“Official Secrets” — The Best Movie Yet Made About The Truth Behind The Travesty Of The Iraq War

“Official Secrets” helps illustrate the ideological malfeasance by the American press, which eagerly jumped on this grenade to save its foxhole buddies in the Bush administration.

By Jon Schwarz
The Intercept (8/31/19)

“Official Secrets,” which opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles, is the best movie ever made about how the Iraq War happened. It’s startlingly accurate, and because of that, it’s equally inspiring, demoralizing, hopeful, and enraging. Please go see it.

It’s been forgotten now, but the Iraq War and its abominable consequences — the hundreds of thousands of deaths [Estimates by various human rights groups put the total well beyond a million. Ed.], the rise of the Islamic State group, the nightmare oozing into Syria, arguably the presidency of Donald Trump — almost didn’t happen. In the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion on March 19, 2003, the American and British case for war was collapsing. It looked like a badly made jalopy, its engine smoking and various parts falling off as it trundled erratically down the road.

For this brief moment, the George W. Bush administration appeared to have overreached. It would be extremely tough for the U.S. to invade without the U.K., its faithful Mini-Me, at its side. But in the U.K., the idea of war without approval from the United Nations Security Council was deeply unpopular. Moreover, we now know that Peter Goldsmith, the British attorney general, had told Prime Minister Tony Blair that an Iraq resolution passed by the Security Council in November 2002 “does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the Security Council.” (The top lawyer at the Foreign Office, the British equivalent of the U.S. State Department, put it even more strongly: “To use force without Security Council authority would amount to the crime of aggression.”) So Blair was desperate to get a thumbs-up from the U.N. Yet to everyone’s surprise, the 15-country Security Council remained recalcitrant.

Courageous truthtelling

On March 1, the U.K. Observer threw a grenade into this extraordinarily fraught situation: a leaked January 31 email from a National Security Agency manager. The NSA manager was demanding a full court espionage press on the members of the Security Council — “minus US and GBR of course,” the manager jocularly said — as well as non-Security Council countries who might be producing useful chatter.

What this demonstrated was that Bush and Blair, who had both said they wanted the Security Council to hold an up or down vote on a resolution giving a legal stamp of approval for war, were bluffing. They knew they were losing. It showed that while they claimed they had to invade Iraq because they cared so much about upholding the effectiveness of the U.N., they were happy to pressure fellow U.N. members, up to and including the collection of blackmail material. It proved the NSA plan was unusual enough that, somewhere in the labyrinthine intelligence world, someone was upset enough that he or she was willing to risk going to prison for a long time.

That person was Katharine Gun.

Played craftily in “Official Secrets” by Keira Knightley, Gun was a translator at the General Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA. On one level, “Official Secrets” is a straightforward, suspenseful drama about her. You learn how she got the email, why she leaked it, how she did it, why she soon confessed, the horrendous consequences she faced, and the unique legal strategy that forced the British government to drop all charges against her. At the time, Daniel Ellsberg said her actions were “more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers … truth-telling like this can stop a war.”

On a subtler level, the film asks this question: Why didn’t the leak make a true difference? …

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