U.S. artists defend British whistleblower

An array of high-profile Americans – including Rev. Jesse Jackson, feminist Gloria Steinem, Daniel Ellsberg, and artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Danny Glover and Martin Sheen – released a joint statement Jan. 29 in support of Katharine Gun, a British whistleblower. Gun faces two years in prison in England for alerting the public about U.S. spying on United Nations diplomats aimed at securing U.N. approval for war against Iraq. An excerpt of the statement follows:

As the world teetered on the edge of war in early March 2003, with the United States and Britain pressuring the UN Security Council to give up on weapons inspections and authorize a war against Iraq, a news story broke that made headlines in much of the world. The story disrupted momentum toward a UN war resolution.

Quoting a leaked “top secret” memo written by an official of the U.S. National Security Agency, the Observer newspaper in London reported that, in furtherance of the war resolution, American spies were “mounting a surge” of surveillance targeting countries on the Security Council – especially “against” six undecided countries. The spying intercepted diplomatic communications via home and office telephones and e-mails in search of “the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals.” The NSA memo requested the help of British intelligence in the surveillance.

The Observer’s story about U.S. dirty tricks at the UN rocked much of the world, especially the countries targeted for spying. Today, a 29-year-old British woman, Katharine Gun, is facing two years in prison for acting on her conscience and helping to bring the spy memo to light.

Gun, a translator at the British intelligence agency GCHQ, was arrested shortly after the story was published. In November, she was charged with violating Britain’s draconian Official Secrets Act.

Gun recently explained her actions in written statements: “Any disclosures that may have been made were justified on the following grounds: because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. government which attempted to subvert our own security services. ... I will defend the charges against me on the basis my actions were necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.”

There has been much talk in recent months about the “special relationship” between the U.S. and British governments, which led the world to war. But history tells us of another “special relationship” – between people of good will in the United States and Britain who worked together in opposition to slavery and colonialism, and most recently against the push for war on Iraq.

• We urge the U.S. media to inform the public about this important case involving fundamental issues of secrecy, freedom of the press and international law.

• We urge our elected officials to express their concerns over this prosecution to the British government.

• We urge Americans to express their solidarity with Gun directly to the British government through its embassy, 3100 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, D.C. 20008. Phone: (202) 588-7800. Fax: (202) 588-7870. (Send a copy to the address below.)

Contact: Americans Concerned about Katharine Gun, c/o Institute for Public Accuracy, 915 National Press Building, Washington D.C. 20045.