British spies nabbed journalists’ emails

Emails from journalists at The New York Times, the BBC, NBC and other major media outlets were reportedly collected and saved by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British spy agency.

Emails to and from the reporters were swept up in a net of 70,000 emails that the spy agency collected during a brief 10-minute test exercise in November 2008, according to The Guardian’s collection of documents leaked by Edward Snowden.


While the journalists did not appear to be directly targeted and many of their emails were routine press releases, some also included discussions of stories between reporters and editors. The emails were kept by the spy agency and available to all cleared staff on the agency network, according to The Guardian’s report.  

In order to obtain the emails, GCHQ tapped into the fiber optic cables that are critical to the functioning of the Internet.

GCHQ is the British equivalent of the National Security Agency in the U.S. The two agencies often collaborate and share information.

In addition to the apparent collection of journalists’ emails, other documents from Snowden show that the British spy agency listed “investigative journalists” as a possible threat and compared them to hackers and terrorists.

In one document meant for army intelligence officers, an official warned that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security,” The Guardian reported. 

The news comes amid an intensifying debate in the United Kingdom over whether the government should demand that private communications and tech companies allow officials access to intercept people’s messages.

Prime Minister David Cameron has been a vocal proponent of extra powers for U.K. officials. Last week, President Obama endorsed Cameron’s call.

Editors of every national British newspaper, however, have signed a letter protesting Cameron’s proposed expansion of government powers, out of fear that it does not do enough to protect journalists’ sources.