Schumer claimed Iraq had WMDs

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): "Saddam Hussein is an evil man, a dictator who oppresses his people and flouts the mandate of the international community. While this behavior is reprehensible, it is Hussein's vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and his present and potential future support for terrorist acts and organizations, that make him a terrible danger to the people to the United States." (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.10302, 10/10/02) [Source]

Did the Greeks Just Re-Invent Democracy?

It's often noted that the Greeks invented Democracy -- that it's in fact a word of Greek origin, from dēmos "the people" and -kratia "power, rule."

Too often, as anyone who has lived in a modern "democracy" for any length of time can attest, it becomes apparent that the people don't rule. 

They are ruled over and managed, appeased and manipulated by various interests, typically monied interests. 

A primary way this is done is divide and conquer. Elites in effect end up sicking "the people" on each other on issues that are marginal to most elites. School prayer. Gay marriage, etc. What pundits sometimes call "wedge issues."

Now, in Greece, the left wing anti-austerity Syriza party won 149 of 300 seats in the Greek parliament, just short of a majority needed to form a government. So, they teamed up with the anti-austerity right wing Independent Greeks party so together they have the majority needed.  

Some may snark at this, but it's a childish thing to do. There are certainly differences between Syriza and Independent Greeks -- and they don't seem to be pretending otherwise -- but to team up with someone you disagree to achieve something you both want can be a very mature thing to do. 

What they have done is a version of a voting strategy I've been advocating: VotePact.org. Here's the idea: Instead of disenchanted Democrats and disenchanted Republicans continuing to back the establishments of their parties -- which then becoming ever more controlled in real terms by corporate interests -- that the voters pair up and back candidates and policies they truly believe in. 

That seems to be what's happening in Greece. Principled progressives there could continue voting for the pro-austerity liberals and conscientious conservatives could continue voting for establishment right wingers doing the bidding of big European banks instead of watching out for the Greek public. 

The Greeks, by joining together from the left and right, have befittingly cut the Gregorian Knot that ties up voters and turns them into prisoners of the political parties that are supposed to serve them. 

Now, of course a parliamentary system is different than our system. There, the politicians who are willing to buck the establishment can more easily form alliances. But in the U.S. -- if the people will it enough -- you can make a VotePact with your political mirror image. Instead of you being compelled to vote for an establishment Democrat and them continuing to vote for an establishment Republican they don't really believe in, you can both vote for independent and third party candidates nearer to your heart. 

As in Greece, there will obviously be disagreements, but they will be more likely to be worked out by the people, not managed and manipulated by the monied interests. 

And then the people may stand a chance at ruling -- and fulfilling the meaning of "Democracy."

Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

Sources of "Saudi Legitimacy"

Many are voicing surprise at the comments of IMF head Christine Lagarde following the death of the Saudi monarch: "He was a great leader. He implemented lots of reforms, at home, and in a very discreet way, he was a great advocate for woman. It was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country, but I discussed that issue with him several times and he was a strong believer." After a reporter expressed surprise that a woman would say that, Lagarde added: "Very often, Saudi Arabia is portrayed as a place where women do not play quite the same role." The last sentence hasn't been seriously scrutinized, but it should be. "Quite the same role" is a remarkable way to describe a country that has a system of male guardianship.

This would seem to be another example of the emptiness -- even on the most limited basis -- of a shallow diversity that seeks to put a woman or African American in a prominent position while maintaining incredibly oppressive power dynamics. 

And that's how her statements should be seen: The source is not some random woman. It was the head of the IMF, an international financial institution purported to aid global development but is frequently criticized as doing the bidding of the rich and powerful -- such as the major U.S. and European banks. And, like a good managing director, Lagarde is probably on the lookout for more funding for the IMF -- it's not straightforward to find out how much the Saudis have already ponied up. 

Back in 2011, when the Arab uprisings were in their seemingly promising first year I vigorously questioned Saudi Amb. Turki about the legitimacy of the Saudi regime and in his response he indicated part of their "legitimacy" was money given to international organizations, of which the IMF is one. 

