New Zealand says it's not spying on McClatchy journalist

Associated Press | McClatchy | The New Zealand Herald | The New York Times | New York | The Providence Journal

New Zealand's government says it had "no evidence to support a report in the Sunday Star-Times newspaper that the military was assisted by the United States in monitoring the phone data of journalist Jon Stephenson, a New Zealander working for the U.S.-based McClatchy news organization," Nick Perry reports.

The Sunday Star-Times of Auckland reported Sunday that the New Zealand Defense Force "obtained the metadata of cellular phones used by Stephenson’s 'associates,' but did not identify those individuals," McClatchy's Jonathan S. Landay writes.

Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman did acknowledge "the existence of an embarrassing confidential order that lists investigative journalists alongside spies and terrorists as potential threats to New Zealand's military," Perry writes. "Coleman said the order will be modified to remove references to journalists."

Stephenson had previously sued NZDF for defamation, but the jury couldn't reach a verdict, Teuila Fuatai writes in The New Zealand Herald.

New Zealand is part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing program. Bruce Ferguson, who used to head New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau, told the AP earlier this month that New Zealand "benefited by a ratio of about five-to-one in the information it received compared to what it provided."

He said that as chief of the defense force, a role he held before taking over the spy agency in 2006, he could never have sent troops to Afghanistan without the on-the-ground intelligence provided by the U.S. and other allies. He said New Zealand continues to rely on Five Eyes information for most of its overseas deployments, from peacekeeping to humanitarian efforts. The intelligence is vital, he added, for thwarting potential cyber threats.

In related news, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan writes that a court decision saying Times reporter James Risen must testify in a leak case has "real-world consequences not only for journalists but for all Americans." Big investigative stories will suffer, Sullivan says, as sources threatened with prosecution get cold feet.

Kevin Roose writes in New York about his attempt to get away from prying eyes for one day: Among other tactics, he wrapped his telephone in aluminum foil and equipped a baseball cap with infrared LEDs meant to "drown my face and render me unrecognizable" to infrared cameras. "I'll just appear as a ball of light."

Security experts Roose consulted with "pointed out one of the central paradoxes of my day – that, by downloading Tor and HideMyAss, by paying for software in Bitcoin, wrapping my phones in foil, and by turning my head into a giant glowing orb, I’m effectively asking to be put on a terrorist watch list," Roose writes.

It’s the digital equivalent of hanging a big “I’M SKETCHY” sign around my neck. And as I browse through my morning news sites, using my Icelandic internet connection and my Tor browser, I can’t shake the feeling that black helicopters are already circling overhead.

The Providence Journal reported Saturday it filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Security Agency and the FBI seeking records the agencies may have on the communications of its employees.

The NSA denied the request, saying such name-by-name demands "would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about NSA’s technical capabilities, sources and methods," the paper reports. The FBI said: "We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA.”

Related: MuckRock cofounder plans to appeal NSA's response to his FOIA request | Steve Rattner dismisses Glenn Greenwald as a journalist

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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