybe the world would become a better place to live in. What makes the Official Secrets Act so sacred? It is a catch-all threat to all work for government to keep their mouths shut if they know what is good for them.
J. Davidson, Ipswich, UK
For God's sakes, get real. It's a nasty terrorist-infested world out there and our intelligence services do a difficult and very dangerous job to find out what is going on - in the national interest.
Roger Laing, UK
If someone passes on confidential information about an illegal act, is that wrong? What sort of a dictatorship do we want to live in anyway? I am going to enjoy watching Tony Blair explaining how Kofi Annan is a threat to national security.
The countries of the world spy on each other, just as we are interested to know the business of our own friends and rivals. It proves how politically naive the world is today, even in spite of recent events, if we think it is all a game of happy families.
Mike Brookes, Cheltenham, UK
Who do you think staffs the UN? It's always been a cover for the intelligence agents of its members. Talk about honour amongst thieves!
Ashton Thorogood, Philadelphia, USA
I find those who are obsessed with obeying orders without question rather sinister. It means that people can get away with criminal activities once in government and others are afraid to do anything about it. Isn't that exactly what Saddam Hussein is accused of doing?
Alan Chick, Glasgow, Scotland
In a democracy we have to strike a balance between open-ness and protection of our interests. Spying has always gone hand in hand with diplomacy. The only difference here is that Clare Short made the UK look stupid. Our ministers and MPs seem unable to obey the laws and oaths they are sworn to uphold. She is a disgrace.
G. Turnbull, St Albans
It would be irresponsible for the UK government to not inform itself of the internal workings of the UN in the most complete manner possible. What does the UN have to hide anyway?
Erik Larsen, Orinda, CA USA
Clare Short has her own agenda..that is to undermine the PM even at the cost of the country's national security. She should go, but my fear is she would write a book and spill the beans.
As an ex-Polaris submariner still under the Official Secrets Act, I think Claire Short and Miss Gun did a very brave and courageous thing for the greater good. You people wouldn't believe what is done with your money.
I admire Claire Short and Katherine Gun - in this day and age where I wouldn't trust politicians as far as I can throw them. I'm glad that there are people like Claire who are not bothered by party whips or scandal.
So who can you really trust nowadays? Nobody by the state of the world today!
Paul Moore, London, UK
Anyone willing to put their faith in the UN deserves all they get. Britain has got the best politicians money can buy.
John Hickson, Victoria, Canada
Everyone spies on everyone. Allies spy on their allies. If it's okay for Britain to spy on the US (and Britain does), then there is certainly nothing wrong with spying on a corrupt organization like the UN, which is dominated by jack-booted Third World dictatorships.
James, Helena, Montana, USA
To James, Helena, Montana, USA: The UN is not "dominated by jack-booted Third World dictatorships". Only the Secretary General is from a third world country. The UN is dominated by countries who have veto power and wield it to suit their purposes. But even if it were, that is no reason to spy on Mr. Annan. I have to say though that Ms. Short's revelations have done more to undermine the Secretary General. We know these things (spying) happen to have it said by a former cabinet minister of one the leading nations of the UN is so much more damaging.
Dee, Lusaka, Zambia
Make a list of all them in this page that think she acted wrongly and, for God's sake, prevent them to ever serve as elected members of any public institution. Only then you'll act in real national interest!
Mauricio Vigil, Sundbyberg, Sweden
The US (and UK) do not own the world. The two countries break international laws which they signed when they joined the UN in the first place. How credible and trustworthy are you when you break the laws that you have signed?
It shows how much mistrust and mischief still exist inside the veils of politicians, shaking hands, hugging and posing for pictures to appear on frontline editorials.
Kairo Cerere, Dallas, TX
Actually the only creditable organization left on this earth appears to be the UN. They deserve an apology from the US and UK for their actions of the past year (not even considering the spying). Think what this world will become if the spying actions are 1) true and 2) allowed to go unchallenged under the excuse of national security. If that happens this world may be in big trouble in the future.
Ron Kita, USA
In a war, clearly the Government has to take steps to save British lives. Ms Short's actions in disclosing secret information, resulting in international criticism of Britain, is a serious lapse of judgment by her
John Ellison, London
Rereading Mr Blair's statement, it is rather funny when one realises that nowhere has Mr Blair said that what Ms Short said was inaccurate, merely that the fact that she said it was wrong.
Clair Short was elected by the People for the People. She was not elected by MI5 GCHQ or the official secrets act. MP's should be responsible to the electorate and not any act in which cloudy backgrounds of the state can hide behind. God bless her.
