Al Jazeera Pakistan bureau chief on terror watch list: Report
Documents disclosed by the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, show that an Al Jazeera journalist was listed by US authorities as a suspected terrorist.
Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, the chief of the Al Jazeera bureau in the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad, was on an NSA terror watch list due to being a “member” of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, The Telegraph cited a report from the online news site The Intercept on Friday.
The report added that Zaidan was for long the target of Skynet, an NSA surveillance program, which tries to trace suspicious activities by studying location and communication data from bulk call records.
The photo shows Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan (R) in an Al Jazeera documentary he made about former al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, in 2011.
Zaidan “absolutely” denied any connection with the terrorist group, saying his profession as a journalist in Pakistan and Afghanistan has made it quite inevitable for him to meet and interview influential figures in the two countries such as al-Qaeda leaders.
“For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information,” read Zaidan’s statement to The Intercept, adding, “Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know.”
He also dismissed the NSA’s Skynet program as “questionable” and “absurd”.
“To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism,” Zaidan stated.
During his career, Zaidan has conducted several interviews with senior extremist figures in the region, including Osama bin Laden, the former al-Qaeda leader.
The issues of digital surveillance and privacy protection have been in the limelight since Snowden began leaking classified intelligence documents in June 2013. He revealed that the NSA had been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and foreign nationals as well as political leaders around the world.