opinion | Intelligence agencies do not spy on journalists

Two recent posts in Norwegian Refugee CouncilAnd the AIVD has kept an eye on investigative journalist for 35 years By Joep Dohmen (28/8) and AIVD enjoys freedom among journalists By Roger Fugels (1/9), once again drawing attention to the complex relationship between the press and the intelligence services. While this is a good thing in itself, the discussion is clouded by a poor representation of the duties and powers of the intelligence services.

The authors alternately state that AIVD and MIVD track journalists, and keep, monitor, and spy on journalists. Vleugels believes that the services are doing this officially because of the state-hazardous activities by journalists, but the real reason is that the services want to know more about the topic the journalist in question is working on.

This is a sinister caricature of the work of the intelligence services. The AIVD and MIVD have the legal authority to collect the data. This power has been curtailed from all sides and is subject to strict control. The Services may use public powers, such as consulting public sources, commercially available information, or simply talking to people. Special powers (eg eavesdropping, tracking, hacking) may only be used if they do not provide the requested information. The law has stipulated that only the least intrusive means of the person under investigation may be used and that the means must be proportionate to the objective.

offending resources

In other words, if intelligence agencies were interested in investigating a journalist, they would not be allowed to use heavy, invasive means such as stalking or wiretapping under any circumstances. After all, there are far fewer means of abuse available for this purpose (“What does journalist X know about subject X?”). AIVD and MIVD may deal with people who have a useful information site or specific knowledge. Services serve a great social good, and it would be crazy if they did not make use of the knowledge available in the community. Thus, rejecting this by saying that the services like to work “through the profession” of journalists is an oversimplification. The strength of the intelligence services lies precisely in the use of different types of intelligence sources. People are one kind of resource, including journalists.

Read also: Secret Service supervisor suspended over new intelligence law: ‘They just want fewer snoopers’

A person approached, of course, can always sell services with “no” based on his own considerations, and this is what happens in practice. Vleugels questions this and suggests that journalists will be pressured or even blackmailed to speak to the intelligence services. It thus ignores the fact that working with human intelligence sources is one of the most sensitive work of intelligence services, based on the trust relationship between the service and the source. Pressure or blackmail is not a future basis for such a relationship and will therefore always be avoided by services – in addition to the fact that blackmail is just a crime.

A threat to press freedom

That the services pose a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression through “press spying” and “spying through the press” is an extreme and baseless accusation by Vleugels against organizations operating 24 hours a day. 365 days a year. One working day a year to prevent attacks and counter-espionage and to keep deployed soldiers safe.

Nor does Dohmen’s article on investigative journalist Stella Bram show that her work has been hindered in any way by the AIVD.

Vleugels appeals to curb “espionage” of journalists. He actually served several years ago on the updated Intelligence and Security Services Act. If the agencies want to use intelligence resources on journalists, the District Court in The Hague must give permission.

It would be credited to Vleugels and other journalists if they put more effort into their publications to delve into the facts, rather than putting the services in a bad light on the basis of unfounded assumptions.

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