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N.Z. Defense Force Denies Spying on Journalist in Afghanistan

July 29 (Bloomberg) -- New Zealand’s Defence Force denied spying on a journalist while he was working for U.S. news organization McClatchy Co. in Afghanistan.

In an article in the Sunday Star-Times newspaper yesterday, reporter Nicky Hager alleged that the Defence Force helped U.S. spy agencies to monitor the phone calls of New Zealand journalist Jon Stephenson and his associates in Afghanistan last year. The Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson’s reporting of its handling of Afghan prisoners and was trying to find out who was giving him confidential information, the article said.

“I have asked the officers responsible for our operations in Afghanistan whether they have conducted monitoring of Mr. Stephenson as alleged by Mr. Hager and they have assured me that they have not,” acting Defence Chief Major General Tim Keating said in a statement today. “This includes asking foreign organizations to do this on our behalf. We have identified no information at this time that supports Mr. Hager’s claims.”

New Zealand has 27 military personnel in Afghanistan supporting operations, according to the defense force website. The nation is a member of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada, the Associated Press reported today.

Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman also issued a statement saying he has seen “no evidence to support these claims at this point.”

“However, the Defence Force is carrying out extensive record checks to see if there is any evidence that this occurred,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Brockett in Wellington at mbrockett1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net

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