French spy agency summons reporters, prompting press-freedom concerns

DGSI FranceFrance’s domestic intelligence agency has summoned eight journalists for questioning in relation to two separate investigative reports, prompting concerns about press freedom, according to reports from Paris. Last month, France’s domestic security and counter- intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), summoned three journalists for questioning. The summonses related to a leaked document that detailed the use of French-made weapons in the Yemeni Civil War. The 15-page document was prepared by France’s main military intelligence agency, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM). It was reportedly meant to be read only by France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, and senior members of his security cabinet, including ministers. However, the report was leaked to the media and published in full. The leaked report revealed that a significant amount of French-made weapons are being used by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni Civil War. The weapons allegedly include laser-guided missile systems and armored vehicles, as well as tanks, which the Saudi-led coalition is deploying against Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen.

On Wednesday, new summonses were issued for five more reporters, including two senior members of staff of Le Monde, which, along with Libération, and Le Figaro, is one of France’s newspapers of record. One of the reporters who have been summoned by DGSI is senior Le Monde reporter Ariane Chemin, who in 2018 broke a story about Alexandre Benalla, a senior security aide to President Macron. Benalla is believed to have illegally participated in a scuffle with ‘yellow vest’ protesters while wearing police riot gear in 2018. Subsequent reports in Libération linked Benalla with a questionable state contract handed out to a security company owned by a Russian oligarch. The reports centered on a former officer in the French Air Force named Chokri Wakrim, who some say facilitated Benalla’s contacts with the Russian’s company. An official anti-corruption investigation was sparked by these revelations. But in April of this year, Wakrim filed a complaint against the press, claiming that his identification in the media broke legal statutes that forbid the “revelation of the identity of a member of the [French] special forces”. This counter-complaint, according to reports from Paris, is what prompted Wednesday’s five new summonses by the DGSI.

On Thursday, nearly 40 French media outlets issued a joint statement in support of those journalists who were summoned by DGSI. The statement condemns the summonses an attack on press freedom and as “a new attempt by authorities to circumvent” France’s laws on freedom of the press and the protection of sources, which date back to 1881. In reference to the Wakrim case, the statement goes on to say that “military secrecy cannot restrict the right to information, which is essential for informed public debate, nor can it be [used] to deter [journalists] from investigating and publishing”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 May 2019 | Permalink

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Russian spy service accused of role in Norwegian journalist’s firing

Thomas NilsenNorway’s state broadcaster has alleged that the Russian intelligence service pressured a Norwegian newspaper to fire one of its journalists who covered fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean. Last week, journalist Thomas Nilsen was fired by The Barents Observer, a Norwegian government-run newspaper that covers developments in the Arctic. Headquartered in the northern Norwegian town of Kirkenes, The Barents Observer publishes daily news in English and Russian from the four countries that border the region, namely Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is owned by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat (NBS), a government-owned agency that aims to encourage collaboration between Norway and Russia, two countries that share fishing, fossil fuel and mining interests in the Barents Sea.

Since the end of the Cold War, the NBS has funded collaborative projects between Norway’s state-owned oil company Statoil, and its Russian equivalent, Rosneft, which aim to promote offshore oil exploration in the Barents region. The move reflects a recognition by the Norwegian government that close relations with Russia are vital for Norwegian interests. But Nilsen is one of many Norwegian investigative journalists who have challenged Oslo’s collaboration with Moscow in Arctic oil exploration. Last year, Mikhail Noskov, Russia’s consul in Kirkenes, spoke publicly against Nilsen’s reporting, which he described as “damaging to the bilateral relations between Norway and Russia”. He also reportedly contacted the offices of The Barents Observer to complain about Nilsen’s articles.

Last week, when Nilsen was fired, staff at the newspaper protested that his removal from the paper had been ordered by the government in Oslo and described it as a clear case of government censorship. But on Saturday, Norway’s state-owned NRK broadcaster said that Nielsen had been fired following pressure from the Russian Federal Security Service, known as FSB. Citing an unnamed Norwegian government source, NRK reporter Tormod Strand alleged that the FSB had threatened that cooperation between Russia and Norway in the Arctic would be negatively affected if Nilsen was not removed from his post. The NRK contacted the embassy of the Russian Federation in Oslo, where a spokesman denied that Moscow had intervened in any way in Nilsen’s firing. An official from the Norwegian government told the station that he had seen no evidence showing that Tormod’s allegations were factual.

US journalist facing jail term for refusing to testify in CIA officer’s trial

James RisenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A leading American journalist is facing a possible jail term after the United States Supreme Court refused to consider his appeal against testifying at the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency officer. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, who worked for the CIA from 1993 until 2002, was arrested in early 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was charged with leaking classified information about Operation MERLIN, a botched CIA covert operation targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The operation was publicly revealed for the first time in New York Times reporter James Risen’s 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. In chapter 9 of the book, Risen details a bungled operation by the CIA’s Iran Task Force to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. Risen alleges that the CIA operation backlashed and may actually have helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian nuclear engineers would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Risen was summoned to testify in Sterling’s trial, but refused, arguing that having to identify the source of his allegation about Operation MERLIN would infringe on press freedom. On the other side of the argument, the United States government claimed that the freedom of the press does not permit journalists “to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources”. Risen filed a case in a Virginia court, arguing that he should not be forced to comply with the subpoena issued to him to testify at Sterling’s trial. After the court upheld the subpoena, Risen’s legal team filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. But the Court has now refused to hear the case, which means that Risen will have to testify in Sterling’s trial or face a possible jail sentence. Read more of this post

US government secretly obtained phone records of journalists

Associated PressBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Associated Press (AP) accused the United States government on Monday of secretly obtaining telephone records of its reporters, as part of a leak inquiry related to an intelligence operation. The news agency, which is owned cooperatively by news outlets worldwide, said the Department of Justice had secretly obtained pen-register information on 20 AP telephone lines in the US. Pen-register data includes lists of all numbers contacted from a particular telephone line and the duration of each call over a defined period. The agency said the government investigation included “the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters”, as well as AP office telephone lines in New York and Washington, and even the main telephone line used by AP correspondents at the US Capitol Building. It is believed that government prosecutors were probing the source(s) of a May 7, 2012, AP report, which disclosed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had prevented a terrorist plot by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Arabian Peninsula. AP correspondents Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman had cited anonymous sources in claiming that the plot, allegedly hatched in Yemen, involved placing a bomb on a US-bound civilian airplane on the one-year anniversary of the death of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Less than a fortnight later, sources told the Reuters news agency that the White House and CIA were furious with AP’s revelation, because it allegedly forced the termination of an “operation which they hoped could have continued for weeks longer”. Read more of this post