The McClatchy Co. asked the chief of the New Zealand Defense Force on Thursday if his country’s military, with the aid of U.S. intelligence agencies, collected cellular telephone data of a journalist working for the company in Afghanistan.
The request came in a letter regarding New Zealand journalist Jon Stephenson, who worked for McClatchy in Afghanistan between January and September 2010.
McClatchy sent a similar letter to National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper earlier in the week to clarify any U.S. agencies’ role in the case reported over the weekend by New Zealand newspapers. Clapper so far has said only that his agency is investigating.
“Director Clapper has reviewed the letter and directed his staff to immediately look into the issues raised,” said agency spokesman Shawn Turner “He looks forward to providing a response once we have been able to determine the facts.”
Thursday’s letter sent to Maj. Gen. Tim Keating said the company considers the reported collection of data a “serious interference with McClatchy’s right to gather and report the news.”
The letter came from Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy’s vice president for news, and Karole Morgan-Prager, the company’s general counsel and vice president for corporate development.
They called reports of the metadata of phone calls -- information that can quickly paint a network of contacts of fellow journalists and sources -- “disturbing.”
The Sunday Star Times of Auckland reported last weekend that New Zealand’s military, part of the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan, had sought the help of unidentified U.S. intelligence agencies to track cellphone calls made by Stephenson.
The newspaper also contended the New Zealand military obtained metadata from the cellular phones of the journalist’s “associates,” who were not identified. The report said that information was used to draw a “tree” of links between Stephenson and his contacts.