I forcefully questioned Saudi legitimacy because I could see what was happening in 2011: The uprisings were taking root -- and deforming to into violent proxy wars -- in secular states (Libya and Syria), which were at times somewhat critical of the U.S. establishment -- while the pro-U.S. establishment regimes, largely monarchies like Saudi Arabia, were getting let off the hook. Those repressive monarchies would therefore be able to mold events in the formerly secular states and the future of the region. Democracy, equality and the voice of the people would hardly be on their list of goals. 

So, when he came to the National Press Club, I asked Turki what the legitimacy of the Saudi regime was. I was immediately suspended from the Press Club for my actions, though that was receded by the Club's Ethics Committee some ten days later. I was very gratified to have received support from a good number of people during my suspension, but one unfortunate aspect of the suspension is that it drew attention away from what Turki said in our exchange.

His first line of defense to my questioning the legitimacy of the regime was this: "I don't need to justify my country's legitimacy. We're participants in all of the international organizations and we contribute to the welfare of people through aid program not just directly from Saudi Arabia but through all the international agencies that are working throughout the world to provide help and support for people."

I thus wrote at the time: "Turki's response that Saudi Arabia gets legitimacy because of its aid programs is an interesting notion. Is he arguing that by giving aid to other countries and to international organizations that the Saudi regime has somehow purchased legitimacy, and perhaps immunity from criticism, that it would otherwise not have received? This is worth journalists and independent organizations pursuing."

I suspect that that's exactly what we're seeing manifested in Lagarde's comments. Some have noted aspects of the collusion between international financial institutions like the IMF and the Saudis, see for example, Adam Hanieh's piece "Egypt's Orderly Transition? International Aid and the Rush to Structural Adjustment." Too often in poor countries around the world, the form of "development" that's funded is a collusion between what the IMF wants and what states like Saudi Arabia want. Not exactly a prescription for fostering meaningful democratic development. But an excellent example of backscratching between elites. Really, a manifestation of Husseini's first law of politics: the powers collude and the people get screwed (and not in a good way). 

The relativistic part of Lagarade's comment -- "appropriately so probably for the country" -- also echoed Turki: "After how many years since the establishment of the United States did women get to vote in the United States? Does that mean that before they got the vote that United States was an illegitimate country?" Indeed, my questioning of Turki was cut off when I tried to follow up with "So are you saying that Arabs are inherently backward?" -- that they should be 100 years behind U.S.? Though perhaps the most amusing part of Turki's comments about women were not in response to me, but the obsequious question that followed mine -- asked by a worshiping female -- where he refers to a "colleague" being "a woman as you can see." 

The initial media wave of calling "King Abdullah" -- why exactly should a reasonable person actually use such absurd titles without scare quotes? -- a "reformer" has brought on some minimal backlash. But it's largely constrained to domestic issues. 

The geopolitical threats to democracy and peace are even more daunting -- and full of myth. Saudi Arabia has been a center of counter-revolution and worse in Arab countries. The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, as did the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh for a time. The Saudi regime reportedly tried to prevent the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak from stepping down. Saudi Arabia moved into Bahrain to stop a democratic uprising there. But much of its power is more indirect -- for example, through a sizable media infrastructure that highlighted uprisings in secular republics and ignored democratic moves in monarchies. 

All this has totally deformed the Arab uprisings the last four years, leading to horrific civil wars and the prospect of wider wars -- and it was foreseeable, which is why I and others sought to challenge it from the beginning. 

On the U.S.-Saudi relationship, now, the Harvard Political Review tells us: "The partnership was straightforward: Saudi Arabia provided special access to oil for the United States, and in return the superpower developed military installations across Saudi Arabia to advance mutual security goals." In fact, it was not about "access" to oil as Noam Chomsky has noted, but about control of oil, as well as investment in Western banks, not in real regional or global development. As Eqbal Ahmed was fond of asking: How did the wealth of the Mideast get separated from the people of the region? 

The Saudi regime paved the way for the U.S.'s wars against Iraq and elsewhere, postured as helping the Palestinians while in a tacit alliance with the equally hyper-hypocritical Israelis. Saudi regime fosters violent al-Qaeda type violent extremism and facilitates its violent U.S. mirror image. 

