NSA reportedly secretly recording audio of virtually all cell phone calls in the Bahamas
By End the Lie
Newly leaked documents provided by Edward Snowden reveal that the National Security Agency (NSA) is secretly intercepting, recording and archiving audio of almost all cellphone calls in the Bahamas.
The documents reveal a top-secret system code-named SOMALGET, detailed in a lengthy report by Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Devereaux and Laura Poitras, over at The Intercept.
SOMALGET was reportedly implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government, but instead leveraged a backdoor to gain access.
The access was apparently legally through a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration backdoor to the cellphone network in the Bahamas.
Now the NSA can secretly record and archive “full-take audio” of all cellphone calls made to, from and within the country and to replay the calls for up to a month.
SOMALGET is part of the much larger NSA program called MYSTIC, which is used to secretly surveil communications in Mexico, the Philippines, Kenya and elsewhere, according to reports.
The program is significantly more powerful than MYSTIC, however, since MYSTIC is only captures metadata while SOMALGET captures the actual content of the conversations.
The MYSTIC program currently impacts over 250 million people in the countries where the program is active, though documents reveal that the NSA is seeking funding to expand it.
The Intercept’s report states that the leaked documents show that SOMALGET is not being used as part of an effort to thwart terrorist activity.
Instead, a secret NSA document indicates that it is being used in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers,” according to the report.
The State Department says there is “little to not threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”
Around five million Americans visit the country every year, and prominent Americans including Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have homes in the country.
While the NSA refused to comment on SOMALGET, they said “the implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.”
The agency said they follow procedures to “protect the privacy of U.S. persons” whose communicates are “incidentally collected,” according to The Intercept.
Neither the Bahamian prime minister’s office nor the nation’s national security minister had any comment when informed about the spying program. Similarly, the embassies of Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya did not respond to The Intercept’s emails or voice messages.
Interestingly, a screenshot of a definition of terms related to the MYSTIC program from an NSA glossary notes that “Host countries are not aware of NSA’s SIGINT [signals intelligence] collection using these systems.”
SOMALGET “Processes over 100 million call events per day” according to the document.
Ultimately, the Bahamas appears to just be a testing ground.
Indeed, one document says the program in the Bahamas is a “test bed for system deployments, capabilities and improvements” to SOMALGET, which is also operational in one other country.
“The Bahamas may be used as a sort of guinea pig to beta-test improvements and alterations without impacting the system’s operations elsewhere,” The Intercept reports.