Add one more country to the ever-growing list of nations where the NSA collects every phone call dialed or received – Bahamas. Since this is such a popular tourist destination, it means that it’s not just locals that are getting spied on, but anyone who chooses this place to rest.
According to The Intercept, which quotes leaked materials from Edward Snowden, the American spy agency takes part in a massive dragnet surveillance stunt in the Caribbean island-country.
The report indicates that the surveillance is actually part of a top-secret system that was given the code name SOMALGET. This was obviously implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government.
SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program dubbed MYSTIC which is used to monitor the telecommunications systems in the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. There is one more name on the list, but The Intercept has refused to disclose it because there are concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The full phone conversation recordings, however, only affect the Bahamas and the unnamed country.
The difference between the two is that MYSTIC collects phone call metadata, while SOMALGET vacuums up and stores actual conversation content, which is, for obvious reasons, far worse. The files leaked by Snowden indicate that the Mystic program is used in several countries and it affects some quarter billion people in total and it wants to take it to more areas.
The NSA worked together with the US Drug Enforcement Administration to create a backdoor into the Bahamian cellphone network, which now allows the agency to record and store “full-take audio” of all calls made to, from and within the country. The information is stored for up to a month.
To understand the extent of the agency’s surveillance efforts and reach in the Bahamas, The Intercept mentions that the files indicate that some 100 million call events are being recorded each day.
This happens even though there’s virtually no threat facing Americans from domestic terrorism, war, or civil unrest in the Bahamas, as one crime and safety report from the State Department indicates.
This means that the most likely target of the NSA is not the population of the Bahamas, but rather the tourists making their way through the country. Even so, there are millions and millions of innocent people who have not been accused of any wrongdoing that are being spied on. There are also some 5 million American citizens that visit the country each year.