Official Secrets

Burnt my trees
Jailed my sun
Killed my children
And drank their blood
Then ground their bones at McDonnell-Douglas
Only to offer them back to me
As a present
In a flour sack
To torture me all the rest of my life
This is America!

– Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

In March 2003 I sat in a miserable hotel room as far from Iraq as you could get. Outside was wet and cold. I watched Shock and Awe on TV for three days. Much had been made of the lawfulness or otherwise of the invasion and subsequent occupation of a sovereign state.

Iraq, the wealthiest country in the region, was at war with the west. Saddam had misread Bush senior’s messages and taken Kuwait prior to the first gulf war. During the US invasion called Desert Storm there was terrible carnage of innocent people fleeing Kuwait, something an American pilot called a ‘turkey shoot’. Those images had a lasting effect on the young woman who leaked the document.

Now Bush Junior with Blair at his side were invading Iraq to achieve regime change. None of the players, Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George W, Tony Blair, John Howard, Condolezza Rice and Colin Powell have ever been charged for lying about Saddam having Weapons of Mass Destruction. The protagonists used their own weapons of mass destruction to kill over a million people, including many of their own.

This week the Iraqi Prime Minister had to resign for failure to provide basic services to ordinary Iraqis: food, electricity, sewerage and water. The country is a failed state mired in foreign meddling; whereas, under Saddam, it was a thriving secular state. How could this have happened?

Sixteen years ago, on Sun 2 Mar 2003 to be precise, journalists, Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy and Peter Beaumont published an article in the Observer called “Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war”. They claimed that a secret document detailed an American plan to bug phones and emails of key Security Council members to collect personal info to bribe them into voting for war. This was prior to Shock and Awe.  

The woman who released the documents worked for a British spy agency. She said that there was no proof of WMDs and that neither country had a lawful justification for going to war. Her attempt to stop the war fell on deaf ears in Washington and London but millions came out on the street to stop the war. This was long before we heard revelations by WikiLeaks that US helicopter pilots were shooting ordinary people on the streets of Baghdad.

Prior to war Tony Blair faced a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons. Attempts were made to help him survive his own parliament’s disapproval. The local press failed to call him out for doctoring the case for war. Now Hollywood and British filmmakers wish to tell the story, but it is 16 years too late.

Apparently a young translator at GCHQ, Katharine Gun, leaked a secret email revealing what was called at the time an illegal ‘dirty tricks’ campaign to fix the UN vote. A new film, Official Secrets, tells the story of her actions and subsequent arrest. As the build-up to war continued, Gun felt increasing dismay. She couldn’t shake the ‘indelible’ images of the ‘turkey shoot’ of retreating Iraqis on the Highway of Death during the first Gulf War in 1991, the road out of Kuwait strewn with burnt-out vehicles and charred bodies. Harsh sanctions against Iraq were already causing many deaths.

Gun was sitting at her computer in GCHQ when an email arrived from one Frank Koza, chief of staff at the ‘regional targets’ division of the US National Security Agency. The email wasn’t even meant for her. It was intended for someone else but had been distributed to everyone in her section. She found the contents ‘absolutely stunning’.

SMH Wednesday 4 Dec 2019

The Americans had sent GCHQ a request to spy on the UN ambassadors of the six countries with the important, perhaps swing, votes. Gun believed that this would be illegal, a breach of the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations. More than that, Koza wasn’t just asking for information on what these ambassadors and their governments were planning, he seemed to want dirt. Sixteen years on, the words are still seared into memory. Asking for ‘the whole gamut of information from domestic and office communications’ was for her a demand for blackmail material… ‘blackmail to manipulate their vote, to sanction a war.

It was a Friday afternoon. She went home and stewed about the email for the whole weekend. Finally, she called someone (she has never named) who had connections to the media, telling them: ‘I have something explosive, I think it has the potential to avert a war with Iraq.’ She went back into work on Monday, printed the email, folded it neatly and put it in her bag. Nerves tingling, she went home. The moment she walked out of GCHQ, she was breaking the Official Secrets Act, perhaps committing an act of treason. A month later, the Observer splashed the story over its front page. ‘Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war.’ She became ‘the spy who tried to stop a war’.

Brisbane Protest against Iraq War 2003

Gun was charged with breach of the official secrets acts and her lawyers decided to use a necessity defence against the charge, that being her action was aimed to save lives at a time of imminent threat. Such a defence no longer works as the people who broke into US spy base, Pine Gap, will attest. At the final moment, after Gun had pleaded ‘not guilty’, the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew and Gun was ordered to go free. The liberal institutions had put the analyst/spy through torment for over 12 months to save the government from losing face as inspectors discovered that Iraq had no WMDs and the excuse for war was therefore baseless.

