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The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion

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British secret service officer Katharine Gun's only crime was telling the truth, but she paid a steep price when she exposed a U.S.-U.K. spy operation to secure UN authorization for the Iraq invasion. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, this book tells the story of the young woman Sean Penn describes as "a hero of the human spirit."


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British secret service officer Katharine Gun's only crime was telling the truth, but she paid a steep price when she exposed a U.S.-U.K. spy operation to secure UN authorization for the Iraq invasion. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, this book tells the story of the young woman Sean Penn describes as "a hero of the human spirit."

30 review for The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion

  1. 4 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    Wow! This is quite a mind-blowing story!

  2. 5 out of 5

    James

    Well-rounded, fascinating, and inspiring. The authors go beyond relating the story of Katharine Gun's whistle-blower leak of an NSA message to their counterpart organization in the UK, the GCHQ, asking Britain to collaborate in illegally bugging the delegates of other UN Security Council members to get leverage to manipulate or coerce them into supporting a resolution to back the Iraq invasion in 2003. Gun worked at GCHQ as a Mandarin translator, and was horrified when she saw the message - she Well-rounded, fascinating, and inspiring. The authors go beyond relating the story of Katharine Gun's whistle-blower leak of an NSA message to their counterpart organization in the UK, the GCHQ, asking Britain to collaborate in illegally bugging the delegates of other UN Security Council members to get leverage to manipulate or coerce them into supporting a resolution to back the Iraq invasion in 2003. Gun worked at GCHQ as a Mandarin translator, and was horrified when she saw the message - she almost instantly thought that if the public knew about the action, their disapproval could prevent an illegal and disastrous war with huge loss of life, and although the idea of leaking it terrified her, she decided she had to. The book also tells Gun's life story and the factors that shaped her character, describes the aftermath of her action (including the UK government's heavy-handed effort to retaliate by deporting her husband, who is from Turkey), looks at the experiences of other whistle-blowers in the UK and US, looks at the possible motivations of George Bush and Tony Blair in pushing illegal action to support a war based on false premises (they had agreed far in advance on regime change in Iraq as their goal, but that is not a legal basis for war, so they came up with the WMD story), and does a good job of exploring the pros and cons of whistle-blowing by government employees who release secret information. I was struck by the wrongness of an American executive and former Marine officer the authors quote as saying "When you are under orders, you follow those orders no matter what, no matter how you feel about what's happening." As a retired Marine officer myself, I remember extensive training on the bedrock principle that you do NOT obey an unlawful order, and if you do, you are morally and legally responsible for your actions - a principle that's been taught in our military system since the Nuremberg trials and the failed Nazi defense of "I was only following orders." All in all, an excellent book and, I think, a necessary one for anyone interested in civics and the balance of power and conscience.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Arm Chair Generals ... those in the US Congress and Executive office anyway, needed to be stopped! I'm glad that Katharine had the guts to say, "Wait a minute ... that's a bald-faced lie." As those were the very same words I was uttering during the whole lead-up to the invasion, although I didn't have the proof sitting in my hands. If I knew then (or knew that I knew) what I know now about the stupidity of the whole fiasco, I would have done the same thing! Although the book is basically built o Arm Chair Generals ... those in the US Congress and Executive office anyway, needed to be stopped! I'm glad that Katharine had the guts to say, "Wait a minute ... that's a bald-faced lie." As those were the very same words I was uttering during the whole lead-up to the invasion, although I didn't have the proof sitting in my hands. If I knew then (or knew that I knew) what I know now about the stupidity of the whole fiasco, I would have done the same thing! Although the book is basically built on the sensationalism of the British press, if you are any kind of writer, you know that there are very fine lines that can be crossed without being put on the block yourself. The authors did a fantastic job of pointing out just how creepy government can be (British or American) when the attack is on them. The authors took information that was made available (at the time of the writing, many things were still under wraps, not to be divulged), conducted background research with others who were involved in some way, and pulled the information together so that the average reader could see the nuances that were swirling around the whole debacle, and read about things that were not otherwise available to the general public outside of the UK.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I was fascinated by this book. Normally I don't read current events books until they've faded into distant memory; but when Katherine Gun was charged and she in turn accused the US and Blair of conspiring to spy on UN members and pressuring them to align with their goal of war against Iraq, I remember thinking it was going to be a real sh- - storm, and then nothing. I couldn't understand how or why it could be dropped so quickly by the US mainstream media (they're all supposed to be conservative I was fascinated by this book. Normally I don't read current events books until they've faded into distant memory; but when Katherine Gun was charged and she in turn accused the US and Blair of conspiring to spy on UN members and pressuring them to align with their goal of war against Iraq, I remember thinking it was going to be a real sh- - storm, and then nothing. I couldn't understand how or why it could be dropped so quickly by the US mainstream media (they're all supposed to be conservative bashing liberals, right?). Although this book still left me with some unanswered questions, it was interesting to see how an ordinary person dealt with the pressure of the media and good to know that there are still people who will withstand the pressure for their moral convictions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    storytime-reviews

