For democracy to thrive, there needs to be open and accessible arenas where government, politics and all related issues can be openly debated and critiqued without interference from state or commercial interests. It particularly needs a robust “fourth estate”, academic independence and means by which all citizens can protest and campaign against government activities that they perceive to be against their interests.
John Key’s planned amendments to the GCSB and related Bills works against such democratic processes.
Investigative journalism and public service broadcasting are important parts of a robust fourth estate, as I have argued here, here, here and here. In these posts i frequently drew on Nicky Hager’s Jesson lecture of 2012 in which he explained the role of investigative journalism, which is actually what all democratic-serving journalism should be. In my post “Media Bias and Democracy I: Truth to Power”, I wrote,
As Nicky Hager clearly explained, politicians and governments need to be questioned and held to account in a way that serves the public interest.
I then quoted from Hager’s lecture the following as necessary to serve the public interest,
the public service of investigating truthfulness in politics and of seeking facts when the truth is disputed, twisted or hidden. It can also involve a different kind of truth: trying to discover and illuminate what is right and wrong. In essence, it is about investigating and challenging the activities of the powerful …
In today’s Sunday Star Times, Nicky Hager (p. A6-7 SST hardcopy) has continued his long and excellent record of investigative journalism with a piece about the way US spy agencies and the GCSB are being used to prevent investigative journalism and other means of speaking truth to power. Such means include academic freedom from political and commercial interference and the ability to protest and campaign against government policies.
The evidence provided to Hager by unnamed sources shows that the US spy agencies, most likely in conjunction with NZ military and spy services, were used to spy on NZ investigative journalist Jon Stephenson in Afghanistan.
The New Zealand military received help from US spy agencies to monitor the phone calls of Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson and his associates while he was in Afghanistan reporting on the war.
The Sunday Star-Times has learned that New Zealand Defence Force personnel had copies of intercepted phone “metadata” for Stephenson, the type of intelligence publicised by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The intelligence reports showed who Stephenson had phoned and then who those people had phoned, creating what the sources called a “tree” of the journalist’s associates.
New Zealand SAS troops in Kabul had access to the reports and were using them in active investigations into Stephenson.
The sources believed the phone monitoring was being done to try to identify Stephenson’s journalistic contacts and sources. They drew a picture of a metadata tree the Defence Force had obtained, which included Stephenson and named contacts in the Afghan government and military.
The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson’s phone calls in Afghanistan said that the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations.
And since early in the Afghanistan war, the GCSB has secretly posted staff to the main US intelligence centre at Bagram, north of Kabul. They work in a special “signals intelligence” unit that co-ordinates electronic surveillance to assist military targeting. It is likely to be this organisation that monitored Stephenson.
Hager suggests that the proposed government changes to the GCSB Bill may be aimed at monitoring and preventing the kind of investigative journalism Stephenson was conducting in Afghanistan.
The Stephenson surveillance suggests the Defence Force may be seeking the GCSB assistance, in part, for investigating leaks and whistleblowers.
Stephenson said monitoring a journalist’s communications could also threaten the safety of their sources “by enabling security authorities to track down and intimidate people disclosing information to that journalist”.
He said there was “a world of difference between investigating a genuine security threat and monitoring a journalist because his reporting is inconvenient or embarrassing to politicians and defence officials”.
Hager has further evidence that the government’s planned extension of NZ surveillance service operations is aimed at preventing critical activities of journalists, academics and political activists.
An internal Defence document leaked to the Star-Times reveals that 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”.
The manual says Chief of Defence Force approval is required before any NZDF participation in “counter intelligence activity” is undertaken. (See separate story)
The “separate story”, as in the hardcopy, is added to the bottom of the online version, headed “Probing journalists deemed a threat”, and it outlines just how afraid the Key government has become of NZ citizens and democratic processes. This section begins:
A leaked New Zealand Defence Force security manual reveals it sees three main “subversion” threats it needs to protect itself against: foreign intelligence services, organisations with extreme ideologies and “certain investigative journalists”.
In the minds of the defence chiefs, probing journalists apparently belong on the same list as the KGB and al Qaeda.
The manual’s first chapter is called “Basic Principles of Defence Security”. It says a key part of protecting classified information is investigating the “capabilities and intentions of hostile organisations and individuals” and taking counteraction against them.
The manual, which was issued as an order by the Chief of Defence Force, places journalists among the hostile individuals. It defines “The Threat” as espionage, sabotage, subversion and terrorism, and includes investigative journalists under the heading “subversion”.
Subversion, it says, is action designed to “weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens.”
It highlights people acquiring classified information to “bring the Government into disrepute”.
This confirms Jane Kelsey’s suspicions that she is very likely to be one of the New Zealanders spied on by GCSB, as explained in her speech at yesterday’s anti-GCSB protest:
She considers she and others campaigning against the TPP and related surveillance operations are engaging in legal and democratically necessary activities. In the above video , Kelsey says:
What we are doing is using lawful means and democratic processes to protect our futures and those of future generations. And for me as an academic it is also making to sure that my role as a tax payer paid public intellectual, working for a university that has a statutory obligation to act as a critical conscience of society, do our jobs .
Thank you to
all yesterday’s protesters,
to the organisers of the events,
as well as to
other journalists who still follow the fourth estate aim,
and all involved in the democratic process of speaking truth to power,
no matter how scary it is all becoming.