Katharine Gun, the GCHQ whistle-blower, yesterday spoke of her fear after leaking details of an American request for help bugging United Nations delegates in the run-up the Iraq war.
Ms Gun, 30, said she was physically sick in the aftermath of her revelation last year, and called for reform of the Official Secrets Act to help people in a similar position.
The former translator at the top-secret listening post was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act after telling a Sunday newspaper about the US bugging request. But the case was dropped after her lawyers demanded disclosure of the Attorney General's full legal advice authorising the invasion. Yesterday, Ms Gun described her fear as she was held by police for nearly 24 hours three days after she told her managers of the leak.
She said: "It was a very frightening time for myself and my family.
"My reaction was very physical. It went straight to my stomach. I couldn't eat or keep down food."
Ms Gun spoke at a TUC fringe meeting organised by the human rights group Liberty as she launched a support group set up with Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers which revealed the extent of US involvement in Vietnam, to help would-be whistle-blowers. She said: "I would like to see genuine, concerned members of the public and civil servants not to be pursued in the way I was pursued.''
Ms Gun, who still lives near GCHQ in Cheltenham, said she had no regrets, but insisted she was not encouraging others to leak sensitive information.
"I have no regrets. My intention was to prevent massive loss of life and flagrant illegality by the Government. I don't think I was wrong.''
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "Katharine is a beacon of optimism in a cynical world. She represents a long tradition of decent folk who are concerned about civil liberties and human rights in this country."Reuse content