    This is the true story that the Keira Knightley film, Official Secrets, is based on. When Katharine Gun reads a memo detailing efforts to spy on and blackmail key members of the UN into voting to invade Iraq, she barely hesitates to leak it. Unfortunately, Gun’s leak doesn’t stop the war, however, this leak does place the spotlight on government ‘dirty tricks’ and allows for the invasion of Iraq to be viewed in a different context by the public. The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War provides important This is the true story that the Keira Knightley film, Official Secrets, is based on. When Katharine Gun reads a memo detailing efforts to spy on and blackmail key members of the UN into voting to invade Iraq, she barely hesitates to leak it. Unfortunately, Gun’s leak doesn’t stop the war, however, this leak does place the spotlight on government ‘dirty tricks’ and allows for the invasion of Iraq to be viewed in a different context by the public. The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War provides important political context to Gun’s actions; this background helps to explain Katharine’s motivations, as well as the impact her actions had on the government and the public. The authors have used endnotes to keep track of their various sources. These include publicly available interviews and articles from journalists, as well as interviews that the authors personally conducted with those involved in Katharine’s case, as well as others who had strong opinions regarding her actions. I have so much respect for what Katharine Gun did, and everything she went through. Her story is an important lens to view the invasion of Iraq through, because she was motivated to follow her conscience rather than simply do her job. Her conscience, and human lives, were much more important to her, and it’s why her actions were received so positively by so many. In fact, her actions have inspired others, including other women in government positions who chose to tell the truth rather than follow blindly. The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War makes clear how unpopular the invasion was. But poor Katharine’s troubles do not stop with the harassment she received over this issue. I did enjoy the focus on some of Katharine’s personal context that demonstrated the construction of her conscience and beliefs, but the pain her and her husband suffered throughout this and afterwards was particularly heartbreaking. Everyone should read this book and/or watch Official Secrets. The film does bring out more from the side of the journalists that broke the leak story as well, which I think worked really well. I would also suggest that Official Secrets would be easier to engage with for most, whilst The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War then provides some more political context for those interested. My suggestion would be to watch the film, and if you want a bit more information, to then read this book after that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dan Dundon

    I have a great deal of admiration for Katherine Gun and what she did in leaking classified information regarding the U.S. secret effort to blackmail other nations to secure authorization from the United Nations for the Iraq War. However, I was very disappointed in the biased way in which the authors Marcia and Thomas Mitchell went about telling the story. It's very obvious that they were not neutral observers who presented a balanced presentation of the case. Rather, they portrayed themselves as I have a great deal of admiration for Katherine Gun and what she did in leaking classified information regarding the U.S. secret effort to blackmail other nations to secure authorization from the United Nations for the Iraq War. However, I was very disappointed in the biased way in which the authors Marcia and Thomas Mitchell went about telling the story. It's very obvious that they were not neutral observers who presented a balanced presentation of the case. Rather, they portrayed themselves as friends of Ms. Gun as if this explained their complete loss of objectivity. It's true that the authors did a good job of explaining the background about Ms. Gun and her role in the British spy agency GCHQ, however, the loss of objectivity about other individuals compromised the book, in my opinion. In some cases they simply presented information that they admitted was "rumored." Yes, Katherine Gun did a courageous thing but these two authors missed the boat when it came to an accurate presentation of the events. They may have been well intentioned, but their loss of objectivity affects their credibility and is a major weakness in this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Neil Gregory

    A really important and pivotal factual tale of a simple act and the huge consequences afterwards. It’s a hard read as there is a lot of detail. You’ll need to concentrate on this one. Maybe the film version will be enlightening.

  8. 4 out of 5

    John

    I read this because I admired the bravery of the British intelligence worker who stood up against the war. But the book was boring, and prone to silly digressions.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    Fascinating story. Something I never knew about.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

    Reads more like an extended news article, but I had no idea about this case.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    An interesting overview in the events surrounding Katharine Gun"s leak of information and how the political machinations surrounding war in the Gulf were at the time. However, it is definitely not an objective documentary piece about these events and instead seems to be a vocal advocate for whistleblowing in whatever shape or form is necessary. Whilst Katharine Gun gets touted as a heroine in this situation I do feel that she definitely had other avenues available to her and could, and should, ha An interesting overview in the events surrounding Katharine Gun"s leak of information and how the political machinations surrounding war in the Gulf were at the time. However, it is definitely not an objective documentary piece about these events and instead seems to be a vocal advocate for whistleblowing in whatever shape or form is necessary. Whilst Katharine Gun gets touted as a heroine in this situation I do feel that she definitely had other avenues available to her and could, and should, have done that before being irresponsible with privileged information, whatever the forthright intention.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ralph Tattersall

    A very good read outlining with some sensitivity and balance, the story behind whistle blower's Katherine Gun exposure of the illegal and illegitimate war against the Saddam Hussein regime, championed by an over zealous George Bush and a sycophantic Tony Blair. I have a modicum of ambivalence about admiring her actions, but she seemed courageous in her conscience albeit a little naive. Enjoy the book and then Keira Knightley's portrayal in the movie, Official Secrets

  13. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    The account being told here is fascinating and Katharine Gun's story deserved to be told so that she could be recognised for the immensely brave thing she did. However, as much as I enjoyed reading about her, the book was, at times, quite boring. I would have enjoyed I more, I think, if it had focussed more on the narrative of Katharine and less on the wider political narrative.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Ryan

    Loved this opportunity to see US as others see US. Katherine Gun, a citizen of the UK and a spy analyst, leaks a memo about the US pressure campaign to manipulate the UN Security Council into voting for military action against Iraq. This little crime was glossed over by our media. While the book can drag, the perspective it offers is fascinating.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robin EH.

