New Snowden Leak Reveals GCHQ Collected Emails Of Journalists At NYT, WaPo, Guardian, BBC And Elsewhere

from the marginally-less-dangerous-than-terrorists dept

It’s eighteen months since Edward Snowden revealed his trove of secret NSA and GCHQ documents, but it seems that there are still some big surprises lurking there. Here’s a pretty shocking story from the Guardian:

GCHQ’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, analysis of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.

Apparently, some 70,000 emails were slurped up in less than 10 minutes using one of GCHQ’s taps on the fiber-optic cables entering and leaving the UK. Among those emails was correspondence between reporters and editors discussing stories, all of which was made available to cleared personnel on the GCHQ intranet. Although this was classed as a “test exercise”, what the Guardian story goes on to reveal about GCHQ’s view of journalists does not give any confidence it was an isolated incident:

One restricted document intended for those in army intelligence warned that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security”.

It continued: “Of specific concern are ‘investigative journalists’ who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.

Despite that view, GCHQ graciously concedes that journalists are marginally less dangerous as an information security risk than “terrorists”:

GCHQ information security assessments, meanwhile, routinely list journalists between “terrorism” and “hackers” as “influencing threat sources”, with one matrix scoring journalists as having a “capability” score of two out of five, and a “priority” of three out of five, scoring an overall “low” information security risk.

Terrorists, listed immediately above investigative journalists on the document, were given a much higher “capability” score of four out of five, but a lower “priority” of two. The matrix concluded terrorists were therefore a “moderate” information security risk.

Alongside this disturbing perspective on investigative journalists, the Guardian story also reveals what seems a serious abuse of surveillance powers:

The GCHQ document goes on to warn that the fact that billing records ?kept under Ripa are not limited to warranted targets? must be kept as one of the agency?s most tightly guarded secrets, at a classification known as ?Top secret strap 2?.

That is two levels higher than a normal top secret classification — as it refers to ?HMG [Her Majesty?s government] relationships with industry that have areas of extreme sensitivity?.

So claims that telephone billing records are only obtained in accordance with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in a highly controlled fashion, and limited to “warranted targets”, turn out to be untrue: they are collected for a much wider group of people. This is such a sensitive matter that the document containing this damaging admission was accorded a level of classification even higher than “top secret”.

That’s a reminder of why Snowden’s leaks are so important: without them, it’s unlikely we’d ever know about rules being bent or broken in this way. It’s regrettable that many journalists at leading titles still underestimate the importance of Snowden revelations that spy agencies on both sides of the Atlantic are undermining without compunction key elements of liberty and democracy, subject only to minimal and ineffectual oversight. Let’s hope the news that they too are being spied upon will help them revise their opinions.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “New Snowden Leak Reveals GCHQ Collected Emails Of Journalists At NYT, WaPo, Guardian, BBC And Elsewhere”

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22 Comments
Tweak (profile) says:

I’d be very interested to read the entire rubric and rankings for what constitutes “capability” and “priority.” From this story, it seems as though GCHQ (and presumably the NSA) consider journalists to be a higher priority than terrorists. How could this not be horrifying to anyone?

What makes one of the highest priority? If I had to guess, I’d say State actors (PMs, etc.) and top corporate officials. Of course, that would indicate that they are conducting corporate espionage, which we all know they would NEVER do…

Anonymous Coward says:

not very long ago, there were court cases going on in the UK concerning reporters who had taped into peoples phones, some of them celebrities, in order to gain news stories. if i remember correctly, there were prison sentences dished out as well as some quite hefty fines because what was done was deemed illegal. someone like to explain to me the difference here, apart from the fact that it was a government agency involved? if that is OK for that to happen, because it was ‘the government or it’s representative involved’ where has the freedom and privacy gone that Cameron was spouting the other day as ‘something the UK would never lose’? considering also that he wants to introduce new laws for surveillance, how far has it got to go before there is no freedom, no privacy and worse spying than done by the terrorists?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Government is above the law. Government will use any excuse it can to gain more control. I have seen news pieces that are calling the terrorist attack in France the second 9-11. It was nothing compared to 9-11 but trying to sensationalize it will make it easier for a government to turn into a surveillance state.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Fear, much like sex, sells. As such, the ‘press’ will always seek to maximize the fear angle, even when it’s not even remotely close to the truth, because they know people will pay more attention if they’re going on about how panicked everyone should be, rather than calmly reporting on what happened and leaving out baseless fearmongering and speculation.

Violynne (profile) says:

That’s a reminder of why Snowden’s leaks are so important: without them, it’s unlikely we’d ever know about rules being bent or broken in this way.
Proving once again William Binney gets no recognition for doing the same thing in 2001.

I suppose Techdirt must have refused reporting the information because Binney didn’t take any powerpoint presentations when he left.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Saying something is happeneing is clearly not enough. Millions have been spent trying to discredit Snowden. Each time though a new document is released showing the new lie is false also. Taking hundreds of documents and sharing them on this is much different then just leaving and telling people. We have been told by hundreds of people that the Federal Reserve is out to take over America, but without proof, it is just another conspiracy theory.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s the reason Snowden’s document stash is so damaging to the NSA: its main danger is that the NSA officials don’t know what’s in it, so they are in a real pickle concerning what lies they are to tell Congress and the public in response to some accusation.

As it is, they fall down debunk, debunk, debunk, debunk, debunk, debunk, debunk, debunk all to the bottom of public trust and opinion.

Violynne (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem with this mentality is that no one took the time to prove it one way or another, and that’s what the NSA banked on (that, and steamrolling Binney into questionable allegations, which should have been a tip-off something he said struck a nerve).

In fact, this entire “Pics – or it didn’t happen” ideology is why the NSA grew since 2001. Also, it didn’t help a couple of planes diverted their flight path into a few structures.

This was all the NSA needed.

Now, even with all the knowledge given to the public, nothing will change.

A government doesn’t spend $3billion on a new facility just to have it made useless because it circumvents the Constitution.

Again, I applaud Snowden’s efforts, but this article just rubbed me the wrong way when it’s pretending this information is new to the world.

It’s not. Binney wasn’t the only one who made the claim.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Unfortunately, just telling the public doesn’t really do much good, as it’s far too easy for the agency being discussed to dismiss any claims as ‘statements made by a bitter ex-employee’, or ‘paranoid claims’, and without solid backing evidence, most people will believe those counter-claims, as what’s being revealed is just too insane to be real.

Think about it, before the Snowden docs went public, how many people would have believed just how vast the NSA’s efforts were in scooping up everything they can get their hands on? People who claimed that the government was watching, and intercepting their communications were derided as paranoid lunatics, yet as the evidence showed, they weren’t nearly as crazy as people thought, the government is watching, and worse, they’re watching everyone, not just a handful of people.

Claims are easy to make, but without backing evidence, ultimately useless in educating the public as to what’s really going on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Surveilance……..to better manipulate you with

Dont forget bbc using ripa to go for tv licence non contributers and ordinary police being able to ask someone in their department not involved in a case for a shallow warrent to request metadata information on anybody, not limited by law to those that might be denied through tried and tested lawfull means (courts/witnesses/sorces)

It is quite obvious in whose hand this surveilance system being built for “TERRO-CRIMINALS” will end up in………..they will illegally create the system, scratch that, they have created an illegal system , with a goal to implement these new non terrorist laws into society to bypass/circumvent CURRENT laws they feel doesnt quite give them that big government they want………..building a hostile environment for individual freedom and EQUAL rights……..thats THEIR terrorism, freedom and rights

Them/their/that – to who it may apply, seing as their so secretive, them/their/that…..to those with an honest heart a genuine understanding and who are legitemitly trying to change things for the better, im sorry for your company

GEMont (profile) says:

Five Eyes under the Microscope of Public Scrutiny!!

Wouldn’t that be awesome!

The return of the Free Press!!

It literally staggers the mind to imagine what fantastic news stories might occur and what villainous misdeeds night be exposed and how many heinous villains might be incarcerated, were the forces of the Free Press, free to do their traditional jobs once again and report on the wrong-doings of the criminals inhabiting the halls of power.

I’d actually have to upgrade my expectation of complete social meltdown of western culture, to a mere 75% likely to self destruct before the year 2025.

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