News Release

Prominent Americans Support British Whistleblower


An array of high-profile Americans — including Rev. Jesse Jackson, feminist Gloria Steinem, Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, leaders of the ACLU and the Newspaper Guild, and artists such as Sean Penn, Bonnie Raitt and Martin Sheen — released a joint statement Thursday (Jan. 29) in support of Katharine Gun, a British whistleblower. Ms. 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.

The initiator of the statement is Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers exposing decades of deception behind U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He praises Katharine Gun for her “courageous action.” Mr. Ellsberg wrote in the Jan. 27 Guardian newspaper: “Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the U.S. bug the phones of all the members of the U.N. Security Council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy.”


Should this woman go to prison for the “crime” of telling the truth?

The following statement has been signed by:
DANIEL ELLSBERG, author/whistleblower
JAMES ABOUREZK, former U.S. senator
LINDA FOLEY, president Newspaper Guild
DANNY GLOVER, actor/director
JIM HIGHTOWER, commentator/author
REV. JESSE JACKSON, founder Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
RON KOVIC, Vietnam veteran/author
SEAN PENN, actor/director
BONNIE RAITT, musician
RAMONA RIPSTON, executive director Southern California ACLU
MARTIN SHEEN, actor/director
GLORIA STEINEM, feminist author
(Affiliations for identification only)

As the world teetered on the edge of war in early March 2003, with the United States and Britain pressuring the U.N. 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 U.N. 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 emails 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 U.N. 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.

Ms. 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. She is being represented by the British human rights group Liberty; restrictions on her defense have been denounced by Amnesty International.

Katharine 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. No one has suggested, nor could they, that I set out to receive any payment. I have only ever followed my conscience. I have been heartened by many messages of support and encouragement that I have received from Britain and around the world.”

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. It is in the spirit of friendship between our peoples in defense of democracy that we sign this statement.

We honor Katharine Gun as a whistleblower who bravely risked her career and her very liberty to inform the public about illegal spying in support of a war based on deception. In a democracy, she should not be made a scapegoat for exposing the transgressions of others.

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 Katharine Gun directly to the government of Britain through the British Embassy, 3100 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, D.C. 20008. Phone: 202-588-7800. Fax: 202-588-7870. (Please cc to the address below.)

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

For more background:

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167