US spies supplied intelligence on investigative journalist to NZ military

US spy agencies fed "metadata" about a New Zealand journalist's communications to New Zealand's military spies, who were upset that he had reported on human rights abuses against Afghani prisoners of war. Jon Stephenson was writing for McClatchy and "various New Zealand news organisations." The NZ Defense Force later attempted to discredit Stephenson, saying he had invented a visit to to an Afghan base, a claim it retracted after Stephenson brought a defamation suit against it. NZ government is presently pushing legislation to allow its military spies conduct domestic surveillance of NZ citizens, even a leaked NZDF manual discloses that the media are classed with foreign spies and extremist organisations as threats to the state.

This is where the security manual may be relevant to the monitoring of Jon Stephenson's phone calls. The Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson's access to confidential information about prisoner handling in Afghanistan and began investigating to discover his sources.

The manual continues that "counter intelligence" means "activities which are concerned with identifying and counteracting the threat to security", including by individuals engaged in "subversion".

It notes: "The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service is the only organisation sanctioned to conduct Counter Intelligence activities in New Zealand. [Chief of Defence Force] approval is required before any NZDF participation in any CI activity is undertaken."

Under the NZSIS Act, subversion is a legal justification for surveillance of an individual.

The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson's phone calls in Afghanistan said the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations.

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".

US spy agencies eavesdrop on Kiwi [Nicky Hager/Fairfax NZ News]

(Thanks, Callum!)

Notable Replies

  1. I thought New Zealand was sane?

  2. In all fairness, that's something of a stretched headline. All it says is that the New Zealand military had telephone metadata on Stephenson, and says it's the type of metadata NSA collects. Can the New Zealand military not collect metadata from telecommunications companies if it's conducting its own investigation, as spurious or as terrible as the it's conducting against Stephenson?

  3. @pjcamp, dunno. I have come to suspect their government is sort of... lacking... (morals, perhaps) after seeing the fooforall with the Dotcom case. Whatever merits Dotcom may (or may not) have as a person, whatever legal merits the charges may (or may not) have, the NZ government was completely lawless and OTT during the episode, and the court rightly excoriated them.

    @verisp, the report makes it fairly clear that they had the data in situ in Afghanistan, where they have a man attached to an American SIGINT base. The reporter admits it's an inference, but it's a fairly logical one. It becomes even more logical when you remember that the USA, the UK, Canada, Oz and NZ pool their signals intelligence through the Five Eyes programme.

    Personally, I hope that Snowden and Greenwald have more goods on the Five Eyes. It won't do anyone any good if the NSA cleans up its act in the USA, but calls on CSEC or GCHQ to do its dirty work (and vice versa). It has been entirely too quiet here in Ottawa, and I know the Tories have been looking for a chance to pass their own warrantless wiretapping laws...

  4. Unfortunately New Zealand is far from sane when it comes to matters of surveillance. We are a contributing member to the 5 eyes network operating a network of spy bases which intercept satellite communications and funnel them to the US to be analysed. We also have a close military and diplomatic relationship with the US which has grown much stronger under the current National coalition government.

    Just this weekend there have been national protests in New Zealand against legislation which would dramatically expand the power of the Government Communications and Security Bureau. This legislation was introduced after it was found that this agency was acting illegally in assisting with domestic surveillance.

    After the 2001 terror attacks in the United States our intelligence services got vast funding increases. This has been used to create specialist units dedicated to combating "National Extremism", in practice though they have run a sustained campaign to try and conflate activism with terrorism. This has included national "terror raids" against indigenous activists and paying an informer for 10 years to infiltrate mainstream protest groups

    Just today we found out that a political reporter had 3 months worth of phone records handed over to a government inquiry into an embarrassing leak about the GCSB

    Unfortunately our politicians seem desperate to emulate the Unite States when it comes to security matters.

  5. Guess who else classifies journalists as threat or enemy of the state: China. Perhaps the US and NZ could ask them for other ideas how to suppress any political opposition.

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