The Most Consequential Whistleblower Who Wasn't

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Director, Gavin Hood. Photo courtesy of Gavin Hood.

While so many have heard of whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden making history in recent few years, few have heard the story of Katharine Gun, the subject of the film “Official Secrets,” directed and co-written by Gavin Hood. On the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” the “Official Secrets” director tells Truthdig Editor in Chief he learned about Gun from Ged Doherty, a producer he’d worked with on the film “Eye in the Sky” about drone warfare, and realized the whistleblower’s compelling story needed to be told. 

In 2003, President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were attempting to bolster international support for the invasion of Iraq, and seemingly would stop at nothing to go to war with Saddam Hussein. One of their lesser known efforts came across Gun’s desk at the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) one fateful day, forcing her to choose between her career as a government analyst and translator, and blowing the whistle on an unethical scheme. 

“Katharine was working at GCHQ," Hood tells Scheer, “she’s a young Mandarin translator, and this memo comes across her desk suggesting that she help gather intelligence on the non-permanent members on the Security Council.” 

At the time, Hood explains, Blair and Bush were facing considerable resistance from permanent members of the Security Council, including France, China and Russia, with regards to a war with Iraq. So instead of trying to convince powerful allies, a plan was concocted to essentially blackmail the leaders of countries such as Chile, Mexico, Bulgaria and others, to get them to vote in favor of Security Council Resolution for war with Iraq. Upon seeing such a dubious request, the GCHQ analyst decides to bring it to the attention of the British public, putting even her own husband at risk in doing so. 

While Gun’s efforts paid off in some crucial ways, as we well know from some of the most shameful pages of recent Western history, the Iraq invasion was not stopped despite lack of support from the UN. And, as Scheer points out, the result of the Iraq War is still playing out in horrific ways to this day. 

“[‘Official Secrets’ is] really about the suppression of inconvenient truth on a grand level,” the Truthdig Editor in Chief says to the film director. “The biggest decision---do you go to war, do you kill people, do you cause mayhem---that’s what’s happened to Iraq. The Mideast is never going to be the same. You’ll never put it back together again.” 

Gun’s own personal life was also irreparably impacted by her courageous decision. 

“[Katharine] reached a point where she decided she would go and live in Turkey again with her husband … because she can't get a job,” says Hood. “Even though she brought this truth to life, you go for a job interview, and---ah! You're the person who blew the whistle on the security services. And she was right to, but we are so strangely suspicious. 

“We have this confusion in our mind,” the “Official Secrets” director continues, “between admiration for the person who tells the truth, and a slight fear of them. And I don't know why that is. Because we need people to tell the truth, or we’ll all end up in an authoritarian dictatorship. So I think she's a wonderful example of an ordinary person doing something extraordinary.” 

Listen to the full discussion between Hood and Scheer as the two talk about the reasons whistleblowing, in a better world, would be seen as unremarkable, whilst in our current political climate, it is something that puts a target on a hero’s back.



Joshua Scheer