News Release

How the NSA Pushed Iraq Invasion

Katharine Gun

Katharine Gun

Charlie Savage in the New York Times writes Tuesday: “On Monday, the news website The Intercept said it would publish the entire archive of the [National Security Agency’s Top Secret internal] newsletter and began by posting more than 150 articles from 2003…. For example, one article described the American and British ambassadors to the United Nations expressing thanks to the agency for providing what the latter called ‘insights into the nuances of internal divisions among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council’ during the diplomatic negotiations ahead of the Iraq War.”

The Intercept on Monday in one of their postings stated the NSA’s intelligence “during the wind-up to the Iraq War ‘played a critical role’ in the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The work with that customer was a resounding success.” The relevant document quotes John Negroponte, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations: “I can’t imagine better intelligence support for a diplomatic mission.”

SAM HUSSEINI, sam at, @samhusseini
Communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Husseini wrote the piece “Katharine Gun’s Risky Truth-telling” about a British official who crucially leaked evidence of NSA spying against UN officials during the buildup to the Iraq invasion.

Husseini said today: “The U.S. government, through the NSA, was spying — in violation of international law — on other UN Security Council members in order to better coerce them to back the invasion of Iraq. We know this because Katharine Gun leaked a short 300-word NSA memo on this shortly before the invasion. She worked at the time at GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA.

“This memo was reported by The Observer in Britain and then around the world — but there was hardly a peep in the U.S. media, including the Times. Dan Ellsberg has called it the most important leak of all time. This story debunked key lies about the Iraq invasion in real time. It highlighted how the U.S. government was not — as President George W. Bush was claiming at the time — trying to find a way to avoid war. Rather, it documented that the U.S. government was going to incredible lengths to coerce other states to give it diplomatic cover for the desired invasion.

“And this has critical importance for today. This shows the NSA is not working tirelessly, as officialdom would have us believe, to protect the U.S. public. It is facilitating policies that enable horrific wars, destabilize countries and dramatically increase insecurity.

“While the Times treats what happened in 2003 rather gingerly, The Intercept is incorrect in claiming that there were Security Council ‘resolutions’ during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. There was only one — in good measure because Katharine Gun’s whistleblowing made it difficult for other members of the Security Council to go along with another resolution. This made a liar out of Negroponte, who had stated when the first resolution [1441] was adopted: ‘There’s no “automaticity” and this is a two-stage process’ — that is, the U.S. would come back to the Security Council for a second resolution before invading Iraq.”

Husseini’s piece states: “When the British reporters writing the story called the author of the memo, Frank Koza, a top official at the NSA, they were put through to his office. When they shared the nature of their phone call, they were told by an assistant they had ‘the wrong number.’ The reporters noted: ‘On protesting that the assistant had just said this was Koza’s extension, the assistant repeated that it was an erroneous extension, and hung up.’

“The story was ignored by the U.S. media, though we at the Institute for Public Accuracy put out a string of news releases about it. Gun has commented that Martin Bright, one of the reporters who broke the story for the British Observer, had been booked on several U.S. TV networks just after the story was published but they had all quickly cancelled. [See video of an interview with Gun and Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, on German TV.]

“However, the story did cause headlines around the world — especially in the countries on the Security Council that the memo listed as targets of the surveillance. Through whatever combination of authentic anger or embarrassment at their subservience to the U.S. government being exposed, most of these governments apparently peeled away from the U.S., and no second UN resolution was sought by the war planners.

“Rather, George W. Bush started the Iraq war with unilateral demands that Saddam Hussein and his family leave Iraq (and then indicated that the invasion would commence in any case.)”