Privacy SOS

Report: US military hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal communications

Photo credit: Al Jazeera Creative Commons

Ever since early June, when Glenn Greenwald published the first of many Snowden leaks, I’ve wondered: when are we going to learn about who the NSA targets with its nearly omnipotent surveillance powers? 

Wait no longer. Der Spiegel reports that documents given to the paper by whistleblower Edward Snowden show the NSA “hacked into the protected communications” of Al Jazeera. The NSA also hacked into the backend reservation system of a Russian airline, the paper reports:

One such document, dated March 23, 2006, reveals that the NSA's Network Analysis Center managed to access and read communication by "interesting targets" that was specially protected by the news organization. The information also shows that the NSA officials were not satisfied with Al Jazeera's language analysis.

In addition to cracking the airline reservation services for Russian airline Aeroflot, accessing "Al Jazeera broadcasting internal communication" was listed as a "notable success," the document shows. The NSA said these selected targets had "high potential as sources of intelligence."

The encrypted information was forwarded to the responsible NSA departments for further analysis, according to the document, which did not reveal to what extent the intelligence agency spied on journalists or managers of the media company, or whether the surveillance is ongoing.

The United States has long held a grudge against the Qatar-based Arabic news service, among the most powerful in the Arabic speaking world. In April 2003, the US military bombed the Al Jazeera news bureau in Baghdad, killing journalist Tareq Ayyoub and wounding one of his colleagues. 

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Sami al-Haj, was imprisoned by the US military at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for six years. al-Haj, who was tortured in confinement, was never charged with a crime.

It isn’t clear whether or not the NSA is still spying on Al Jazeera journalists, but it would be surprising if the agency had stopped. After all, the government is waging its own war on journalism right here in the United States.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.