Mrs Gun stood by her conscience and stands vindicated on the moral high ground while it is really an issue for the intelligence services. The world needs more people like her to make it a safer and better place for human beings. Wonder how the UN and the Security Council react to her whistle-blowing and dismissal. Pity she has lost her livelihood for her bold act.
From someone who has experienced the sharp end of coming forward for the right reason I applaud Miss Gun's actions. Today I have lost out, but today I hold my head high, for which I am proud of.
This makes a mockery of the official secrets act and will encourage others to wilfully leak secret information which must inevitably make us more insecure as a nation.
(Retired Defence Civil Servant)
D J Brine, Christchurch UK
Strange that those people that use the argument that they considered the UK or US governments to be behaving illegally as a valid excuse for Katherine Gun, but don't apply similar arguments to her. Whether she was morally right is almost irrelevant - she still broke the law.
Roland, St. Albans
It is serious leaks like this that will eventually lead the USA to stop sharing their intelligence with us. If this were to happen, we would probably need an extra £5bn or so each year to make up the shortfall. "And all because the lady loves... blabbing secrets".
Paul, Towcester UK
Why is it that Confidentiality Agreements in corporate arena are more enforceable than the Official Secrets Act? E.g. the whole tobacco industry fiasco. I don't see any honour in breaking an oath, regardless of whether it was for a greater good. Ends do not justify the means.
Presumably we needed to know what Kofi Annan was up to, in case that renowned despot had any dastardly plans to avert a war in Iraq.
Peter Moore, Edinburgh
One should not place his/her obligation to a government agency above loyalty to his/her country. Remember Pentagon Paper in Vietnam War?
Kehong Zhang, MA, USA
Yet another nail in the political coffin of T. Blair. Is there no depths to which this government will not sink?
Bill, Nottingham, England
What has Claire Short done wrong? All she has done is been honest. Isn't that what being a model citizen is all about?
Penny, Southend on sea, UK
If I had a business in the UK, I would have loved to have the opportunity to offer Mrs Gun a job immediately, it is very hard to find brave and contentious people like her nowadays.
The real issue here isn't that we spied on Mr Annan. It's whether an MP who would bluntly reveal the fact that our security services did this, has any place in the British government. Clare Short needs to straighten out her loyalties.
Mark Riley, Higham Ferrers, England
The recent allegations only serve to remind us that our freedoms are seriously under threat.
This is from a Government that said it cared about Dr. Kelly. Ms. Gun was wrongly hounded for nearly a year and I would say may have felt very low at times under this sort of pressure. They do not care who they hurt once they can cover up their wrongs.
Patrick Cunningham, Leeds UK
Mrs. Gun says 'the public needed to know' so she went to the press with an e-mail. All I hope is that the vetting procedures are tightened up so that people like Mrs Gun are not selected. She has opened up a hornet's nest the repercussions of which will cause damage of which she has not the slightest comprehension.
The question is why the hell are people allowed to release classified information to the public without being severely reprimanded. Otherwise everybody will be coming out with all sorts. Things are done secretly for a reason right or not. Every country gets up to things and nobody dares to talk about it. If you sign the secrets act you should expect a jail term. Claire Short should expect jail and rightly show.
David Atkinson, Portsmouth
Miss Gun, had to sign an official secrets act, and translation for GCHQ was a major responsibility. Those who claim she was put in that position are simply demonstrating extreme naivety. No. She broke the law, and should be tried for treason.
Karl, Bridgend, UK
I think this action was completely justified. The U.N. is not above corruption or fault. It is naive to believe that the U.N.'s actions are always benevolent. Knowledge is power.
Kofi Annan will take any abuse thrown at him by the US and UK without an attempt to rein them in. That lack of fortitude will prove fatal for the UN, it is time for Annan to step down so a leader who will fight the good fight can take over.
Joe, New York, USA
This episode reveals a shocking lack of judgement in Blair when he promoted a loose cannon like Short into his Cabinet. In my opinion both Clare Short and Katharine Gun have shamefully betrayed their country.
R Walters, UK
We are living in a world filled with terrorists and blood thirsty extremists. This is not only about national security but about global security. Claire Short has made it clear that she is not bothered if these murderers are stopped or not. Does she want another September 11? She's a big liability to me and my families safety!
