America's Untold History of Spying, Censoring, and Plotting to Bomb Al-Jazeera


The phrase "American paranoia" conjures a wealth of implications. In this case, the paranoia's about Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based news station that recently entered U.S. cable networks thanks to some lobbyists and Al Gore. According to NSA documents leaked by Eric Snowden, the agency hacked Al-Jazeera's internal communications. A March 23, 2006 document stated that the NSA's Network Analysis Center accessed and read communications by "interesting targets" that were specially protected by the news organization. But this is not the first time the U.S. has had anxiety about Al-Jazeera and acted on it. There have been numerous other instances where anxiety about Al-Jazeera prompted U.S. action, even to the point of considering bombing the organization's headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Although it has been around since the mid-90s, the "tension" between Al-Jazeera and the U.S. began after 9/11. Our country had just been through a devastating attack and everything about the Middle East seemed to frighten the American public. The organization's coverage of 9/11, the Afghanistan War in 2001, and the Iraq War in 2003 were met with the same type of criticism that Al-Jazeera America received before it launched. Despite the quality of the organization's product, the general sentiment in the U.S. is that the organization is too sympathetic to those on the (perceived) other side of the War on Terror. Oh, and it certainly did not help at all that the news organization chose to repeatedly broadcast videotapes of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (Could you imagine scenes in Zero Dark Thirty where Jessica Chastain tracks down a courier to and from Al-Jazeera instead of looking for the wrong Abu Ahmed? Just saying).

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld voiced U.S. resentment for Al-Jazeera on multiple occasions, stating that it "promotes terrorism." On April 3, 2003, a missile struck Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau and took the life of Tareq Ayyoub, a Jordanian national. Sami Al Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman in Kabul, Afghanistan, was detained for nearly seven years in Guantanamo Bay without charge being his release on May 1, 2008. But none of these come close to how badly the relationship between the U.S. and Al-Jazeera could have become.

In 2005, Britain's Daily Mirror had an unforgettable headline entitled, "Bush Plot to Bomb his Arab Ally." A leaked memo details that during a meet in Washington in April 2004, President George W. Bush presented British Prime Minister Tony Blair with plans to attack Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha as well as some of its bureaus around the world. Thankfully, Blair gave Bush the sage advice that such an attack would have provoked a tidal wave of international outrage. Qatar is officially classified as a key ally of the U.S. Also, Al-Jazeera has been accused of existence as an American puppet to tailor Arab public opinion to requirements in Washington rather than an unbiased conduit for news.

The NSA report uses the language that the officials viewing the internal communications "were not satisfied with the language analysis of the material broadcast." This is a rather vague statement and troubling: if the U.S. has taken such steps with a news organization based in an allied country that has just officially entered the U.S. television market, what is going on with news organizations in our enemy countries? Yes, Putin was able to write an op-ed in the New York Times, but I'm sure we all would like to see what goes on with NSA surveillance of internal communications in places that are classified as our enemies.