Wikileaks’ recent disclosure of the CIA’s hacking and surveillance capabilities highlights a frightening new reality for today’s journalists. Considering the CIA’s penchant for silencing and intimidating reporters and editors, journalists will have to overcome greater odds to protect the public’s right to know.
by Whitney Webb
Part 2 - The Decades-Long CIA Effort to Undermine Journalists’ Integrity
Journalists across the board have great reason to be alarmed, chiefly due to the government’s tendency to mercilessly prosecute journalists who dig too deep. The CIA has been wiretapping journalists for well over 50 years, with some of the earliest documented and officially confirmed cases taking place in 1963. Despite the fact that much of this surveillance was illegal, the CIA – and the U.S. government – has only expanded its surveillance of both journalists and everyday citizens in recent decades, particularly with the dismantling of civil liberties in the post-9/11 world.
In addition, several prominent journalists have been silenced or imprisoned by the CIA or other parts of the U.S. power structure over the years. One very telling example is the case of Barrett Brown, a journalist and former member of the hacktivist collective Anonymous. Brown at one point faced a combined sentence of over 100 years just for writing about and linking to data that had been hacked. Brown was in no way involved in the hack, but his mere use of the hacked info as a source led him to be sentenced to over five years in prison.
While Brown’s politically-motivated prosecution is no doubt concerning, many other journalists have suffered much worse at the hands of the CIA and the U.S. government. One particularly notable case is that of late journalist Gary Webb, who famously exposed the CIA’s drug-running operation between Nicaraguan U.S.-funded rebels and crack dealers on the streets of Los Angeles.
Despite the fact that Webb’s claims have been vindicated in the years since, Webb was viciously attacked by the CIA and other news publications for his story, resulting in “one of the most venomous and factually inane assaults on a professional journalist’s competence in living memory.”
Webb committed suicide in 2004 as a result of the vicious attacks against him, though some have maintained that foul play may have played a role, considering that early reports indicated that he died of multiple gunshots to the face. Other well-known journalists like Michael Hastings and Udo Ulfkotte are also suspected to have died at the hands of the CIA after exposing the agency’s wrongdoings.
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