From my hotel room in Northern Tasmania where I saw repeated coverage of the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, arguing for a second resolution at the UN. Powell span a story of mobile biological weapons factories in trucks and intercepted radio messages about chemical weapons already deployed in the field.

As for Bush, Blair and Howard, I am reminded of the charges at Nuremberg.

‘… murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other
inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.’
– Article 6 (c) of international agreement on Crimes against Humanity.

Ian Curr
3 Dec 2019

3 thoughts on “Official Secrets

  1. Picket

    British Consulate Brisbane Australia
    Level 9, 100 Eagle Street Brisbane City
    Thursday 19 Dec 8 AM

    Contact person – Adele Goldie – 0448 445 358 – Leave a message

    End the illegal imprisonment and torture of Australian WikiLeaks journalist and publisher Julian Assange.

    December 19 is Julian’s last court date (management) before the US extradition hearing date February 24.

    Julian Assange is a Australian journalist and publisher who is a political prisoner in the UK.

    He is facing extradition to the US and 175 years jail for his work as a journalist and publisher.

    On October 21 Julian struggled to say his name and date of birth in court and complained he could not think properly.

    His family is desperate to get him home to Australia.

    His current imprisonment by the UK Government has been recognised as torture by the Special Rapporteur on torture Neils Melzer.

    Watch Special Rapporteur Neils Melzer -

    Several doctors have recently confirmed 1,2 that Mr. Assange’s health is in an increasingly dangerous condition. The UN found that his arbitrary detention is “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and tantamount to torture.

    The UK remains in violation of a United Nations decision from 2016 that Mr. Assange is being subjected to Arbitrary Detention.

    How did the Swedish matter end?

    The extradition warrant from Sweden was revoked on 19 May 2017, when the prosecutor also closed the entire underlying investigation. Having obtained Mr. Assange’s testimony, the prosecutor decided it would be disproportionate to proceed.

    The investigation had already been found to be baseless by Stockholm’s senior prosecutor, Eva Finne, who found that the conduct alleged by the police “disclosed no crime at all”. SMS messages from the alleged complainant made public in 2015 showed that she “did not want to accuse Assange of anything”, that she felt “railroaded by police and others around her”, and “police made up the charges”.

    The UK’s role in the Swedish affair was exposed in emails obtained under Freedom of Information Act which revealed that Sweden moved to drop the investigation in 2013, but the UK Crown Prosecution Service persuaded Sweden to keep it alive. Emails show the UK advised Sweden not to interview Mr. Assange in the UK in 2011 and 2012.

    UK prosecutors admitted to deleting key emails concerning Assange and engaged in elaborate attempts to keep correspondence from the public record.

    The Swedish prosecutor admitted to deleting an email from an FBI agent about Assange which she received in 2017, and claimed it could no longer be recovered
    (Video in English and Swedish):
    Exert from

    Get the facts –


  2. To ‘The Daily Echo‘ Editor
    Dear Aslan,

    This morning I requested a meeting between Byron Echo editor Aslan Shand and Byron Friends of Palestine to discus editorial policy re Israel/Palestine which seems to have changed. For example, I wrote 7 letters since March 1, 2019 but only 2 have been printed, the last being May 1. Aslan told me that it had been decided, without informing the community or seeking its opinion, to embargo letters on Palestine for 3 months because it was felt that the community was being overwhelmed (sic) and that the Echo’s policy was to prioritise local issues. Our request for a meeting was rejected.

    We champion the Echo’s alternative vision and its independence from the Murdoch press, but it seems to us that it has an even greater responsibility to publish on Palestine for, as Rod Such writes, “Of all the pillars that help hold up Israel’s special type of settler-colonialism and apartheid, one of the strongest remains the role of Western media in amplifying Israeli hasbara (propaganda)”. Mandela said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. Palestine therefore is a local and global issue that affects us all, so the Echo should commit to thinking globally while acting locally.

    Gareth W R Smith
    Sam Shomali
    Ann Shomali
    Annette Brownlie, Chair IPAN
    Jenny Bush
    Tony Christy
    Maxine Caron
    Leonie De-Dreux Crawford
    Stuart Rees OAM, Emeritus Professor
    Richard Hil PhD
    Adjunct Professor, School of Social Work and Human Services,
    Griffith University (Gold Coast Campus)
    Adjunct Professor, Southern Cross University, School of Arts and Social Sciences
    Jerry Cook


  3. Lest we forget the mind boggling crimes committed by our ever so respectable elected leaders. “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana).


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