Reporters Without Borders

Intelligence agency spied on newspaper reporter

Intelligence agency spied on newspaper reporter

Published on Monday 29 August 2011.
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Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the weekly Expresso’s revelation in its 27 August issue that senior members of the Strategic Defence and Intelligence Service (SIED), Portugal’s foreign intelligence agency, illegally obtained access to the particulars of journalist Nuno Simas’ mobile phone calls and messages.

The SIED was reportedly trying to identify Simas’ sources for an article for the daily Público on 7 August 2010 about alleged tension between the SIED and the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS), Portugal’s domestic intelligence agency.

Expresso published copies of documents sent in 2010 to then SIED chief Jorge Silva Carvalho that include a very detailed list of all Simas’ calls and SMS messages from 19 July to 12 August 2010. Simas, who left Público in July 2011, confirmed to Expresso that the listed calls and messages were indeed his. The management of Público has filed a complaint accusing unknown persons of violation of privacy.

“We firmly condemn these more than dubious activities on the part of the SIED and its former director, which gravely violate not only Simas’ privacy but also all journalists’ legitimate right to guarantee the protection of their sources,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The SIED has just done further harm to Portugal’s already worrying media freedom record.

“As Simas’ August 2010 article was very clearly a matter of public interest, the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies should do everything possible to achieve a lasting solution to the tension between them, which led them to try to identify the persons who legitimately blew the whistle on this problem.”

According to Expresso, the details of Simas’ calls and messages were passed to Carvalho by a SIED operations chief who was subsequently fired for providing Carvalho with information after Carvalho had left the SIED. This official allegedly had an accomplice within Optimus, Simas’ mobile phone operator, whose parent company also owns Público. The information seems to have been obtained unofficially, as the SIED’s internal files have no record of it.

“We hail the decision by the public prosecutor’s office to open an investigation,” Reporters Without Borders added. “But we call for the investigation to be continued and for it to be given proper resources so that all those involved can be identified, including the most senior officials who clearly played an active role in this case. The intelligence services are official agencies that cannot be allowed to escape the state’s control. And Carvalho must explain his actions.

“We also call on Optimus to carry out an investigation in order to identify the persons who directly or indirectly provided the SIED with Simas’ private data. Optimus is not supposed to divulge clients’ data to third parties without their consent, unless authorized to do so by court order, which it clearly did not have. The intelligence services are not the only ones at fault in this case and all involved should accept their share of the blame.”

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has described the case as “very grave” and has asked the secretary-general of the Portuguese Republic’s Intelligence System (SIRP), which oversees all the intelligence agencies, to carry out an internal investigation into the illegal activities revealed by Expresso.

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