Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ intercepted and stored e-mails written by journalists working for some of the largest news organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. and labeled “investigative journalists” as a threat, according to a report Monday by The Guardian, citing documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The e-mails — including routine communications to PR firms and internal chats with editors — were part of 70,000 emails collected one day in November 2008 to test a new agency tool that is designed to weed out irrelevant data, the report said.
The news agencies whose e-mails were monitored included BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Sun, NBC and The Washington Post, but there were no signs that the journalists were specifically targeted, it said.
A document intended for officials in army intelligence stated that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security,” the report said.
“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,” the document read. “All classes of journalists and reporters may try either a formal approach or an informal approach, possibly with off-duty personnel, in their attempts to gain official information to which they are not entitled.”
A spokesman for GCHQ told The Guardian: “It is longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the parliamentary intelligence and security committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position. In addition, the UK’s interception regime is entirely compatible with the European convention on human rights.”