Katharine Gun was born in northern England. When she was three years old, she and her parents moved to Taiwan. Her father had a teaching job in a university there.
Katharine grew up in Taiwan and went back to England when she was ready to go to university. She studied Chinese and Japanese at Durham University, and when she graduated, she got a job with the British government.
Katharine was a translator of Chinese. Her job was watching, electronically, what the governments of other countries were doing.
In 2003, when Katharine was 28 years old, she was watching what the Chinese were doing at the United Nations. One day, Katharine saw a letter that had been sent to her office by an American called Frank Koza. Frank was in Washington and working for the American government.
All this was happening at the time when the American government was planning to make war on Iraq. The Americans wanted the United Nations to give their approval. But to get that approval, they had to have the help of several countries. In his letter, Frank asked the British to help the US by spying electronically on the Unitied Nations delegates from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, and Guinea and telling them what they found out.
Katharine was unhappy about the letter. She was unhappy because she felt the Americans were asking the British to help them do things that would hurt the United Nations. She felt that the United Nations should be a place where people from all over the world could talk to each other in a quiet friendly way. But she knew that kind of talking would be impossible if the delegates of one country were spying on the delegates of other countries.
Also, Katharine was against all wars. She couldnt understand why, in 2001, people were still dropping bombs on one another. Because she was against war, she was against the plans of the British government to join the Americans in a war against Iraq. And she was very unhappy because she thought the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was trying to get the British people to hate and fear Iraq.
Katharine felt that, instead of being led by their feelings, the British people should be talking quietly and carefully about their governments war plans.
After she saw the letter, Katharine had an idea. She thought that if she gave it to a newspaper and let the British people see what their government was doing to hurt the UN, they would be angry with their government and stop believing what it was telling them. Then, possibly, there would be no war.
Katharine spent a few days thinking very hard. When she had taken her job, she had promised not to talk about any secret information to anyone outside the government. She knew that she would be committing a crime if she took the letter to a newspaper. She knew that she might go to jail. But after thinking for a long time she went ahead and did it. The letter was in The Observer newspaper on March 3, 2003, just over two weeks before the war began.
Right after the letter was in the newspaper, the police took Katharine to jail. She soon got out of jail, but the police kept questioning her, and she lost her job with the government. For the next eight months, Katharine was lonely and afraid. She couldnt look for another job because she didnt want to answer questions about her past. She was even afraid to go out on the street because people had seen her picture and would know who she was.
Finally, in November, 2003, the government decided to put Katharine on trial. Her lawyers plan was to say that Katharine had not committed a crime by taking the letter to a newspaper. They were going to say it was true that she had given them secret information, but she had only done this because she believed a war against Iraq would be against the law, and she wanted to stop the government from committing a crime. The government said it had papers that showed the war was not against the law. Katharines lawyers asked to see them. The government said they could not see them. The lawyers said that, in court, they would ask the judge to make the government show them these papers. Then, on February 25, 2004, the day before Katharines trial was going to begin, the government said it had changed its mind about putting her on trial. Katharine was free.
- information from: Independent, (London) 04.02.26 (Kim Sengupta);Time, 04.02.02 , (J.F.O. McAllister); Observer, 04.02.22 (Martin Bright) and 04.09.19 (Katharine Gun)