We have a rare event today, a new article at The Intercept! And yes, it’s more of the same hyperbole, exaggeration and unfounded leaping to conclusions we’ve come to expect. By Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras: Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas - the Intercept.
The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.
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.
That’s right. This is a legal program they’re exposing, that lets the NSA conduct surveillance in countries like Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines and the Bahamas. Now why in the world would anyone want to do that?
Well, for starters, the Bahamas are infamous as a center for all kinds of criminal money laundering operations, as well as human trafficking. Do I need to mention the similar concerns for Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya?
So there are compelling reasons to spy on these countries. And yes, it’s spying. Welcome to reality.
But since there are compelling reasons, the fine journalists of The Intercept also need to discredit those reasons in order to satisfy their usual agenda of painting the NSA and US as sinister forces with hidden motives.
If the U.S. government wanted to make a case for surveillance in the Bahamas, it could point to the country’s status as a leading haven for tax cheats, corporate shell games, and a wide array of black-market traffickers. The State Department considers the Bahamas both a “major drug-transit country” and a “major money laundering country” (a designation it shares with more than 60 other nations, including the U.S.). According to the International Monetary Fund, as of 2011 the Bahamas was home to 271 banks and trust companies with active licenses. At the time, the Bahamian banks held $595 billion in U.S. assets.
But the NSA documents don’t reflect a concerted focus on the money launderers and powerful financial institutions - including numerous Western banks - that underpin the black market for narcotics in the Bahamas. Instead, an internal NSA presentation from 2013 recounts with pride how analysts used SOMALGET to locate an individual who “arranged Mexico-to-United States marijuana shipments” through the U.S. Postal Service.
It’s important to understand their point here to see how disingenuous and deceptive it is; their evidence that the NSA is not really focusing on Bahamian money laundering operations is … the lack of evidence in a Powerpoint slide. That’s correct — there’s absolutely no positive evidence for this claim in their entire article.
The piece also strongly insinuates that the NSA and DEA are in collusion to share the recorded cell phone data for possibly sinister purposes… but then suddenly, in paragraph 47, we find:
The presentation doesn’t say whether the NSA shared the information with the DEA.
By the way, if you check out their source documents, there’s a section they didn’t mention in this wildly speculative article that I’d like to draw your attention to; the second paragraph on page 1:
We are all aware that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is leading our nation’s counternarcotics (CN) efforts. But many are not aware that from the start NSA has been at the forefront of Intelligence Community (IC) support to this seemingly unconventional DOD mission. The novel collection and analysis techniques NSA developed and refined against these criminal hard targets have not only resulted in major successes in the war on drugs, but they have also proven invaluable to other critical SIGINT missions, particularly counterterrorism, sometimes blurring the lines between the two missions.
So these programs The Intercept is exposing were not only legal, they were “invaluable” in fighting crime and terrorism. And the NSA was clearly very aware of the boundaries between the agencies.
Well, say goodbye to this invaluable intelligence gathering effort now. The Mighty Greenwald has killed it. And I’m completely at a loss to understand how killing this program does anything to help victims of the horrible crime of human trafficking.
UPDATE at 5/19/14 4:49:10 pm
Julian Assange is furious at Pernicious G, and he’s issuing threats to reveal the name of the country Greenwald redacted from this article. According to Greenwald, revealing this country would cause deaths.