GCHQ Revealed: Inside Her Majesty’s Listening Service

The Snowden files have brought the shocking espionage activities of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters into the open. Former employees describe an agency with shifting goals, a strong honor code — and an inferiority complex.On a Monday in January of 2003, Katharine Gun received an email that worried her. Gun, a 28-year-old linguist and analyst with the British intelligence service, was a calm, thoughtful woman. The message, which was classified “top secret” and came from a department head of an American intelligence service, informed a British counterparts that, “as you all probably know by now,” a joint eavesdropping operation was being planned against United Nations delegations. Gun couldn’t believe her eyes.At the time, the UN was in the midst of a debate about a possible invasion of Iraq. The fateful appearance of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell before the UN Security Council, in which Powell would attempt to secure allies for an attack on Baghdad, was to take place in five days. Gun, like many of her fellow Britons, was opposed to a war and considered what she should do about the email. By targeting UN diplomats with their espionage, weren’t the United States and Great Britain trying to forcibly bring about a war? Were they trying to determine diplomats’ feeling about a conflict? Was it legal?

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