Feeds

Ex-GCHQ chief compares Iraq whistleblower to Soviet spy

Gun gets Primed

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

The former director of GCHQ Sir David Pepper has for the first time spoken of his anger at a whistleblower in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, comparing her case to that of the traitor and paedophile Geoffrey Prime, who was jailed in the 1980s for passing secrets to the KGB.

Pepper said the actions of Katharine Gun - a GCHQ translator who in 2003 passed documents to The Observer showing that the UK and US planned to spy on fellow members of the UN Security Council - had been "profoundly shocking" to him.

The eavesdropping aimed to gather intelligence on how other Security Council nations might vote on a resolution mandating the invasion of Iraq.

Once exposed, the joint GCHQ-NSA operation was widely condemned as a breach of international law. Gun's subsequent prosecution under the Official Secrets Act was dramatically dropped without explanation on the first day of her trial.

She later said she had not raised her concerns internally because she "honestly didn't think that would have had any practical effect".

Asked about GCHQ security breaches yesterday at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Pepper directly said his reaction to Gun's whistleblowing was similar to his reaction to Geoffrey Prime's treachery, Thisisgloucestershire reports.

Prime worked for GCHQ during the 1970s. He was unmasked as a Soviet spy by an investigation into his paedophile activities and received a 38-year sentence for espionage and sex offences. This year it was revealed that Prime, released in 2001, had revealed to the KGB that GCHQ and the NSA had cracked their ciphers in 1976.

His spying reportedly led the Soviets to overhaul their cryptography methods, blinding Western intelligence right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"To discover again that there was someone among us that could do that was an absolute shock," Pepper said of Prime yesterday.

"Did Prime damage us? He was in a position to do very serious damage."

Gun has maintained she has no regrets and was hailed by anti-war campaigners for her moral courage. Her motivation and the failure of her revelations to stop the invasion apparently made no difference to Pepper's reaction however.

"As for Katherine Gun – it was similarly horrible for similar reasons," he said yesterday.

"Everyone at GCHQ is focused on doing the job and the thought that someone out of our family – and I don't think the word family is too strong, when you have 5,500 people there it becomes like a family – would break that trust was truly shocking.

"One of the most distressing things was that we put in place quite substantial mechanisms for people that were having issues of conscience to air them, either through their line manager or a staff counsellor – not a civil servant. And she didn't make use of any of those mechanisms."

Pepper retired as GCHQ director in October 2008. Earlier this month he took up a lobbying job at the defence giant Thales UK, which is bidding for a major cryptography contract from the MoD. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
'Stop dissing Google or quit': OK, I quit, says Code Club co-founder
And now a message from our sponsors: 'STFU or else'
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
Uber, Lyft and cutting corners: The true face of the Sharing Economy
Casual labour and tired ideas = not really web-tastic
The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal
And our man Corfield is pretty bloody cross about it
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?