'I just had to tell the truth'

What makes someone put their career, their family - and even their liberty - on the line? And how do they rebuild their lives when the headlines have faded? Clare Rudebeck hears five whistleblowers' stories
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Indy Politics

Brian Jones

The former member of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) described himself as "probably the most senior and experienced intelligence-community official working on WMD" in a confidential letter that caused a media storm when it was presented to the Hutton inquiry in August 2003. Jones's letter provided confirmation that some intelligence chiefs were unhappy with the British Government's September 2002 dossier on Iraq. Jones, who retired in January 2003, has since become a columnist for The Independent.

"My motivation for speaking out was not as altruistic as it might appear in hindsight. My first thought was self-protection and the protection of my branch at DIS. We were the people that Whitehall came to for information on weapons of mass destruction - the experts. And the Government's dossier on Iraq had gone much further than we wanted it to go. I was angry that people weren't listening to us. But there was also a degree of resignation, because this had been building up since not very long after the September 11 attacks. It was a process that seemed to be out of my control, so, at the time the dossier was published, I started to register my objections.

In the summer of 2003, the Foreign Affairs Committee's report on the decision to go to war against Iraq was published, saying that there had been no complaints from the intelligence community about the September dossier. I knew it wasn't true. I also realised that there could be a more thorough inquiry into the war and I didn't want anyone to say, 'You knew it was wrong and you said nothing'.

So, to protect myself, I did what the rule-book told me to do: I wrote a confidential letter to the deputy chief of Defence Intelligence, Martin Howard. The next time I saw that letter was when it appeared on my television screen on the BBC's six o'clock news after the first day of the Hutton inquiry.

It was a shock. I had a heart bypass in 1998 and I think it missed a beat or two. However, my name had not been made public. I realised that I would probably be called to give evidence to the inquiry. It was not something that appealed. I sat down with my wife Linda to discuss what to do. I had the option of appearing anonymously, but I knew that the press loved a 'mystery man', so we decided that I would appear in person so that there was no longer a challenge to name me.

After the Hutton report came out in February last year, I wrote my first column for The Independent. I was worried that the message the public had received was, 'There was an intelligence failure, full stop'. I wasn't prepared to sit back and let that happen. I wanted to show that the analysts - the experts - had not failed.

My wife probably thinks there's been a cost. She worries that I've spent too much time working. But we think there's been a net gain. It's quite an experience hearing the Prime Minister talking about you at the dispatch box."

Katharine Gun

The translator at GCHQ made headlines in February 2004 when the Government dropped its case against her for leaking details of a plan for a US-led bugging operation at the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraq war. Gun, 30, had been charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. She lives in Cheltenham with her husband.

"Working at GCHQ was my first proper job. I wasn't working on intelligence about Iraq, but on Friday 31 January 2003, everyone in my department was sent an e-mail from the US National Security Agency requesting help with a plan to bug the six 'swing states' on the UN Security Council whose votes were vital to win a second UN resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq. The e-mail had been distributed to the translators by a head of department.

I was shocked. I knew I couldn't stand by and watch the bugging operation happen. If the war went ahead as a result, I knew hundreds of thousands of innocent people were going to die. I thought about it over the weekend and, by the Monday, I had decided that I would leak the e-mail to the press. I didn't really think about what the consequences of my actions might be for me because I didn't want to lose my nerve. I sent the e-mail to a friend who agreed to send it anonymously to a media contact.

Four weeks later, I walked into my local newsagent's to buy my Sunday newspaper and there was the e-mail on the front page. I was absolutely dumbstruck. I'd had no warning. I was physically sick for the whole weekend because I was so worried. GCHQ immediately tried to find the source of the leak. I confessed to my line manager on the Wednesday. Later that day, I was arrested and spent the night in police custody.

It was eight months before I was charged. And so for that time I was in limbo, not knowing what would happen to me. Sometimes I didn't feel like I had any hope. Then, in early November 2003, my solicitor called to say I would be charged. It was a bombshell and my mindset changed again. I was in battle mode.

We found out the day before I was due to appear at the Old Bailey that the case would be dropped. I was at the offices of Liberty, the human-rights organisation who had championed my case, and we all leapt about. It was just the best news I could have had.

Since then, I haven't done a great deal. I needed time to get my confidence back.Several organisations have invited me to speak about what I've done and that's helped boost my confidence. After one talk, a man came up to me and said, 'When I tell my kids stories at night about people they should look up to, I always tell them about you.' That was great. It's the sort of thing that makes you think you can be useful."

Marta Andreasen

The European Commission's chief accountant, 50, was sacked in October 2004, two years after she had been suspended from her post, having claimed that the EC's finances were "massively open to fraud". A Spanish citizen, she lives in Barcelona with her husband and two children. She is trying to bring a case for unfair dismissal against the EC.

"When I started my job at the European Commission in January 2002, I found their accounts in a state of chaos. They didn't follow any standard accounting principles. They didn't even register all the transactions, which meant that it was impossible to check whether the right amounts were being paid to the right people. It was really awful.

If money went missing, I, as chief accountant, was responsible. Yet, from my first week in the job, I was being asked to sign off payments and accounts that I knew were vulnerable to fraud. I told my bosses that we needed to take steps immediately to reform the system. But they refused. So I was cornered into signing off payments against my better judgment.

The situation went on for two months. I pushed for changes. They refused. Eventually, I told my bosses that unless there were reforms, I would feel obliged to withhold my signature on certain payments as I felt I was going against the ethics of my profession. It was not a threat. It was a statement of the norms of my profession.

