Dutch intelligence agency considering legal action against journalist over 'state secrets'

General intelligence and security service AIVD is threatening to take legal action against Volkskrant journalist Huib Modderkolk if he does not delete some words and sentences from his new book. These passages could reveal state secrets, and if he does not remove them, charges will be pressed against him, the AIVD confirmed to NU.nl after a report in the Volkskrant.

The book in question is titled Het is oorlog, maar niemand die het ziet, which is set to be published at the end of August. The book is about cyber espionage. According to the Volkskrant, Modderkolk sent a draft of his book to the AIVD for review. The service then requested that "names of employees, sources, operation names and other information that might threaten the secrecy of sources" be removed from the book. The journalist made some of the requested changes, but not al of them. 

The lawyers of both parties are still discussing the matter, the AIVD said to NU.nl. "Developments in this" will show whether the service needs to press charges against Modderkolk. 

The journalist himself said that he is not ignoring the AIVD if it has good arguments in terms of protecting people. "Only in this case there were none. The disputed passages are about an operation that has already been completed", he said in the Volkskrant.

In a letter to Modderkolk, AIVD director Dick Schoof acknowledged the importance of public access to government information, freedom of news gathering, and freedom of expression. "However, these interests are not absolute and can be limited, including in the interest of the state", he wrote, according to the Volkskrant. 

To NU.nl, the AIVD pointed out that publishing state secrets is punishable. If the service does press charges against Modderkolk, the Public Prosecution Service will investigate whether the journalist actually committed any criminal offenses. 

Volkskrant editor-in-chief Philippe Remarque is surprised that the intelligence service is threatening legal steps against a journalist. "Pressing charges against the journalist personally is, in our view, an unnecessarily significant step", he said in the Volkskrant. "If it is an attempt to put pressure on us, then it has not been successful."

Modderkolk's publisher Joost Nijsen of Uitgeverij Podium thinks that the AIVD is threatening press freedom with this move. "If a 'louse in the fur' is cleaned and stripped in such a way that there is no longer any hair left and the book thereby loses credibility, independent journalism and in fact democracy are at risk. A wise judge will certainly confirm that."

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