News Release

20 Years Later: “The Most Important Leak” That Almost Stopped the Iraq Invasion


In 2003, Gun was an analyst with GCHQ, the British equivalent of the secretive NSA. As the U.S. government ramped up to invade Iraq, it sought a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the invasion.
To help get that authorization, the NSA put out a memo ordering a spy surge on other members of the UN Security Council to find ways to blackmail and bribe them into voting for authorization.

Gun was sent this memo. She exposed it and on March 2, 2003, the Observer published the memo on their front page.

The story ricocheted around the world, causing the U.S. government to fail to get UN authorization.

On March 8, 2003, the Observer reported that a worker at GCHQ had been arrested in violation of the Official Secrets Act. That was Gun. This effectively confirmed the veracity of the story and authenticated the document.

Gun, who lives in Turkey with her husband and child, said today: “I wouldn’t change anything that I did. I did what I was capable of. I felt genuinely alone in the process of trying to stop the war by exposing the U.S. government’s illegal actions.”

Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers, would comment: “No one else — including myself — has ever done what Katharine Gun did: Tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it. Hers was the most important — and courageous — leak I’ve ever seen, more timely and potentially more effective than the Pentagon Papers.”

The Institute for Public Accuracy put out multiple news releases on the case, but U.S. media largely buried the story. It was eventually told in the 2019 film “Official Secrets” with Keira Knightley playing Gun, see review by Sam Husseini which gives further detail on the case.

Gun added: “Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, few in the media picked up on the revelations, and even some who did didn’t follow up as vigorously as they could have. Similarly, few politicians, including those who had taken a stance against war, actually utilized the exposure to stop the invasion.” Even years after the invasion, Gun’s case has been notably ignored, effectively allowing the Bush and Blair governments off easy. The famed British Chilcot Report in 2016 was deemed “devastating” by the New York Times — but incredibly made no mention of the Gun case.

The U.S. began its invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003 without UN authorization with its “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign. Bush told the weapons inspectors that Iraq had allowed in, and which were proceeding, to leave the country. He unilaterally demanded that Saddam Hussein leave the country — and then stated that the bombing would start regardless. (See just re-released excerpt of the film “War Made Easy” with Norman Solomon. See “Joe Biden won’t tell the truth about his Iraq war record — and he hasn’t for years” by Husseini.)

Gun added: “Also unfortunately, I think we see a similar pattern continuing with wars to this day. For example, you had Seymour Hersh recently report that the U.S. government was behind the bombing of the Nord Stream pipeline, quoting an anonymous inside source. But there’s virtually no follow up. A few members of the European parliament speak up, but there’s largely silence in most media and among the U.S. and British lawmakers — including those allegedly committed to peace.”

Solomon is executive director of IPA; Husseini is senior analyst with the group.