The McClatchy news organization asked National Intelligence Director James Clapper on Tuesday whether U.S. intelligence agencies monitored cellphone calls between a McClatchy freelance reporter and his sources in Afghanistan.
In a letter to Clapper, Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy's vice president of news, and Karole Morgan-Prager, vice president, corporate development and general counsel, called the allegations that U.S. intelligence agencies helped target a journalist working for a U.S. news organization "disturbing."
"Absent a well-founded, good faith belief that a journalist is engaged in terrorist activities, compiling and analyzing a journalist's metadata would violate core First Amendment principles, and U.S. law," Gyllenhaal and Morgan-Prager wrote.
They asked Clapper whether any U.S. intelligence agencies helped in the "collection, use or analysis" of any metadata from McClatchy freelancer Jon Stephenson's cellphone while he worked in Afghanistan last year.
Metadata includes logs and timing of phone calls and lists of Internet communications, but does not include the actual contents of communications.
"We regard any targeted collection of the metadata of our journalists as a serious interference with McClatchy's constitutional rights to gather and report the news," the two McClatchy officials wrote.
Clapper's office had no immediate comment late Tuesday.
Stephenson has claimed his reporting was monitored by the U.S. intelligence programs revealed by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on behalf of New Zealand's military.
On Sunday, the Star-Times newspaper of New Zealand reported that the New Zealand military conspired with U.S. spy agencies to monitor Stephenson's communications with sources in Afghanistan. New Zealand officials have denied the allegations.
Stephenson's claim was the latest revelation in the ongoing debate over government snooping since Snowden in June revealed two top secret U.S. programs that monitor millions of Americans' telephone and Internet communications each day.
U.S. intelligence officials have denied Stephenson's claim, but wouldn't elaborate on what did happen. Other intelligence officials and experts suggested Stephenson's phone calls to Afghan sources might have been caught up in standard military intelligence monitoring of enemy combatant's communications.
Experts and former intelligence officials have said if Stephenson's phone records were collected, they would have been gathered in a military intelligence sweep that is shared among allies — and has for years monitored most communications in war zones, where there is little expectation of privacy.