Pando

Snowden documents reveal British intelligence agency's fear of investigative journalists

By Nathaniel Mott , written on January 19, 2015

From The News Desk

Britain's top intelligence agency deemed surveillance of investigative reporters a higher priority than doing the same to terrorists, according to a report from the Guardian based on classified documents provided to the newspaper by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Journalists, especially those who "specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest," were called a "potential threat to security" because they often attempt to "gain official information to which they are not entitled."

The documents are said to have called journalists a "low" information security risk because they don't have the same capabilities as terrorists, which received a "moderate" label from the agency and were listed directly above investigative reporters on the file.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British counterpart to the National Security Agency, is also said to have intercepted communications of reporters from Reuters, the BBC, Le Monde, the New York Times, and other news organizations.

The Guardian notes that the messages were intercepted as part of GCHQ's surveillance programs and don't appear to have been specifically targeted by the intelligence agency. But collecting these communications still represents a risk to reporters and their sources -- especially because the agency can view these communications with little oversight.

As the Guardian explains in its report on the intelligence agency's position on journalism:

Ripa has been used to access journalists’ communications without a warrant, with recent cases including police accessing the phone records of Tom Newton-Dunn, the Sun’s political editor, over the Plebgate investigation. The call records of Mail on Sunday reporters involved in the paper’s coverage of Chris Huhne’s speeding row were also accessed in this fashion.

Under Ripa, neither the police nor the security services need to seek the permission of a judge to investigate any UK national’s phone records – instead, they must obtain permission from an appointed staff member from the same organisation, not involved in their investigation. The report comes shortly after British Prime Minister David Cameron joined a march in Paris in support of free speech after extremists believed to be associated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attacked the office of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. The implications of these anti-journalist revelations extend far beyond the shores of Britain.