Nicole, Richmond, Surrey
Tapping others phones? In my books, that is SMART preparation for diplomacy. Diplomacy itself is the art of getting what you want and need and has been enshrouded in illegal activities since the dawn of time. All these expectations of having our spies act 100% legally is ridiculous and naive. No one plays to play fair, everyone plays to win.
I spent my entire working life subject to the Official Secrets Act, I still know many matters that would be of interest to the Public and could earn me a lot of money if I disclosed them. Like the majority of people I feel that the oath that I took was binding. Ms Gun should go to prison for breach of trust, whatever her motives for this leak.
Barry P, Havant England
It highlights a dilemma between obligations to conscience and to those of state. She is correct in obeying her conscience and the government are correct in disciplining her.
Michael Grant, Grenaa, Denmark
As an ex-employee of GCHQ I believe that she did what she thought was the right thing and believed she was acting in the best interest of her country. However, she was subject to the official secrets act and the decision to go the press was not hers to make. People in the Intelligence Services deal with sources of information that can end lives if the information is leaked. To leak information is unforgivable.
Simon, Nottingham, UK
This government is an absolute farce. Get them out for goodness sake. Really - what on earth is this country coming to? How much money did they waste bringing this prosecution?
Nat, London, UK
GCHQ's decision is correct - Intelligence staff cannot and must not, breach security.
Absolutely right. The official secrets act is there for a purpose, namely the security of this country. She signed it and she should have stuck by it.
Jon Harvey, Pontypridd, Wales
Let's stop pretending the world is a nice place. I expect our intelligence services to do their job if our troops are to be sent into battle - and that includes bugging anyone who might be relevant. That is what we pay them for.
John, Hastings, Sussex
The secret services should not waste time and resources on these types of acts and instead concentrate on protecting this country from real dangers. Makes me wonder if this increases in numbers of the secret services are actually required, and instead it would be better if those employed now were removed from duties which have nothing to do with the security of this country and everything to do with promoting the ideology of the US Republican party.
Philip Jeremy, London, UK
No we were not. Kofi Annan is a respected figure upon the world stage. This sort of grubbing around only serves to undermine the case for going to war and our nation's already shredded reputation. Anyway, what possible good to be gained. Are we to assume that Kofi Annan was suspected as having pro-Saddam leanings?
Roger, Wrexham UK
I am no fan of Ms. Short, but I heard her interview on the "Today" programme and was horrified!
If this is the contempt with which the US Administration, and by implication, our Government treats the UN, then I suggest that the United Nations gets out of New York immediately, and re-locates it's headquarters in a more respectful, honest nation - perhaps Switzerland or Ireland - somewhere neutral.
It's appalling, and the US public also needs to know what it's President is up to ahead of the election in November.
Andrew Taylor, Nottingham, UK
Of course it was not in the national interest to spy on the chief of the UN. This is a disgraceful episode and seriously embarrassing for this country; another example of Tony Blair being the hired thug for his political masters in the Whitehouse. I think the other UN members should consider sanctions against Britain and the US.
Christine Stokes, Coventry
We live in perilous times when governments can raise the spectre of national security to cover up their own wrongdoing - democracy only works if the government is accountable - otherwise it becomes a sham and a dictatorship.
Robert Finnegan, Belém, Brazil
I am curious as to what this woman thought went on at GCHQ before she applied for a job there. I am no genius but I could tell you that spying is their main game.
Christopher W. Whybrow, Philippines
Isn't the story here the tapping of phones, not the sacking of translator?
Dan, Boston, Ma, USA
As an Intelligence agent I agree, not enough truth is known, as to what measures this country took to make sure an unjust war was waged
anon, Cardiff UK
Many years ago I signed the Official Secrets Act on both joining and leaving Government service. I regarded that signature as a solemn and binding undertaking on my part, no matter what my personal feelings, not to reveal even the location where I worked. What this young lady, and many of your correspondents must understand is that their view of the merits of the war and its legal position are not held by everybody and cannot be a justification for such a breach of trust. But even if the war was illegal, the disclosure of secrets can have consequences well beyond somebody of her pay grade to comprehend.
Bob, Chippenham, UK
What was asked by the American national security agency was not intelligence gathering. It was illegal based on article 35 of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. As the host of the UN building in the USA, it was America's responsibility to keep all UN communications secure and not intercept and bug the diplomats! Katharine Gun should be praised for doing absolutely the right thing.
