Ten years ago a shy, introverted British translator with skills in Mandarin leaked an e-mail she had received at her desk at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, England. The leak came close to averting the Iraq War and changing the course of history. The memo, sent from Frank Koza, chief of staff at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), was essentially a direct order to Katharine Gun and others in her section to monitor, track, follow, and develop information from UN diplomats from six key nations that were waffling in their support of a UN resolution permitting action against Iraq because of its perceived threat against the peace and security of the world.
This violated not only the independence of the GCHQ from the NSA and the sovereignty inherent in that independence, but also various laws against interfering with diplomats representing their countries’ interests at the UN. Further, the information sought would also likely have been personal in nature, with the resulting possibility of the threat of blackmail against those diplomats who refused to “get in line” and support the UN resolution for war against Iraq.
The Koza e-mail was, in short, a blockbuster, and it took Gun’s breath away. In an interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now! in September, 2004, she recounted what happened:
I was working for Government Communication Headquarters in the U.K., which is the equivalent to N.S.A. here in the U.S., and I was a Chinese linguist at the time, and this email crossed my desk in my in-box in January of 2003.
At that time, as we all know, it was a crucial time for the U.N. in its decision-making process as to whether or not a resolution was needed with regard to Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction.
So, when I saw this email asking GCHQ’s help to bug the six swing nations to gather a vote for war with Iraq, I was very angry at first and very saddened that it had come to this, and that despite all of the talk from both Tony Blair and George Bush about how important it was to get the U.N. on board and to legitimize any kind of aggression, that they were actually going around it in such a low-handed manner.
I decided that the risk to my career was minute compared to the upcoming war in Iraq and the best thing to do for me was to leak this information to the press so that everybody else could have the information, and hopefully it could avert this disastrous course of events that have occurred.
Gun printed out a hard copy of the Koza memo, took it home with her that night, and gave it to the Guardian newspaper. On Sunday, March 2, 2003, just 17 days before U.S. forces attacked Iraq, the Guardian headlined the story: “Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war.” The lead paragraph began: The United States is conducting a secret “dirty tricks” campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq.