It wasn't self-serving hyperbole. Daniel Ellsberg, who himself leaked the Pentagon Papers, has called Katharine Gun’s leak “the most important and courageous leak I have ever seen. … No one else -- including myself -- has ever done what Gun did: tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it.”
And indeed, Ellsberg had asked for such a leak during this period. He had been saying during the run up to the Iraq invasion: "Don't wait until the bombs start falling. ... If you know the public is being lied to and you have documents to prove it, go to Congress and go to the press. ... Do what I wish I had done before the bombs started falling [in Vietnam] ... I think there is some chance that the truth could avert war."
Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers -- internal documents which showed a pattern of U.S. government deception about the Vietnam War -- in 1971, though he had the information earlier. And while the Pentagon Papers, the leaks by Chelsea Manning to WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden National Security Agency leaks of were all quite massive, the Katharine Gun leak was just 300 words. Its power came from its timeliness.
In October of 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the so-called Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. In November, the U.S. government had gotten the United Nations Security Council to pass a threatening resolution on Iraq, but in most people's view, it stopped short of actually authorizing force. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the time, John Negroponte, said when resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously: “There’s no ‘automaticity’ and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we have met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution.” That is, the U.S. would intend to come back for a second resolution if Iraq didn't abide by a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations."
On February 6, 2003, Colin Powell claimed in his infamous presentation at the UN that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. February 15, 2003 saw the greatest global protests in history, with millions around the world rallying against the impending Iraq invasion, including over a million near the UN headquarters in New York City.
It was around this time that Katharine Gun -- who worked as a language specialist at the Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA, got a memo from the NSA and then decided to -- through intermediaries -- leak it to the media. The brief email read in part:
"As you've likely heard by now, the Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc - the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises. ... to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters."
The memo outlined that U.S. and British assets should focus on getting information to pressure member of the UN Security Council to go vote for a war resolution -- material for blackmail to put it bluntly. This internal government document could show people -- especially those who tend to put stock in government pronouncements -- that what President George W. Bush was claiming at the time: “We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq” -- was exactly backwards. The U.S. government infact was doing virtually everything it possibly could to ensure war.
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 from last year.
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 pealed 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.)
In 2004, the Observer reported that "surveillance played a role in derailing a compromise UN resolution in the weeks before the Iraq war. Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, Mexico’s UN ambassador at the time, has charged that the U.S. spied on a private meeting of six swing countries on the Security Council aimed at a compromise. Zinser told the Observer: 'The meeting was in the evening. They [U.S. diplomats] call us in the morning before the meeting of the Security Council and they say: "We appreciate you trying to find ideas, but this is not a good idea."'"
Meanwhile, Katharine Gun had been found out as the leaker shortly after the memo was published -- she has a talent for telling the truth, not so much for covering up apparently -- and spent many months awaiting trial. England has no First Amendment that might have protected Gun. It does have a repressive Official Secrets Act, under which she was being prosecuted by the Blair government.
Marcia Mitchell, co-author of The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion, notes however that at the last minute, the Blair government, which was about to face elections "with her signed confession in hand, chose not to present evidence that the invasion of Iraq was, in fact, legal, a demand by the Defense." That is, the British government was afraid of what could come out about the legality of the Iraq war in a trial. And so Gun, who was newly married when she exposed the NSA/GCHQ's activities, was able to avoid jail and continue as a language instructor. She has since been supportive of Edward Snowden and others who expose government wrong doing.
At the UN
The subject of spying at the UN was again highlighted in 2010 from cables leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. Reuters reported at the time: "According to one cable, the State Department asked U.S. envoys at U.N. headquarters and elsewhere to procure credit card and frequent flyer numbers, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, passwords and other confidential data from top U.N. officials and foreign diplomats." Of course, spying on UN missions by the U.S. is illegal, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations says: "The receiving State shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes.... The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable."
Similarly, in 2013, the Guardian reported as G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland: “Turkey, South Africa and Russia have reacted angrily to the British government demanding an explanation for the revelations that their politicians and senior officials were spied on and bugged during the 2009 G20 summit in London.” The governments were responding to the Guardian story: “GCHQ Intercepted Foreign Politicians’ Communications at G20 Summits,” based on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.
