The National Security Agency (NSA), a US intelligence agency tasked with collecting data for foreign and counter intelligence operations, broke into the encrypted network of the Al Jazeera Media Network and several others in 2006, according to a report by US media.
A document provided to The Intercept by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden shows that the NSA cracked Al Jazeera’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), an encrypted tunnel used to secure internet traffic.
“Recently, NSA has decrypted a number of interesting targets … deemed by product lines to have high potential as sources of intelligence,” the document states, which is then followed by a list of targets.
That list includes Al Jazeera, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and Interior, the Iraqi state internet provider and four airlines from Russia, Paraguay and Iran.
The network that was broken into is a so-called VPN network, a digital tunnel of sorts which all internet traffic gets sent through to protect it from prying eyes.
According to the document, the VPNs used by the listed companies and institutions were all decrypted, although details on how exactly this was done are not specified.
The data collected after decrypting the internet traffic was “being evaluated for intelligence content.”
“Hundreds of additional VPN links have also been identified and are being investigated,” it added.
The documents state that at that point, the NSA had been working on trying to break VPN encryption for at least three years.
In 2013, German publication Der Spiegel published an article based on the same document, stating the NSA was spying on Al Jazeera, but the publicationdid not detail that this was done through cracking the VPN used by Al Jazeera.
It is not known whether the NSA has continued the operation since 2006.
Attacks and criticism
The document is dated March 23, 2006, a time during which Al Jazeera was repeatedly criticised by then-US President George W Bush for its coverage of the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan.
Two years earlier, in 2004, Bush allegedly discussed bombing Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to British media reports.
Officials in Washington, DC have dismissed that story.
Al Jazeera has been targeted multiple times by the US government, most notably several bombings of its offices.
In 2001, a bomb from a US air force plane hit the Al Jazeera bureau in Kabul, Afghanistan, destroying the building, despite the US being aware of the exact coordinates of the offices.
Then, in April 2006, a US bomb hit the Al Jazeera bureau in Baghdad, Iraq, killing journalist Tareq Ayyoub and injuring one other person. US forces were again aware of the exact coordinates of the office.