In the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. backed the Saudis to undermine Egypt's Nasser and slay the prospect of pan-Arabism. Robert Dreyfuss has written: "Choosing Saudi Arabia over Nasser’s Egypt was probably the single biggest mistake the United States has ever made in the Middle East." Though "mistake" is probably wrong -- it has benefited elites tremendously at the expense of people in Arab countries, the U.S. and around the world. 

Some liberals love making much of the Bush-Saudi connection, which is true enough, but the Saudi-U.S. bond was forged by the great liberal FDR

Shortly after World War I, the British Foreign Secretary "Lord" Curzon spelled out British aims: "Arab façade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff."

So, similarly to Lagarde's comments, how could any person awake to global dynamics be surprised by the sorrow from elites in the U.S. or that the British flag should be at half-mast with the passing of so useful a native? 

Kathy Kelly is Going to Prison! The Children Are Safe!!!

Finally some good news. The notorious criminal mastermind Kathy Kelly is going to prison. The children are safe. We can walk the streets again without fear of her continued reign of terror upon us all. The government is finally doing what it needs to do to protect us from people like this Kelly person. 

She's been arrested multiple times -- this last one for the crime of trying to deliver a loaf of bread to a military commander of an air force base in Missouri so she could break bread with him and talk to him about stopping his troops from killing people with drones in Afghanistan. She got this idea of "breaking bread" with him from our enemies in Afghanistan she regularly meets with. 

Fortunately, our government has seen through her ploy. On Human Rights Day, she was sentenced to three months in jail. She's finally going to do her time. The prosecution told the Judge Matt Whitworth “Ms. Kelly needs to be rehabilitated" and the judge paged through a four page summary of past convictions for similar actions in the name of "Peace" and agreed that she hadn’t yet learned not to break the law. How can we tolerate such recidivism? 

Judge Whitworth properly noted there are 100 other ways she could have made her voice known without resorting to such extremes as baking and attempting to talk to military commanders about their killing of innocents thousands of miles away with deadly flying robots. After all, our form of government is so responsive to calls to conscience. Earlier this week, it looked as though she might not have to go to prison yet since the incarceration system in the Land of the Free is so stuffed to the gills that they could hardly find a cell for her. But the Bureau of Prisons thankfully came through to help teach this Kelly woman the error of her ways. 

...Seriously I just got a note from Kathy, which CounterPunch and Commondreams have just posted. 

Beach near Savannah: what's weird becomes what's interesting

At Tybee Beach near Savannah. Loved it at first except for the foam, but then saw the beauty in the foam. The way it clumps together and breaks and glides. It's like entropy and enthalpy; natural forces pushing and pulling right in front of us. Mountains building up and corroding. Celestial bodies colliding, melding and breaking up. The gliding reminded me of rocks in Death Valley that are apparently moved along by the wind over the course of years. But this happens in an instance, if we look. 

"Both Sides" Are Wrong: Torture Did Work -- to Produce Lies for War (See Footnote 857 of Report)

Nothing solidifies the establishment more than a seemingly raging debate between two wings of it in which they are both wrong. Not only wrong, but in their wrongness, helping to cover their joint iniquities, all the while engaging in simultaneous embrace and fingerpointing to convey the illusion of seriousness and choice.

Such is the case with the "debate" on whether torture "worked" following the release of the Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's "Detention and Interrogation Program." 

On the one side, we have among others Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein: "The big finding is that torture doesn't work and shouldn't be employed by our country" she told PBS. Similarly, a headline in the Hill tells us: "McCain: ‘I know from personal experience’ torture doesn’t work."

Then, we have six former directors and deputy directors of the CIA claiming the "interrogation program" "saved thousands of lives" by helping to capture al-Qaeda members. On this score, the Intelligence Committee report seems to have the goods, quoting CIA emails. While the former CIA directors claim a string successes based on torture: "KSM [Khalid Sheik Muhammed] then led us to Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, East Asia’s chief al Qaeda ally and the perpetrator of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia -- in which more than 200 people perished." But the report quotes a CIA official's internal emails: "Frankly, we stumbled onto Hambali."

