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Profile: Observer

Observer was a participant or observer in the following events:

Katharine Gun.Katharine Gun. [Source: BBC]Katharine Gun, a 29-year old translator for British intelligence’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), leaks the National Security Agency memo documenting the NSA’s electronic and physical surveillance of numerous UN delegates to the Security Council (see January 31, 2003). Gun will be arrested on March 8 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act (see March 9, 2003). Gun leaks the memo, [BBC, 9/15/2004] written by the NSA’s Frank Koza and sent to several US allies via its ECHELON global surveillance system, to Britain’s Observer, which spends weeks verifying the document’s veracity before running the story on March 2. Former NSA intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, now of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the leak illustrates the deep unhappiness among several US allies’ intelligence agencies over US and British attempts to allege ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “My feeling is that this was an authorized leak,” Madsen says. “I’ve been hearing for months of people in the US and British intelligence community who are deeply concerned about their governments ‘cooking’ intelligence to link Iraq to al-Qaeda.’ While surveillance of delegates and other officials at the UN is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, [Observer, 3/9/2003] intelligence experts acknowledge that the US and other nations routinely conduct at least some sort of surveillance on UN members. “One would have to have the innocence of an unborn child to believe that espionage doesn’t go on every day at the United Nations,” says one such expert, Loch Johnson. “From a purist point of view, it’s unfortunate in a way, because after all, we’re the host nation for the United Nations. But the reality is, Europeans and everyone else engages in espionage in New York City, much of it focused on the United Nations.” Experts say what is unprecedented is the leak itself, especially in its timeliness and detail. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
bullet Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times, writes in January 2004, “I can only admire the more timely, courageous action of Katherine Gun…who risked her career and freedom to expose an illegal plan to win official and public support for an illegal war, before that war had started. Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the US bug the phones of all the members of the UN security council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy.…She did what she could, in time for it to make a difference, as indeed others should have done, and still can. I have no doubt that there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now—the Pentagon Papers of Iraq—whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq.…Exposing governmental lies carries a heavy personal risk, even in our democracies. But that risk can be worthwhile when a war’s-worth of lives is at stake.” [Guardian, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Observer, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Wayne Madsen, Loch Johnson, United Nations Security Council, Government Communications Headquarters, Daniel Ellsberg, Katherine Gun, Al-Qaeda, Echelon, National Security Agency, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Frank Koza

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The London Times pens a scathing editorial regarding the so-called “dodgy dossier,” a report on Iraqi attempts to deceive UN weapons inspectors recently released by the British government, which was quickly proven to be plagiarized from out-of-date articles from publicly available sources (see February 3, 2003). The editorial sarcastically envisions the scene in Downing Street in the weeks before the dossier’s release, with frantic staffers saying: “What do you mean, there’s no smoking gun? Haven’t MI6 [British intelligence] got anything? No photographs? No defectors? TB [Tony Blair] is expecting a dossier next week. We promised. He said the Americans liked the last one—quoted everywhere, robust stuff, saved the CIA from having to go public with any sources. So they want another one—Colin Powell’s thinking of a spot of show and tell at the UN (see February 5, 2003), and wants to point to independent work by the Brits. So, we better get something—and quick.… Well, one of you had better put something together. Get on the Internet. Just type in ricin and Iraq and see what you find on Google. 20 pages, at least. By tomorrow.” The editorial notes that while “[g]overnmental plagiarism is nothing new… plagiarizing intelligence is more difficult. There isn’t much of it around. And the best is all secret—not easy for a media studies undergraduate to prise out of GCHQ overnight. But what TB wants, TB gets. A Downing Street unit is there to provide it. And as any student knows, extracts from American social anthropology dissertations add the required note of pedantic obfuscation to any jejune essay, with a provenance that is virtually undetectable. What better way to triple the value of intelligence assets with a thesis from California? It was regrettable that the author had so obvious an Arab name: far less convincing as a footnote than a reference to the trajectory of a military satellite. But perhaps the report could simply say it was a mix of private and public. Isn’t that the normal pattern nowadays?” [London Times, 2/8/2003] The Observer writes a similarly harsh editorial, noting that such “[d]eception can only corrode public trust,” and apparently coins the term “dodgy dossier.” The Observer editorial calls the dossier “an Internet cut-and-paste exercise largely lifted from a Californian post-graduate thesis focused on evidence from the invasion of Kuwait 13 years ago” and “sprinkl[ed with] unfounded exaggerations… inserted to strengthen the claims made in the thesis.” The editorial says: “Plagiarism is not the main issue. The central issue is that of public trust. At best, this episode demonstrates incompetence and the failure to oversee the most important claims which the government puts into the public domain. At worst, a deliberate attempt to hoodwink and mislead the public will undermine trust in anything the government says about the Iraqi threat at this vital time.… It is not only the government which has access to the Internet. Every claim made will be scrutinized more closely, and by more people, than ever before. Nothing will corrode trust more than to be caught out trying to insult the intelligence of the British public.” [Observer, 2/9/2003]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Colin Powell, Blair administration, Observer, London Times

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

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