Don Perry, London
If everyone who worked for confidential areas of the government acted on their conscience in this manner then there would be problems for many areas of government. Exactly what did Mrs. Gun achieve by her revelations? Did she think that she would stop these kinds of actions? I think not. There are good reasons why secrecy is important to governments and there are equally good reasons why these kinds of betrayals make no real sense, what did Mrs. Gun achieve really?
Leslie Shill, Monterey, CA, USA
We pay our privileged elected representatives in government to govern appropriately on our behalf while we do our day jobs - I'm glad some of that money gets to people like Mrs Gun - why has she been sacked? If loyalty to your employer governs your principles then have a rethink.
Daniel Rice, London, UK
Mrs Gun's ordeal has served to expose the true values of our American friends who find it easy and gratifying to publicly classify entire countries as "evil". It is absolutely mind-blowing that we still do not know why we engaged in an illegal war.
Aris Giatras, London UK
I can't believe that people find what she leaked a shock! Spying isn't just about knowing what your enemies are doing, you also have to understand what your allies are planning and sometimes full disclosure isn't so full, she broke the law plain and simple and questioning the legality of the war shouldn't have been an excuse or a defence for her actions.
Mark, Colchester, UK
For those who say that it was Mrs Gun's duty to act as spy/informant. They should realise that she was employed as a translator. This is another example of the poor judgement of this Government and the GCHQ for putting Mrs Gun in a difficult and compromising position.
Right for the wrong reasons. They shouldn't have been intending to act immorally to begin with, they shouldn't have sacked or threatened Mrs Gun, and the only reason they're backing off now is to keep from revealing yet more skulduggery they don't want us to know about.
Although I respect her crisis of conscience, she had a duty to her employers, which should be her first concern. if she doesn't like war she should have worked for Greenpeace instead
Brian, Copenhagen, Denmark
She highlighted something illegal under international law. She was acting in the greater good! They should give her a medal!
Chris Williams, Solihull, UK
Katherine Gun's actions were admirable in every respect. It is shameful that this revelation had to be made - breaking international laws has nothing to do with intelligence, especially under the dubious circumstances of the unsubstantiated Iraq invasion. The British government should be embarrassed that someone such as Mrs. Gun is left to reveal the truth that those in power would prefer to remain hidden.
Mark Roberts, Rovaniemi, Finland
Mrs Gun was wrong. She will have signed the secrets act, and should have respected that. If she could not, then she should leave her job. This could in theory get out of control. Blowing the whistle when your own personal views are offended. It was right to sack her.
Fred Osborn, Sandhurst, UK
Regardless of what Mrs Gun saw at work she should not disclose any of it after signing the official secrets act. That's the whole point of the secrets act in the first place, to keep things confidential. I'm surprised she is being admired for what she has done, it was wrong and she should know better than to compromise security.
Andy, West Yorkshire
Reporting them to the police or other authorities would have been the right thing. Going to the media was not. She broke an undertaking she had agreed to before taking the job not to disclose information to the general public.
Not only should she never have been prosecuted but if the US and UK had respected international law; there would never have been anything to leak. Honest employers have nothing to fear from whistleblowers. I hope she appears in the next Honours list for services to democracy.
Laurence Whiteside, Cambridge, UK
The only possible fair decision - we had no business to be helping the US to subvert international diplomacy.
I very much doubt that Katherine Gun took here decision to blow the whistle lightly. In the end she highlighted a significant abuse by the US and our own services. Even with the broadest possible interpretation on the remit of the intelligence services, how can they have justified pursuing a course of action that the majority of Britons opposed at the time?
Leon, Nottinghamshire, UK
I salute Mrs Gun. GCHQ's decision is irrelevant to me; I admire Katharine Gun for what she did. Shame that her actions didn't prevent the war. Individuals like her deserve an award for bravery.
Yousaf, London, UK
To prosecute would have required too much evidence, evidence that obviously the government does not wish to see the light of day.
Christopher Hogarty, Oxford, UK
While I agree with her motives, intelligence officials are placed in a position of trust which the entire intelligence community has to work within. Breaking that trust should be punished.
Mark Hughes, Uxbridge, UK
She was informing on someone who was acting illegally. In a normal situation one would have though such actions would be applauded not prosecuted - just shows how much some have to hide, doesn't it?
The prosecution didn't need to offer evidence - she admitted her guilt openly! Perhaps she should be admired for doing what she felt to be the right thing, but I wouldn't trust her as an employee!
Ray G, London, England
Mrs Gun has done the right thing. Those US spies should be put on trial now. It is a healthy state of affairs that those who plan criminal activities live in fear of whistle-blowers.