In an interesting bit of news, it seems we can certifiably state that the NSA spied on a New Zealand journalist at the behest of the New Zealand government. The government has apparently classified journalists alongside foreign intelligence services and ‘organizations with extreme ideologies’ (read: terrorists). The government’s 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“.”
So, while the information about the surveillance is shocking in its own right, there is also an important tidbit of information that can derived from the US intelligence services’ actions: despite the supposedly sacrosanct prohibition the Five Eyes partners not spy on one another, this prohibition was broken in this instance. Though Canadian experts have previously stated that such surveillance on Five Eyes partners would be an extreme exception, it’s striking that surveillance mechanisms designed to counter the FSB are being brought to bear on investigative journalists. That the NSA and other American intelligence services turned their ‘ears’ towards a journalist at the New Zealand government’s behest suggests that, despite protestations to the contrary, ‘friendly’ intelligence services do ‘help’ one another spy on people and groups that domestic intelligence services are prohibited from monitoring for either legal or technical reasons.
Reasonable people can disagree on how and why intelligence services operate. However, the routine (mis)information that has been put forward by Western agencies concerning governmeing spying has significantly undermined any foundation for a genuine democratic debate to arise around such spying. When the United States’ Director of National Intelligence asserts that he was providing the “least untruthful” answers to elected officials questioning dragnet surveillance, and supposed ‘red lines’ are being crossed in secret to target journalists tasked with providing truthful reporting to citizens, then the ability to support or even reform intelligence practices is undermined: why shouldn’t we, the people, radically and unilaterally curtail surveillance practices if the same services and their administrative officers won’t truthfully disclose even their most basic operational guidelines?