The Katharine Gun case give us many lessons. First off, it's a great example to rebut anyone parroting the establishment line that the NSA's activities are based on stopping terrorism, or that they are merely overzealous efforts at ensuring security, or perhaps typical diplomatic games. Here, the NSA and GCHQ were spying to try to facilitate an aggressive war -- the highest war crime under the Nuremberg statues.
Similarly, it highlights what great ideals some "whistleblowers" -- the term doesn't really do justice -- are motivated by. And of course, such revealers are much more threatening to war makers and others when they are acting in parallel with movements. Those movements may also help ward off the government attempting to imprison the whistleblower.
The "rebuttal" that everybody spies and therefore it's no big deal when the U.S. or some other government is caught doing so similarly doesn't hold up. Yes, virtually every government spies -- but you're not supposed to get caught. And if a government does get caught, it's an indication that it's own people -- the very people who are paid to carry out the surveillance -- don't believe in it and are willing to put themselves at risk to expose the spying and the underlying wrongdoing.
Perhaps most importantly, the lesson is not that Katharine Gun's leak was futile because the U.S. invaded Iraq -- any more than the lesson is that the February 15 global protests were in vain. Rather, more of both could have really changed things. If global protests had started in 2002, then the Congressional authorization for war in late 2002 could have been prevented. If more people within the war making governments had their consciences moved by such movements and had leaked more critical information, war could have been forestalled.
And, even if the Iraq invasion happened, if global protests had continued and global solidarity better coordinated, when it became clear to all that the WMDs not in Iraq were a contrived pretext for aggression, a sustained revulsion against could have led to the war makers being held accountable, preventing much suffering in Iraq and elsewhere -- and laying the basis for a world free of war.
Said Inskeep: "I think you've hit on something insightful here. And I want you to help me with this a little bit because the Tea Party, those are some very conservative people -- Elizabeth Warren, very liberal person. But they both represent deep unhappiness with the way things are. And it sounds like they both struck a chord with you. Am I right?"
He was and it's not one woman in Colorado of course. Politico headline today states: "Exit polls 2014: Voters hate everyone." It might seem that way to the insiders at Politico, but actually it's that voters mostly just hate the establishment of both political parties, which to Politico might seem like "everyone". And this isn't new. From 2010: "CNN Poll: Majority angry at both political parties."
The problem is that people feel they have virtually no where to go and can't translate that anger to action. There is a de-facto anti-establishment, populist majority. But the entire structure of politics, media and elections is designed to keep them divided and prevent such populists from the left or right or wherever from coalescing politically. Third parties coming from either the left (Green, Socialist) or the right (Constitution, Libertarian) are automatically dismissed by the vast majority as potential spoilers. (I've set up VotePact.org to solve exactly this problem.)
Some sectors of the media have lauded the Republican establishment's stepping into the primary process and preventing Tea Party candidates from getting nominations in so-called "swing states." Those looking for salvation in presidential elections from the likes of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or their Republican mirror images will have to bear in mind the obstacle in the primaries is "electability" (as defined by the establishment) and it's a virtual certainty that candidates who seems serious about delivering real change will be denied any nomination. Rather, such candidates will likely mostly function as a way of keeping voters on the establishment party reservation, endorsing the ultimate nominee.
As for midterm elections, part of the equation is lower and lower voter turnout -- the "leadership" of the parties is in effect firing and further marginalizing the public and their alleged bases.
The establishment will attempt to produce their own version of "bipartisanship" -- pro-establishment bipartisanship that is. The mantra of "change" is being used to peddle the never ending use of the Reversible Straitjacket of the Democratic and Republican establishments. This manifests itself as "seesaw politics" and what I've called the guillotine pendulum, helping ensure the continuity of what some call the Deep State.
The major corporate media frequently focus on marginal differences between the two major parties, but the areas of agreement between them are sizable in terms of economic, trade, civil liberties, foreign policy and other issues. On these and other critical issues, the establishments of the duopoly are frequently aligned together against their alleged bases, explaining why the public "hates everyone". Crazy public. Politicians of both parties talk about helping the little guy and then do the bidding of corporate interests.
Now, the political narrative is that Washington is dysfunctional and "can't agree on anything". The the general public is clearly being prepared to embrace whatever pro-corporate monstrosity President Obama and presumptive Senate Majority Leader McConnell agree on.
So, predictably, the Wall Street Journal is now reporting: "American businesses are hoping the dust will settle from Tuesday’s GOP takeover of Congress with new attention on corporate taxes, immigration, trade and energy, top priorities that have eluded breakthroughs in recent years. A post-election landscape that includes a more sharply divided government is likely to lead to continued frustration over some items on businesses’ wish list. At the same time, a reshaped political landscape could lead Congress and the White House to seek legislative breakthroughs on some economic issues before the 2016 election season heats up."
So, the big business agenda on taxes and corporate trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership could well be advanced by establishment Republicans in Congress working with the Obama administration. This could well extend to other issues such as civil liberties, more war, etc.
The anti-establishment forces either still in the Democratic Party or that have given up on the electoral process all together should join with those deluding themselves into looking for the Republican Party for some salvation. They should work to building new institutions that adopt their best beliefs.
And this must go beyond voters. There should be candidates running for Democratic and Republican nominations who -- once the establishment ensures their defeat the the primaries -- are willing, jointly perhaps, to bolt and not back the party's establishment nominees.
The day after election day is the most important. Now is the time to reach out across the partisan divide and find populists on the other side to work with. You have nothing to lose but your perpetual chains.
Sam Husseini founded VotePact.org which encourages voters to pair up with their political "mirror image" and vote for their preferred candidates rather than the "lesser evil" offered by the establishment.
Here's the question I submitted: "Your name has been mentioned as possible AG pick. Many are concerned about the fate of New York Times reporter James Risen and the several whistleblowers the administration has prosecuted -- more than all other administrations combined. As you know, Risen, who broke the original NSA mass surveillance story nearly ten years ago, is under threat of imprisonment to name a source. Would you as AG continue this attack on journalism and whistleblowing?"
My question didn't get asked per se, but a question about Risen was asked by the moderator, Myron Belkind that was much kinder to the administration, and didn't raise the issue of whistleblowers at all:
Myron Belkind: [around 53:00 on the C-Span video, their transcript] "Attorney General Holder says he won't send journalists to jail for doing their job, suggesting that in New York Times reporter is unlikely to spend time behind bars. Specifically he said in an interview with MSNBC, he's that I stand by what I said. No reporter is going to jail as long as i'm attorney general. Would you maintain a position, should you happen to become attorney general? Or if not, do support that position?"
Thomas Perez: "My singular focus is on the job of being at the Department of Labor. I know the attorney general very much values the role of the press as the fourth branch of government. He served as teh deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. He often participated in her weekly conferences, whether it was good news, bad news, or indifferent. He was out there with her in those press briefings. He understands the critical importance of the press in so many aspects of our life."
It should be clarified, what Holder recently said on MSNBC is: “I stand by what I have said: If a reporter is doing that which he or she does as a reporter, no reporter is going to go to jail as long as I am attorney general."
Which doesn't really say much. As Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler [with whom I'm associated via accuracy.org and exposefacts.org] recently wrote in the Nation: the "pivotal concern for the First Amendment hinges on what 'doing his job' is understood to mean. For the men and women who work with integrity as journalists, the job must include protecting rather than betraying confidential sources. Yet the official position of the Obama administration insists on such betrayal. In a brief to the Supreme Court in April, the Justice Department argued that the government should enforce what it called 'the longstanding common-law rule that reporters have no privilege to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources.'"
[At 59:00] Myron Belkind: If I can ask you the last question, in the Labor Department, can they do anything about the employment situation of journalists? [laughter]
Thomas Perez: [in over the top enthusiastic tone] There are a few things that keep me up at night more than the employment situation of journalists. What we do is, we hire more journalists so that they can tell our stories. Journalists like so many others have similar challenges. I hope you continue to do the great work you are doing to shine a light. When I signed your book, I said you are the fourth branch of government. Thank you for coming today.
The “Rodney King riots” in Los Angeles last year prompted some journalists to think critically about their failure to fully cover the urban problems that lay behind the unrest. At the time, MacNeil/Lehrer’s David Gergen (5/1/92) admitted that there “has really been almost a conspiracy of silence within our political leadership and often with our press about what’s really happening in this country.” Gergen, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and now a Clinton adviser, spoke of “the division into two societies, the division by race, by haves versus have nots.”
But after the second trial of the police officers who beat King ended in a mixed verdict—and no major protests—it was back to business as usual for most journalists and commentators. When Benjamin Chavis, the new head of the NAACP, was interviewed about the verdict on CBS’s Face the Nation (4/18/93), he tried to bring up issues of jobs, healthcare and childhood programs. But host Bob Schieffer seemed puzzled: “Well, things are calm,” he said, reinforcing the message sent by much of the media that violence is the only way to get attention.
Coverage of the federal trial focused on the drama and the “human interest” aspects, not on the underlying social problems. NBC interviewed Jesse Jackson at a church in Los Angeles while the verdict was being read (4/18/93); as Jackson began to speak of how the Clinton administration should address the widespread problem of police brutality, the reporter interrupted: “I saw tears in your eyes as the verdict was being read.”
The TV political spectrum does not usually extend to those who think that something can and should be done to solve urban problems. On Face the Nation(4/18/93), liberal Christopher Matthews agreed with conservative strategist Bill Kristol that what is needed is thousands more police officers. “The country is not clamoring for a jobs bill,” Matthews said. In fact, in a New York Times poll last year (5/11/92), a majority of respondents said jobs and training programs were the number one solution to city unrest. Sixty-one percent said that too little was being spent on improving the condition of African-Americans. More police was last in a field of six possible solutions.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused Israel of "genocide" as has Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: "We have repeatedly warned of this genocide conditions in Gaza."
Others who have charged that Israel is committing genocide include Bolivian President Evo Morales, who recalled that country's ambassador from Israel, as have Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru. Said Morales: "What is happening in Palestine is genocide."
Similarly, from the the Venezuelan government: Israel has "initiated a higher phase of its policy of genocide and extermination with the ground invasion of Palestinian territory, killing innocent men, women, girls and boys."
Leading legal scholars have also called what Israel is doing genocide. It's important to note that you don't need millions of dead bodies and a Nazi industrial system of extermination to constitute genocide under the relevant convention. See from President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner: "UN's Investigation of Israel Should Go Beyond War Crimes to Genocide" and the piece "More voices describe Gaza slaughter as a ‘genocide.’"
But none of these governments seem to be moving to actually invoking the relevant legal remedy for the charge they make: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Professor Francis Boyle at the University of Illinois is proposing that they do so -- and has laid out a legal strategy to do so that attempts to shortcut the predictable obstructionism from the U.S. and Israel. He recommends countries that are signatories to the Genocide Convention:
Immediately institute legal proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, request an Emergency Hearing by the Court, and obtain an Order by the Court against Israel to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide against the Palestinians. This Order will then be transmitted by the Court to the United Nations Security Council for enforcement as required by the United Nations Charter. In the event the United States were to exercise a veto at the Security Council against the enforcement of this World Court Cease-and-Desist Order against Israel, you can then invoke the General Assembly’s Uniting for Peace Resolution of 1950 in order to have the World Court Order turned over to the United Nations General Assembly for enforcement against Israel. Under the terms of the Uniting for Peace Resolution, the General Assembly can recommend enforcement measures against Israel to every state in the world that would be lawful for them to carry out. In addition, the U.N. General Assembly could also admit Palestine as a full-fledged U.N. Member State.
