Ochberg Fellow at Center of Spying Case

As unchecked government surveillance continues to surface, Dart Center Ochberg Fellow Jon Stephenson, a correspondent for the third-largest news service in the U.S., finds himself at the center of a new alleged spying case.

Stephenson, an award-winning New Zealand-based correspondent for the McClatchy news service, was working in Afghanistan last year when his phone was allegedly compromised by the New Zealand military. The story, first reported by the New Zealand Sunday Star-Times, included the allegation that the surveillance was aided by the U.S. government.

McClatchy sent a widely circulated letter to James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, demanding a response to the charges. “We regard any targeted collection of the metadata of journalists as a serious interference with McClatchy’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news,” the letter stated. (Read the full letter here.) Clapper’s office has initiated an investigation.

The case has fueled growing concern about press freedom around the globe and contains startling allegations of a systematic targeting of journalists by the New Zealand government, not a nation typically associated with repressive tactics. A leaked New Zealand military manual obtained by the Star-Times listed “certain investigative journalists” who are considered security threats along with foreign intelligence service members and terrorist organizations. “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.”

The Star-Times story, written by Nicky Hager, asserted that, “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.”