You might think of reporters as nothing more than pencil-pushing dorks and neutered Twitter-shouters, and this is basically correct. But according to new Edward Snowden documents published by The Guardian, Britain's NSA equivalent thinks investigative journalists should be treated much like terrorist threats.
The report says that journalists' emails were captured and saved by GCHQ, en masse, by tapping into the fiber optic cables that make up the physical infrastructure of the internet. Once saved to GCHQ's internal network, they could be perused without the senders or recipients knowing someone was eavesdropping:
Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency's intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.
The journalists' communications were among 70,000 emails harvested in the space of less than 10 minutes on one day in November 2008 by one of GCHQ's numerous taps on the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet.
Although it's possible these emails were recorded by accident as part of a much larger indiscriminate email dragnet, Snowden documents show the GCHQ spending time fretting specifically about what journalists are up to:
One restricted document intended for those in army intelligence warned that "journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security".
It continued: "Of specific concern are 'investigative journalists' who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.
The agency went so far as to rank journalists (who write things) as a more "capable" security threat than actual terrorists (who plot murder on a large scale):
GCHQ information security assessments, meanwhile, routinely list journalists between "terrorism" and "hackers" as "influencing threat sources", with one matrix scoring journalists as having a "capability" score of two out of five, and a "priority" of three out of five, scoring an overall "low" information security risk.
Terrorists, listed immediately above investigative journalists on the document, were given a much higher "capability" score of four out of five, but a lower "priority" of two. The matrix concluded terrorists were therefore a "moderate" information security risk.
Emphasis added. Terrorists: one single priority point lower than Reuters.