    While I feel this is an important book that tells a story that needed to be told, it could have used a better editor. At times it felt quite academic, and I think in the hands of a journalist like Ronan Farrow it could have been explosive. It got a bit pedantic at times, and there were numerous digressions that weren't terribly compelling. I do admire Katherine Gun and her courage though.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this wasn't nearly as exciting as I had hoped. It felt more like an article that had been stretched into a book. I understand this was the basis for the movie Official Secrets and I would be interested to see that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Deyth Banger

    "December 12, 2019 – 45.0% December 12, 2019 – 15.0% "It's a Page turner" December 12, 2019 – 15.0% "Typical Edward Snowden style... I like stories like this one!" December 12, 2019 – 15.0% December 12, 2019 – Shelved December 12, 2019 – Started Reading"

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thebroadgrumps

    Great story - pity about the writing which to be generous I describe as tedious - no I didn't finish this book

  19. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    A difficult read as it’s heavily technical in terms of content in relation to GCHQ and it’s counterparts. However a fascinating story to read about

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Cochran

    Unsettling, but a necessary read for those who are willing to see their country for what it is - worts and all.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amy Brown

    Can not get in to it. I feel it doesn’t flow and is quite complicated to follow. Obviously there’s a lot of official info, names, places, documents etc but I struggled to even get half way through

  22. 4 out of 5

    Roy

    an impressive presentation of courage , integrity and determination . it gives insight to the events , unashamedly in favour of someone making the right moral choice

  23. 5 out of 5

    King Leonidas I

    The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War is an informative book that walks the reader through the story of Katherine Gun's decision to leak an email asking GCHQ intelligence officers to eavesdrop and potentially blackmail UN delegates. The book is quite dense, covering a wide array of topics and perspectives (although clearly favouring Katherine's point of view). There are a few cringey moments in the book where the authors Marcia and Thomas try really hard to dramatise the events. Specifically on pages The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War is an informative book that walks the reader through the story of Katherine Gun's decision to leak an email asking GCHQ intelligence officers to eavesdrop and potentially blackmail UN delegates. The book is quite dense, covering a wide array of topics and perspectives (although clearly favouring Katherine's point of view). There are a few cringey moments in the book where the authors Marcia and Thomas try really hard to dramatise the events. Specifically on pages 40 and 52. However these moments are dwarfed by the onslaught of information condensed into this book. The book reads quite similarly to reading an article, meaning it can feel a bit dry at times and you need to focus on what's being said to get the most out of the story. Despite this, the relatively short length of the chapters means that the reader has many opportunities to stop, take stock and digest what they have read before diving into the next section. Overall, this book is a very informative read providing insight into just how far the U.S. government and its allies will go to achieve its goals.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy Fitzsimmons

    While I was fascinated by this story which I had not heard before, yet has marked the period of the early 2000, my sole criticism would be that many of the opinion were unsubstantiated by evidence.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is the account of the young British intelligence officer who risked her career and freedom to expose the Bush-Blair WMD pact to declare war on Iraq, for the illegal purpose of regime change. Was she right to do so? That is the question that lingers in terms of her achievement, against the wider perspectives of the Great Game.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Richard Fitzgerald

    An excellent book that describes the shameful behavior of the United States and the United Kingdom surrounding the push to war with Iraq. We can only hope there are more whistleblowers with the courage of Gum. The story was well told.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Don Inman

    Katie Gun This is an amazing story about a 28 year old British intelligence office who,in the course of her job,uncovered a plot to blackmail the United Nations Security Council(UNSC)into to approving a preemptive invasion of Iraq. Although this took place in 2003 it echoes today’s political intrigue. The US was bribing,blackmailing and threatening members of the UNSC to vote in favor of the invasion. We all know where that ended. Her arrest,interrogation and trial is a political thriller you wil Katie Gun This is an amazing story about a 28 year old British intelligence office who,in the course of her job,uncovered a plot to blackmail the United Nations Security Council(UNSC)into to approving a preemptive invasion of Iraq. Although this took place in 2003 it echoes today’s political intrigue. The US was bribing,blackmailing and threatening members of the UNSC to vote in favor of the invasion. We all know where that ended. Her arrest,interrogation and trial is a political thriller you will thoroughly enjoy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Janet Wertman

    Sigh. This would have made a fantastic article. Interesting stuff, compelling, important. But in the effort to fill pages it kept repeating itself and giving details that had absolutely nothing to do with the story....

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zak Fordham

    An exceptional read. Well written, thoughtful. An exceptional read. Hopefully it will provoke more informed thought about the actions of Katharine Gun. For me, I think she did absolutely the right thing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Absolutely worth reading.

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