A New Zealand defense official denies its military spied on a journalist, after reports surfaced over the weekend that the military had collected phone metadata of a McClatchy freelance reporter over his coverage of the treatment of Afghan prisoners.
From the Associated Press:
New Zealand’s acting defense force chief said Monday that there is no evidence the military unlawfully spied on a journalist in Afghanistan who was freelancing for U.S. news organization McClatchy. The statement came in response to a report in the Sunday Star-Times newspaper that the military collected phone metadata to spy on journalist Jon Stephenson, a New Zealander. The paper claimed the military became unhappy at Stephenson’s reporting on how it treated Afghan prisoners.
Also Monday, the country’s Minister of Defense Jonathan Coleman acknowledged the existence of an embarrassing confidential order that lists investigative journalists alongside spies and terrorists as potential threats to New Zealand’s military.
The investigative journalist who first broke the report of alleged spying was Nicky Hager of the Star-Times, who also claimed that US spy agencies assisted the New Zealand military in intercepting Stephenson’s phone calls in an effort to determine his sources, according to MSN.NZ.
An official with New Zealand’s Defense Force however has denied such claims.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, Acting Chief of Defence Force Major General Tim Keating says any such interception of communications had never been authorised by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones.
“I have asked the officers responsible for our operations in Afghanistan whether they have conducted monitoring of Mr Stephenson as alleged by Mr Hager and they have assured me that they have not. This includes asking foreign organisations to do this on our behalf,” Maj Gen Keating said.
“We have identified no information at this time that supports Mr Hager’s claims.”
Another New Zealand defense official also addressed the claims in Hager’s report, according to MSN.
Earlier on Monday afternoon, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman issued a statement denying the allegations.
“The Defence Force has assured me that this is not something that they would regard as a legitimate practice. I would be most concerned if this had occurred,” he said, adding “extensive record checks” were being carried out to be sure.
Mr Hager’s story also revealed a Defence Force manual lists “certain investigative journalists” as one of three main “subversion” threats, which qualifies them for surveillance, alongside foreign intelligence services and organisations with extreme ideologies.
Dr Coleman said he thought the reference to investigative journalists was “inappropriate and heavy-handed”, and he wants it removed.
The claims come amidst continued debate in the US over the NSA domestic surveillance program recently revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, as well as the Obama administration’s handling of leaks.
In May, Attorney General Eric Holder met with several news outlets to discuss guidelines for journalists in leak investigations, after it was revealed the justice department had targeted the phone records of reporters at outlets that included AP and FOX News.DONATE
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