So much for democracy | The Jackal

28 Jul 2013

So much for democracy

Today, Stuff reported:

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.

Stephenson has described the revelation as a serious violation of his privacy, and the intrusion into New Zealand media freedom has been slammed as an abuse of human rights.

The spying came at a time when the New Zealand Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson's reporting of its handling of Afghan prisoners and was trying to find out who was giving him confidential information.

The monitoring occurred in the second half of last year when Stephenson was working as Kabul correspondent for the US McClatchy news service and for various New Zealand news organisations.

This is further evidence that a concerted effort is being made to quell calls for an inquiry into SAS activities in Afghanistan after Jon Stephenson revealed that New Zealand soldiers were detaining and handing over people to authorities who are known to use torture.

The New Zealand SAS and government clearly didn't like this information being made public and have undertaken further questionable steps to close down an award winning journalist who's simply doing his job.

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.

Earlier this year John Key claimed that; "New Zealand agencies did not use the international connections to bypass the law." However it appears that GCSB personnel posted in Afghanistan were involved in using a US spying agency to monitor Jon Stephenson.

If the Prime Minister is willing to lie about such a serious issue, then why should we believe him about anything else? For instance, when Key says:

Jon Stephenson's a guy that texted me one night impersonating Duncan Garner ... I hung up on him, because when people impersonate somebody else, I don't take them seriously.

This appears to be a further attempt to discredit Stephenson simply because he’s reporting the facts. Stephenson is likely being targeted because he's providing information to the public that John Key and the Defence hierarchy simply don’t like being reported on, not because such reporting is inappropriate, but because it's reality and puts into question New Zealand's continued role in war torn countries like Afghanistan.

Clearly New Zealand Defence personnel in Afghanistan have undertaken illegal activity in turning over prisoners for torture. It also appears that Lieutenant General Rhys Jones defamed Stephenson in an attempt to discredit the journalist's work and the NZSAS has used US spying agencies to monitor a New Zealand citizen’s communications.

However, what's perhaps of more concern is exactly what spying agencies were involved:

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.

This is despicable conduct that shouldn't be tolerated. It's also another clear breach of New Zealand law. Furthermore, Jon Stephenson is obviously not a military target and therefore monitoring him with an agency that helps conduct military targeting and perhaps even assassinations isn't acceptable behaviour by any stretch of the imagination.

In light of these further revelations, any journalist with an iota credibility should be questioning the New Zealand governments underhanded and undemocratic behaviour. Accurate reporting is an essential part of accountability after all and without journalists like Stephenson being in the field certain war atrocities would likely remain a secret forever.

Without the media questioning John Keys credibility as the Minister responsible for such immoral and illegal activity, little will change and our so-called "democracy" will effectively mean nothing.