A new and yet typical story revealing the tricky links between the press and intelligence services has sparked a passionate debate in the Netherlands on the freedom of the press and state-secret information. Two people linked to the Dutch Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) have recently been arrested for leaking information to the press, and the largest daily newspaper in the Netherlands, De Telegraaf, announced this week that it is taking the AIVD to court for allegedly tapping journalists’ telephones.
What happened? A staff member and a former staff member of the AIVD are both suspected of leaking secret information to a journalist who in turn published this information in two different articles. The first article accused the AIVD of having misinformed the Dutch Government on Iraq, stating that the AIVD just copy-pasted the dossier of the British secret service, and the second revealed that the Dalai Lama would be endangered during his visit to the Netherlands in June.
In trying to identify the mole in its own organisation, the AIVD is accused of tapping the phones of 3 journalists at De Telegraaf, in addition to having searched one of their houses. The newspaper, backed by the Dutch Association for Journalists, argues that the AIVD hereby breaches the rules on source protection, one of the essential conditions for press freedom.
Interestingly, the Netherlands heads the international rankings when it comes to phone tapping: in the second half of 2007, no less than 12,491 phone-numbers were tapped, compared to 2,208 in the US throughout the whole of 2007!
Dutch law states that nobody can possess or spread state-secret information, but does this mean that De Telegraaf should not have published these state secrets which seemed to be merely questioning the proper functioning of the AIVD? Could the AIVD’s actions still be justified? On the other hand, to what extent can journalists publish anything they want under the cover of press freedom? At the end of the day a leak within any national intelligence service is serious business.
Given that the Brussels press corps is one of the largest in the world, it would be interesting to hear your views.