Instead of supporting me, my superiors threatened me with dismissal - that was in April 2002, three months after I had started the job. By May, I had been removed from my post. I was moved to a new office, but I had no new responsibilities. I didn't really have a job any more. Unidentified sources started criticising me in the press. I asked for protection from the EC, but I didn't get it. They then launched disciplinary proceedings against me.

I was concerned about my person, my professional future, my security, everything. I thought, 'What else am I waiting for? I need to defend myself.' And so I attended a press conference in August 2002. I hoped that, with the press behind me, I would be more secure. I didn't have the means to fight this powerful institution on my own.

Whether I am a whistle-blower or not is irrelevant to me. What matters is that I was dismissed simply for doing my job. It was a matter of conscience and also professional ethics. I was in a situation where I couldn't close my eyes; either I signed off payments vulnerable to fraud or I did not. It would be like a bank manager who knows that every night the safe boxes are left open, but does nothing about it.

It was more than two years before I was finally sacked. For the first year I was fairly busy with my legal cases, but the second was pretty dreadful. I couldn't have coped without the support of my family. The worst thing was that I felt totally alone. Some people want to help you, but they always have their own political agenda. And these institutions are very powerful. Several people who supported me at first were leant on."

Craig Murray

The 46-year-old was dismissed from his post as Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan in October 2004 after speaking out about the country's poor human-rights record. He is separated from his wife and has two children. He is planning to sue the Foreign Office for damage to his health.

"During my first months in Uzbekistan, I attended the trial of several terror suspects, all of whom had been tortured. One old man, who had confessed that his nephew had links to Osama bin Laden, broke down in court and said his confession wasn't true. He had only signed it after his children were tortured in front of him. I believed him.

When I warned MI6 that much of the evidence provided by the Uzbek intelligence services on the 'war on terror', such as that tortured out of the old man, was simply false, it replied that, on the contrary, it considered Uzbek intelligence highly valuable. That experience really brought the brutality of the Uzbek regime home to me. And it also made me realise that, by accepting evidence obtained under torture, the UK is complicit in that torture.

I knew I couldn't stay silent. Firstly, I had a legal duty to speak out. The UN Convention Against Torture makes it clear that those complicit in torture are guilty too. And secondly, if you don't have a moral limit, what will stop you from signing requisitions for cattle wagons for Auschwitz? Witnessing this torture, I reached my moral limit.

So, I started to kick up a stink internally and made speeches about it. These were first reported in the British press in December 2002. Then in July 2003, out of the blue, I was told that I was facing 18 disciplinary charges. They included the accusations that I had driven an embassy car down a flight of steps, that I had issued visas to local women for sex and that I was drunk at work. I knew that I was unpopular but I had never expected this.

I felt totally helpless, and I started to disintegrate mentally. I ended up as an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital in Britain.

After an internal investigation, all the charges against me were dismissed and I returned to my post. However, my physical health had started to deteriorate. I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a lung disorder which weakens the heart. I believe it was brought on by stress. Last autumn, I was told that I may only have months to live. Meanwhile, my marriage ended. It was very sad, but I don't believe it was a result of the pressure I was under. It would have happened any way.

In October 2004, I was finally sacked and returned to Britain. I'm not sure that I've achieved very much. I don't think I've dented the complacency of our intelligence services or undermined the Government's support for the Uzbek regime. And I'm very sad that the British public seems not to care about the use of torture. Our Government now says openly that they value evidence obtained under torture. And the public seem OK about it.

But I am surprisingly cheerful. I feel proud of myself. I proved that I value principles more than money. Uzbekistan was my first ambassadorship. I had a six-bedroom house, four domestic servants, two swimming-pools, a sauna, Jacuzzi and personal driver. And I now live in one room in Chelsea.

We all make small compromises and, if I had been given another posting, in a country where abuses were less obvious, I would probably still be bumbling around in the Foreign Office. But in Uzbekistan I was forced to choose between my morals and my job. And in doing so, I discovered something good about myself. Now, I try and help others opposed to the human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan. I have no long-term plans. I don't know if I will be around in the long term."

Sibel Edmonds

The 34-year-old former FBI translator told the 9/11 Commission in February 2004 that she had seen evidence that senior US officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US months before September 11. A Turkish American, she lives in Washington with her husband.

"Two days after the September 11 attacks, I received a call from the FBI saying they desperately needed translators, especially those with Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani. I had applied for an internship five years earlier, and passed all the tests, but I hadn't heard anything. I felt that translating was something I could do for my country, so I started work a week later.

A lot of what I did was retranslating documents or audio that had been obtained before September 11. On one tape, I found vital information that had been overlooked when it was first translated, so I told my supervisor. He refused to do anything about it. His response was: 'How would you like it if another translator questioned your work and got you into trouble?'

I also found cases where translators had been hired despite having failed the proficiency exams, and evidence that senior US intelligence officials had known of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with planes four months before September 11. I decided to tell my mid-level manager about what I'd found. At first he was very nice and gave me a letter recommending me for a special-agent position. But I told him I wasn't seeking a promotion, I wanted to raise issues that needed to be pursued. He warned me off, saying that if I did it 'they will make you regret it: they don't like disobedience'.

Eventually, in March 2002, I realised that no one inside the FBI was willing to tackle the problems. So I went to the Inspector General's office and the Senate's Judiciary Committee, who both launched inquiries into my claims. They were the correct channels. They oversee the FBI. Two weeks later I was fired without being given any reason.

Both the Senate's and the Inspector General's reports into my claims were classified. The 9/11 Commission ended up being my last hope. I testified before them in February 2004. It was not just about clearing my name. What I was saying went to the heart of their investigation. I still haven't given up. I am currently building a coalition of whistle-blowers, because, together, we will be harder to ignore."