But that doesn't mean Feinstein and McCain are right and that's the end of story. The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It worked to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the report -- or one should say, it's buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA rendered him to the brutal Mubarak regime in Egypt, in effect outsourcing their torture. From the footnote:
 
"Ibn Shaykh al-Libi reported while in [censored: 'Egyptian'] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa'ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech at the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [censored], 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [censored, likely 'Egyptians'], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear. For more more details, see Volume III." Of course, Volume III -- like most of the Senate report -- has not been made public.

So, while CIA head John Brennan now says it's "unknowable" if torture lead to information that actually saved lives, it's provable that torture led to information that facilitated war and destroyed lives. 

Nor was al-Libi the only one tortured to try to make the case for war. Many have reported that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaeda detainees repeatedly -- Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times -- but few give the exact timing and context: The were so tortured in August 2002 and March 2003 respectively -- the beginning and end of the Bush administrations push for the invasion of Iraq.

This was somewhat acknowledged in the other Senate report on torture, released by the Armed Services Committee in 2008. It quoted Maj. Paul Burney, who worked as a psychiatrist at Guantanamo Bay prison: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” The GTMO Interrogation Control Element Chief, David Becker told the Armed Services Committee he was urged to use more aggressive techniques, being told at one point "the office of Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz had called to express concerns about the insufficient intelligence production at GTMO."

McClatchy reported Sen. Carl Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, said at that time: "I think it's obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq) ... They made out links where they didn't exist." But now, Levin seems more muted, saying, in response to the release of the recent report, that false information leads to "time-consuming wild goose chases" -- which is quite an understatement given the human horrors that have resulted from the invasion of Iraq. 

So, contrary to the claim that torture helped save lives, torture helped build the case of lies for war that took thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, helping to plunge the region into astounding violence, bringing al-Qaeda into Iraq, leading to the rise of ISIS and further bloody wars. As Arianna Huffington noted: "A perfect circle: Torture helps start Iraq War, which in turn gives us more people to torture. #happyhumanrightsday"

This oversight perhaps shouldn't come as too big a shock given who's calling the shots in Washington: Feinstein and McCain both voted for the Iraq war authorization in 2002, as did virtually everyone running foreign policy atop the Obama administration: VP Joe Biden, Pentagon heads Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel and Secs. of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. 

Some have made an issue of videos of torture being destroyed -- but it's been widely assumed that they were destroyed simply because of the potentially graphic nature of the abuse. But there's another distinct possibility: They were destroyed because of the questions they document being asked. Do the torturers ask: "Is there another terrorist attack?" Or do they more compel: "Tell us that Iraq and Al-Qaeda are working together."? The video evidence to answer that question has apparently been destroyed -- with barely anyone raising the possibility of that being the reason. 

Exploiting false information has been well understood within the government. Here's a 2002 memo from the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency to the Pentagon's top lawyer -- it debunks the "ticking time bomb" scenario and acknowledged how false information derived from torture can be useful: 

"The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible -- in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life -- has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. ... The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption." The document concludes: "The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information. This is not to say that the manipulation of the subject's environment in an effort to dislocate their expectations and induce emotional responses is not effective. On the contrary, systematic manipulation of the subject's environment is likely to result in a subject that can be exploited for intelligence information and other national strategic concerns." [PDF]

So torture can result in the subject being "exploited" for various propaganda and strategic concerns. This memo should be well known but isn't, largely because the two reporters for the Washington Post, Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, who wrote about in 2009 it managed to avoid the most crucial part of it in their story, as Jeff Kaye, a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement, has noted. 

One reporter who has highlighted critical issues along these lines is Marcy Wheeler -- noting as the recent report was being released: "The Debate about Torture We’re Not Having: Exploitation," where she writes: "Some other things exploitation is used for -- indeed the very things the torture we reverse-engineered for our own torture program was used for -- are to help recruit double agents and to produce propaganda." Her reporting also raises questions about how torture was used to push a whole host of policies, which would make us a virtual tortureocracy: CIA director "John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare [FISA judge] Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004." (Disclosure: Wheeler writes a column for ExposeFacts.org, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work.) 

