Katharine Gun spent the first three years of her life in Durham, a city in northern England. Then she moved to Taiwan with her parents, Jan and Paul Harwood. Jan and Paul had met when they were both students in the Asian Studies program at Durham University. Paul wanted to go to Taiwan to improve the Chinese he had learned at university. He found teaching work there, and the family stayed.
Katharine grew up in Taiwan. She returned to England when she was ready to take her university entrance exams. When she had done that, she entered Durham University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese. After she graduated, she went to work at GCHQ Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham, near London. The GCHQ does electronic surveillance, both domestic and foreign, for the British government. There is a comparable organization in the United States, called the National Security Agency.
Around 4,500 people work at the GCHQ. Most of them are translators or code-breakers. Katharines work was translating Chinese. It was an ordinary, low-level job. In February, 2003, when Katharine was 28 years old, she was working with a group of colleagues, monitoring the Chinese delegation to the United Nations the 'UN.' While she was doing her job, Katharine saw an e-mail from Frank Koza, an employee of the National Security Agency.
At that time, the American government was trying to persuade the members of the United Nations Security Council to support its plans to attack Iraq. They had been spying on the delegations of Security Council members who were opposed to an attack. In the e-mail that was put on Katharines desk, Frank Koza asked the GCHQ to help the National Security Agency by spying on Security Council delegates from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, and Guinea and, possibly, Pakistan.
The e-mail disturbed Katharine. She was disturbed because she felt the American government was asking the British government to help them undermine the UN. The Security Council of the UN should be, she thought, a place where people from all over the world could debate important issues calmly and logically. But, Katharine realized, calm, rational debate was not possible if the most powerful member of the Security Council was spying on the delegates of other countries and then using the information it got to try, secretly, to persuade those other countries to support the US.
She also felt, as she explained later, that the British people should be debating calmly and logically about whether or not they should join the Americans in attacking Iraq. Katharine was strongly against any kind of war. She said she was baffled by the fact that people were still dropping bombs on one another in the twenty-first century.
She felt that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his government wanted to go to war. And they were promoting their plan by using emotional language. In other words, they were trying to persuade the British people that war was necessary by getting them to feel fear and hatred.