John Quigley, a leading expert on genocide at Ohio State University, who was an expert witness at the trial of Pol Pot, agrees that invoking the Genocide Convention could work. He notes that many countries that are signatories to the convention have stipulated reservations to the critical Article IX. The U.S. has a reservation to this Article. But Israel doesn't. Venezuela and other states currently have reservations and would be hindered in moving forward until they dropped them. However, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Gambia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Russia, Tunisia, Uganda and other countries are perfectly positioned legally to do so. (The list of signatory states is here. If there's no footnote for a country regarding Article IX, that country can move invoke the convention against Israel.)
So, what's stopping these countries from invoking the treaty against Israel? In part, it appears to be the Palestinian Authority. Or more exactly, the Palestine Office at the United Nations. Which is ironic, since PA head Abbas has called it genocide: “It’s genocide -- the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.”
It's imperative that countries that may be considering action along these lines not be hindered by the PA -- over the course of decades, it's been clear that the PA does not have a legal strategy in play that will meaningfully protect the life and well being of Palestinians, especially in Gaza. The Palestinian establishment in Ramallah is either unwilling or unable to meaningfully protect the Palestinian people. Any move by a nation that has been critical of Israel to invoke the Genocide Convention against Israel will obviously be welcomed by an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, and likely their own publics.
Most assessments regarding Israel's legal culpability center for the carnage in Gaza around the International Criminal Court. But Quigley, Boyle and others have criticized the ICC as being extremely selective about who they prosecute. Indeed, the Palestinians were initially rebuffed by the ICC and the ICC has shown that it is most interested in going after Africans who are critical of the Western powers. The ICC was glaringly silent when it came to the invasion of Iraq.
Some -- like Human Rights Watch -- have urged "Palestine: Go to International Criminal Court." So far, those at the Palestine mission in New York have not taken the final steps to doing so. (Human Rights Watch comes with their own set of double standards, like many legal observers, they criticize Israel, but don't take the steps that would actually put Israel in legal jeopardy, for example, they have not invoked the term "genocide" with regards to Israel, though of course they did for example with regards to Iraq.)
The Palestine mission to the UN could fear that if they went to the ICC, that court would go after Palestinians for relatively minor crimes just as the ICC has done for Africans. Or it could be because the Palestinian Authority does not want to upset Israel, either because they are defacto operating in collusion or because they fear that such a legal move against Israel would mean Israel will use even more violence, including in the West Bank and conceivably targeting PA officials and their families.
Nearly a month into Israel's fierce assault on Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing mounting domestic pressure to seek war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.He has hesitated in the past because such a move would instantly put the Palestinians on a risky collision course with Israel. But with about 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza, according to health officials, Abbas has signaled he might move ahead — cautiously.
Palestinian officials said Thursday that Abbas asked all Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad, to give their written consent to such a move. Different PLO factions signed up in a meeting in the West Bank earlier this week, while Abbas is still waiting for a response from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they said.
In trying to make a case against Israel, Abbas could also expose Hamas, a bitter rival turned potential political partner, to war crimes prosecution because it has fired thousands of rockets from Gaza at Israeli communities over the years.
Some, like James Paul, a longtime UN observer and former head of the Global Policy Forum, wonder if such legal proceedings could take years. Boyle however states that his strategy could win an emergency order in three weeks -- and he has a record to back it up, having successfully filed genocide charges on behalf of the Bosnians: "I filed that lawsuit on March 19, 1993 and won the order April 8, 1993 and it was immediately transmitted to the Security Council." In either case, given the recurring bombing campaigns by Israel, meaningful legal action is long overdue.
What's plainly not needed is that various states take the carnage in Gaza to simply make pronouncements denouncing Israel and the United States for political gain without invoking the legal remedies that are available to them to potentially protect Palestinians in Gaza. Of course, such a course will likely mean serious retribution of some sort from Israel and likely the United States. But that's the nature of meaningful solidarity. It's not pronouncements, it's actions that can help the oppressed and achieve justice that invariably entail risk.
Or perhaps the greater risk is not invoking the legal mechanisms available. The Palestinians are the targets today. Who will be the target years from now unless the rule of law is meaningfully asserted now?