Many presumed critics of torture have been either intentionally or not obscured its connection to war making and other agendas. Teju Cole notes in an interview with the New York Times on Dec. 10 about that outlet: "The paper’s fabrications and support for the Iraq war is a generational shame that shouldn’t be too quickly forgotten. It should haunt us for a long time." But his comments on the torture report betray a total lack of understanding of the connection between torture and the invasion of Iraq, ascribing to it the very human emotions of revenge rather than the more Machiavellian realities of policy making: "Let’s acknowledge torture for what it is: It is punishment, vengeance. It’s the kind of havoc you wreak on an enemy or bystander merely because your rage needs an outlet. It has vanishingly little to do with intelligence-gathering. It spreads grief, and though it intends to do so, it spreads even much more than it intends. It destroys the perpetrators too. Rage is not a precision weapon."

But the rage of the general public -- steered in large measure by major media -- might have been useful in increased public acceptance of torture in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but that's not what makes decisions in the U.S. It's decided by the machinations of a narrow set of elites who act in their interests as the utility of torture shows. The coverups for how war was made have grown so complex that critics like Teju Cole have been sucked into it.

Researchers for Human Rights Watch have done some good work in getting information on the al-Libi case, but Ken Roth, the head of the group doesn't seem to take to heart the lessons of that case, writing that the CIA "forgot its own conclusions from 1989: inhumane interrogation was 'counterproductive,' yielded false answers' in reference to a recent New York Times piece: "Report Portrays a Broken C.I.A. Devoted to a Failed Approach." But it's not that the CIA "forgot"-- the torture regime is actually designed to produce false but useful information that can be used to justify hideous polices. Pretending it's a "failed approach" is to exactly avoid telling the truth about the torture program just as everyone is claiming that they are telling the truth about it. 

And there are arguably other utilities of torture for war makers, often portrayed only as costs to the society as a whole: It's profitable to a few. It helps stifle dissent as a method of social control. It was likely especially effective at silencing the Arab and Muslim American community just as the U.S. was gearing up to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The recent report highlights a CIA memo that relayed instructions from the White House to apparently hide the program from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell could “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on,” the email said. But when I questioned Powell on the connection between torture and war, he was remarkably defensive. His former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson wrote in 2009 that the Bush administration's "principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda." Shortly after he wrote that, I questioned Colin Powell at the "media stakeout" as he left the CBS studios in DC:

Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?

Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.

SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?

CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.

SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.

CP: So what? [inaudible]

SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.

CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.

But my questioning was based on statements by Wilkerson, who was in the room. Presumably Powell has been waiting for the CIA to call him and tell him directly that torture was used to extract some of the information he used. See my piece "How Colin Powell Showed That Torture Works" and video

This problem of torture yielding useful but false information was not unforeseeable. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil appeared on a news release for the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work, the day after Powell’s notorious UN speech: “The Arab media is reporting that the Zakawi story was provided by Jordanian intelligence, which has a record of torture and inaccuracy.” Indeed, the utility of torture might also help further explain U.S. government ties to brutal regimes. Part of what the U.S. government derives from them is capacity to torture and kill. As professor Lisa Hajjar has noted, it was the Egyptian "Torturer in Chief" Omar Suiliman who got al-Libi to talk about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda -- the U.S. torturers in Gitmo had apparently failed. Bob Woodward quotes former CIA head George Tenet: "We created the Jordanian intelligence service and now we own it.

Of course such regimes sometimes fall in an out of favor, there can be little honor among thieves. Al-Libi himself was eventually turned over to Muammar Qaddafi, at a time when -- to the bewilderment of many -- the U.S. government was rather cordial with the former Libyan dictator. In 2009, a newspaper run by one of Qaddafi’s son’s claimed al-Libi committed suicide in his Libyan jail cell. Juan Cole wrote at the time: “The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison.” 

But only if we insist on forgetting this case and the evidence that lies for war and torture are joined at the hip.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. He also founded VotePact.org, which encourages disenchanted Demorats and Republicans to team up. His website is: husseini.posthaven.com He's on twitter: @samhusseini.

The Leak that Almost Stopped the Iraq War

[Katharine Gun will be speaking in London on Friday with several U.S. whistleblowers.] 

"I felt it was explosive, it really made me angry when I read it. ... I genuinely hoped that the information would strengthen the people's voice. ... It could derail the entire process for war." So said Katharine Gun recently when asked about information she leaked shortly before the invasion of Iraq.

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.

Lessons

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.


Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini