recommended reading

The NSA Is Listening to Every Phone Call in the Bahamas

Ruth Peterkin/Shutterstock.com

The U.S. is covertly recording the conversations of "virtually every cellphone conversation" taking place in the Bahamas and storing them for up to 30 days, according to new documents supplied by Edward Snowden.

The classified program, dubbed SOMALGET, was put in place by the National Security Agency without any knowledge or consent from the Bahamian government, according to top-secret documents published by The Intercept on Monday. SOMALGET is part of a broader program known as MYSTIC, which reportedly also monitors the telephone communications of several other countries, such as Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya, for a grand total of 250 million people.

As The Intercept notes, the Bahamas are not viewed as a national security threat to the U.S. government. The State Department last year called it a "stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and the rule of law with the United States." It concluded the Bahamas posed "little to no threat" to Americans in terms of "terrorism, war, or civil unrest."

The Intercept continues:

The program raises profound questions about the nature and extent of American surveillance abroad. The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate "international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers" – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

It remains unclear exactly how the NSA is able to run SOMALGET, but a memo suggests the data is collected via "lawful intercepts" made through the Drug Enforcement Administration's "legal wiretaps of foreign phone networks." That exploitation has apparently led to a back door to the nation's cell-phone network.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that the NSA had developed the ability to record and archive every phone call taking place in an unidentified country. That program—MYSTIC—is the same one being used in the Bahamas, but the country mentioned by The Post remains unknown.

The bulk phone-tapping program collects the actual contents of calls, as opposed to metadata—such as the numbers and time stamps of a call—that the NSA collects domestically. But almost 5 million Americans visit the Bahamas every year, and many own homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

The Intercept—journalist Glenn Greenwald's national security channel for First Look Media—reported that the NSA was breaking into "potentially millions of computers worldwide" and posing as a fake version of Facebook to infect computers with malware. It has joined The Guardian and The Washington Post in recent months as a publisher of the leaked Snowden files. On a book tour last week, Greenwald repeatedly promised more big government-surveillance revelations in the near future.

The NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Image via Ruth Peterkin/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Stolen credentials

Hackers Steal $31M from Russian Central Bank

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.