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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

 
Is Kiwi our canary in the coal mine?

by digby

It isn't just us, although we are being very helpful to allied governments in these pursuits. Because GWOT, dontcha know:
The New Zealand military received help from US spy agencies to monitor the phone calls of Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson and his associates while he was in Afghanistan reporting on the war. 
Stephenson has described the revelation as a serious violation of his privacy, and the intrusion into New Zealand media freedom has been slammed as an abuse of human rights.
The spying came at a time when the New Zealand Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson's reporting of its handling of Afghan prisoners and was trying to find out who was giving him confidential information. 
The monitoring occurred in the second half of last year when Stephenson was working as Kabul correspondent for the US McClatchy news service and for various New Zealand news organisations. 
The Sunday Star-Times has learned that New Zealand Defence Force personnel had copies of intercepted phone "metadata" for Stephenson, the type of intelligence publicised by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The intelligence reports showed who Stephenson had phoned and then who those people had phoned, creating what the sources called a "tree" of the journalist's associates. 
New Zealand SAS troops in Kabul had access to the reports and were using them in active investigations into Stephenson. 
The sources believed the phone monitoring was being done to try to identify Stephenson's journalistic contacts and sources. They drew a picture of a metadata tree the Defence Force had obtained, which included Stephenson and named contacts in the Afghan government and military. 
The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson's phone calls in Afghanistan said that the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations. 
And since early in the Afghanistan war, the GCSB has secretly posted staff to the main US intelligence centre at Bagram, north of Kabul. They work in a special "signals intelligence" unit that co-ordinates electronic surveillance to assist military targeting. It is likely to be this organisation that monitored Stephenson.
This should sound familiar:
The news has emerged as the Government prepares to pass legislation which will allow the Defence Force to use the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders. 
The Stephenson surveillance suggests the Defence Force may be seeking the GCSB assistance, in part, for investigating leaks and whistleblowers. 
Stephenson said monitoring a journalist's communications could also threaten the safety of their sources "by enabling security authorities to track down and intimidate people disclosing information to that journalist". 
He said there was "a world of difference between investigating a genuine security threat and monitoring a journalist because his reporting is inconvenient or embarrassing to politicians and defence officials".
[...]
An internal Defence document leaked to the Star-Times reveals that defence security staff viewed investigative journalists as "hostile" threats requiring "counteraction". The classified security manual lists security threats, including "certain investigative journalists" who may attempt to obtain "politically sensitive information". 
The manual says Chief of Defence Force approval is required before any NZDF participation in "counter intelligence activity" is undertaken. (See separate story)
Stephenson took defamation action against the Defence Force after Jones claimed that Stephenson had invented a story about visiting an Afghan base as part of an article about mishandling of prisoners. 
Although the case ended with a hung jury two weeks ago, Jones conceded during the hearing that he now accepted Stephenson had visited the base and interviewed its Afghan commander. 
Victoria University lecturer in media studies Peter Thompson said the Afghanistan monitoring and the security manual's view of investigative journalists confirmed the concerns raised in the High Court case. 
There was "a concerted and deliberate effort to denigrate that journalist's reputation for political ends".
But hey, don't worry.  That could never happen here, right? Cuz' we're good and they're evil.  And anyway, at least we don't have anything like this:
A leaked New Zealand Defence Force security manual reveals it sees three main "subversion" threats it needs to protect itself against: foreign intelligence services, organisations with extreme ideologies and "certain investigative journalists". 
In the minds of the defence chiefs, probing journalists apparently belong on the same list as the KGB and al Qaeda. 
The manual's first chapter is called "Basic Principles of Defence Security". It says a key part of protecting classified information is investigating the "capabilities and intentions of hostile organisations and individuals" and taking counteraction against them. 
The manual, which was issued as an order by the Chief of Defence Force, places journalists among the hostile individuals. It defines "The Threat" as espionage, sabotage, subversion and terrorism, and includes investigative journalists under the heading "subversion". Subversion, it says, is action designed to "weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens." It highlights people acquiring classified information to "bring the Government into disrepute".
To reinforce its concern, the defence security manual raises investigative journalists a second time under a category called "non-traditional threats". The threat of investigative journalists, it says, is that they may attempt to obtain "politically sensitive information". 
Politically sensitive information, such as the kind of stories that Stephenson was writing, is however about politics and political accountability, not security. Metro magazine editor Simon Wilson, who has published a number of Jon Stephenson's prisoner stories, said the Defence Force seemed to see Stephenson as the "enemy", as a threat to the Defence Force. 
"But that's not how Jon works and how journalism works," he said. "Jon is just going about his business as a journalist." 
The New Zealand Defence Force "seems to be confusing national security with its own desire not to be embarrassed by disclosures that reveal it has broken the rules", he said.
Right. But our defense department 's Insider Threat Manual doesn't specifically mention investigative journalists, so we can rest easy:




Seriously, how much of this stuff is being used to ferret out whistleblowers and sources to protect the government from embarrassment? It's very easy to see how they can conflate the revelation of their own foibles, bad policies, errors and malpractice with a threat to the nation, isn't it?

Update: McClatchy is not happy about this.

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