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Iraq war 'spy memo case' collapses

Gun: Disclosure
Gun: Disclosure "exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing" by U.S.

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Espionage and Intelligence
Great Britain
Iraq

LONDON, England -- Charges have been dropped against a British government translator accused of leaking a memo on an alleged U.S. "dirty tricks" campaign in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Katherine Gun, 29, walked free from the Old Bailey criminal court in central London on Wednesday after prosecutors said they would offer no evidence against her.

Gun was sacked from her job as a Mandarin Chinese language expert at Britain's Government Communications Headquarters listening station (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, western England, last June.

She was charged in November under the Official Secrets Act 1989 of disclosing security and intelligence information. This related to a request, allegedly from an American National Security Agency official to British counterparts, to tap the telephones of U.N. Security Council delegates.

Details of the leaked memo, reported to be written by Frank Koza, defense chief of staff (regional targets) on January 31, 2003, were later published by The Observer newspaper in Britain.

The request was allegedly made as Washington and London were attempting to obtain a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the Iraq war. Targets of the eavesdropping efforts were reported to be Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government refused to comment on the allegations, saying it never discusses intelligence matters.

Gun admitted she had leaked the memo. She said "any disclosures were justified because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. government, who attempted to subvert our own security services."

She also defended the disclosures as an attempt to prevent the deaths of Iraqi civilians and British troops in a war.

Prosecutor Mark Ellison refused to give detailed reasons in court for the decision to drop charges against Gun, stating only there was "no longer sufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of conviction."

But legal sources -- who had predicted the collapse of the case -- told Reuters the government was unwilling to have a sensitive trial in which the legality of the Iraq war would have come under question.

A lengthy trial would have had the potential to further embarrass the British and U.S. governments, still reeling from intelligence failures over Iraq and accusations of lies and bullying in trying to persuade the world to endorse military action against Saddam Hussein.

Earlier this month, Mexican officials asked the United States and Britain to respond to reports they also spied on the Mexican mission at the United Nations.

Gun, who was reported to have seen the top-secret e-mail by accident, said after her court appearance she was "delighted" by the decision to drop the charges but added she "would do it all again."

"I felt that this was an essential and important issue that needed to get out to the public," she told reporters.


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