WASHINGTON — The McClatchy Co. asked the Obama administration on Tuesday to explain news reports that U.S. intelligence agencies had helped that country’s military track cell phone calls made by a New Zealand journalist while he was working for McClatchy in Afghanistan.
McClatchy also asked whether the administration was aware of any collection of metadata from cell phones used by people who spoke with the journalist, Jon Stephenson, including McClatchy reporters and editors in the United States, and whether the “actual content of any e-mail or other communications was obtained.”
The requests were made in a letter sent to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper by Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy’s vice president for news, and Karole Morgan-Prager, the company’s general counsel and vice president for corporate development.
“We regard any targeted collection of the metadata of our journalists as a serious interference with McClatchy’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news. We therefore request clarification about whether any U.S. intelligence agencies helped in the collection, use and/or analysis of any metadata from the cell phone of McClatchy journalist Jon Stephenson,” the letter said.
The reports are “particularly alarming” as they said that Stephenson was targeted because the New Zealand military was unhappy with his reporting “about possible war crimes” committed in the handling of Afghan detainees by New Zealand special forces, and it wanted to identify his sources, the letter said.
“If the reports are accurate, the U.S. Government’s facilitation of such retaliatory monitoring of a reporter would be a serious breach of both the constitutional protection of newsgathering and the statutory limits imposed on the collection and use of communications information by intelligence agencies,” the letter said.
The letter came two days after a New Zealand newspaper reported that country’s military had sought the help of unidentified U.S. intelligence agencies to track cell phone calls made by Stephenson, who covered Afghanistan for McClatchy from January until November of last year.