NSA Is Recording Every Phone Call… In The Bahamas?!?
from the dammit,-we-said-terrorists,-not-tourists! dept
So, back in March, the Washington Post published a report about the NSA’s MYSTIC program, where it was recording all phone calls from an unnamed country. The Washington Post chose not to reveal that country, leading many folks to assume that it was going to be a country like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq. Would you believe… that it was actually the Bahamas? Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have the long and detailed story over at The Intercept, revealing the SOMALGET program, a part of MYSTIC, which recorded every phone call from the Bahamas, not for terrorism, but to be able to hand over information about illegal drugs to the DEA.
According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.
Other countries being targeted under MYSTIC, as revealed by the Intercept: Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya. There is also one other, unnamed, country that the US is recording all calls for, but even The Intercept won’t reveal that one (noting: “specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence”). Either way, this has resulted in plenty of people pointing out that “tourists” and “terrorists” are not the same thing — while noting that tourism is 60% of GDP in the Bahamas, with 85% of those tourists come from the US. Others have pointed out that, perhaps, the use of the Bahamas was just a convenient testbed where most people wouldn’t notice, and where the information could easily be useful for the NSA’s partners at the DEA. Though, on that front, Julian Sanchez points out that one of the reasons the NSA got in trouble back in the 1970s with the Church Committee, was because the government used the NSA to evade limits on domestic wiretaps for illegal drugs.
As the report notes, the purpose of SOMALGET seems to have nothing to do with stopping terrorism, but is entirely about helping the DEA in its drug war efforts. And, of course, that also explains how the US was able to set this up. Basically, the DEA has a good relationship with the government in the Bahamas, and when it needed to set up phone taps, it appears that the Bahamas more or less let them bring in their own contractors to set up the phone taps. And, rather than just set it up to tap some individuals, the NSA swooped in and helped those “contractors” tap the entire phone network because… “collect it all.” Note how the “cover name” for the MYSTIC access provider is blacked out here:
Also, of interest, is the fact that, while the Bahamas is considered a popular place for money laundering and financial institutions to hide taxes, the NSA doesn’t seem even remotely interested in that kind of law breaking. Because why bother taking on real crimes when you can focus on busting pot dealers: