LOS ANGELES, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- In 2003, Katharine Gun defied the British government to expose the truth behind the Iraq War. Official Secrets, in theaters Friday, presents her story in a dramatic film. Gun's story may be as relevant in 2019 as it was in 2003 because journalists and whistle-blowers still fight for facts and truth.
"We're almost in the post-truth world, aren't we?" Official Secrets director Gavin Hood told UPI.
In 2003, Gun was a British Intelligence Agency translator when she saw a memo by Frank Koza requesting assistance to bug United Nations offices. The plan was to pressure it into supporting the United States invasion of Iraq. Gun leaked the memo to The Observer, exposing President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair's lies in writer Martin Bright (portrayed by Matt Smith in the film)'s article.
Director Gavin Hood reflected on the 16 years since the events occurred that are portrayed in Official Secrets.
"I think as weird as it was then, I'm not sure things are any worse now," Hood said. "By which I mean back then, in some way at least Bush and Blair wanted people to believe they were telling the truth and didn't really want to get called out in a lie even when they were lying. I don't even know if our current president cares about whether he's lying or not."
Today, Gun reflects on the suspicion surrounding the invasion of Iraq. Americans and Brits were divided on the action, coming so soon after the United States' war in Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Iraq seemed to many like a repeat of the war the United States already fought in 1990.
"That was everybody's gut reaction, I think, when it was first mentioned," Gun said. "What on earth are they talking about? They really had to sell that case. They really had to cook that intelligence so that they could sway people who were slightly on the fence about it that this was actually necessary. Subsequently, we've seen that the whole thing was a sham."
Hood hopes that if Gun could risk her job and face jail time to expose a government lie, ordinary people can be brave enough to take risks for the truth, too.
"It's often the ordinary people who speak up in these large corporations and in national security," Hood said. "Most of us have bosses and work for corporations or law firms or accounting firms, or Enron or Boeing. or wherever. I do think that ordinary people, time and again, speak up. It may take time, but the lies usually, in the arc of history, are found out."
Gun did not want to be a leader and chose to return to anonymity after British Intelligence dropped its case against her. She has returned to the spotlight to promote the film, which she hopes demonstrates the value of speaking up, even if you are alone.
"We're hoping the film encourages people and gives people hope that it isn't such a crazy thing to consider doing," Gun said. "Although it's pushing me into doing more publicity surrounding the film, I really think the film is important to promote dialogue and understanding and getting people to really think about things that are true."
Gun spent time in jail and her husband almost was deported while British Intelligence investigated her.
"It doesn't have to be for a security agency," Hood said. "It could just be for a corporation that you're working for. It's not easy because for most people, all of us, our jobs are our security. When you speak up, you risk losing your job. The only difference is that perhaps Katharine was brave because she risked not only losing her job, but also her freedom."
Official Secrets may be about one historical incident, but director Hood and real-life subject Gun hope it is a microcosm of a larger issue -- that telling the truth is worthwhile enough, even if those in power never acknowledge their wrongdoing.
"Because they can't," Gun said. "If they said, 'Oh,yeah, I apologize. I was wrong,' they would have endless cases of people suing them. Psychologically, it must be a huge strain, at least if they have any residual capacity for empathy, right? Look at Tony Blair now, for example. He looks like a man who knows deep inside that actually it was an awful thing to have done, but he can't admit it to anybody because that would destroy him."
The freedom to expose lies still is precious, Hood said.
"In a weird sense, I think this film is actually celebrating our rights in a country like America or in Western democratic societies where the very fact that we are able to make these films in some way shows that we still have a healthy democracy," Hood said.
"We can discuss morality and ethics and right and wrong. We're not going to be silent as citizens. Authority has always had to be questioned and challenged by the citizens. That's what democracy is, so I hope we're just a small part of the democratic process."
If a single translator can expose a president and prime minister, people everywhere should feel empowered to speak the truth, Hood said, and American citizens should not take that power for granted.
"I grew up in Apartheid South Africa where the founding principals of the country don't have that system of checks and balances," Hood said. "If you were in China and this happened, you may not be able to. I was able to be critical of America precisely because America allows us to constantly examine ourselves and our conscious and our right and wrongs."
None of the above is to suggest that being a Katharine Gun is easy. Making Official Secrets made Hood question whether he could measure up were he in Gun's shoes.
"What would I do?" Hood reflected. "I don't know. I've never had to face that question. It really does also challenge us to be brave. If you want democracy to survive, you have to be willing to risk questioning your authority. We do that every day. That's what makes [America] great."
Hood also acknowledged that bravery requires a choice. Katharine Gun faced a year of imprisonment and threats to make one memo known to the world. If people face even a fraction of that to tell the truth, it may feel discouraging.
"It's frustrating," Hood said. "It's annoying, depressing at times, but it's not like the press has given up. We have hope. We live in a country where we are allowed to do these things and that's very precious. We shouldn't get so depressed that we forget that."