The agencies have been tapping, recording and storing every single phone call made in the island nation, and the government of the Bahamas—a democratic US ally— appears not to have known about or consented to the spying. In fact, there are laws in place in the Bahamas (as in the U.S.) to specifically forbid this kind of interference.
The Intercept’s report is the latest revelation to result from the documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It notes that “the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET,” which is a subset of the NSA’s telecommunications monitoring program MYSTIC. MYSTIC monitors the conversations of phone users around the globe, including Mexico, the Philippines, Kenya and another nation that remains unnamed for fear of sparking violence.
This means the US has been secretly spying on the personal phone calls of at least 250 million people in five foreign countries.
“And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere,” the Interceptnotes.
In the case of the Bahamas, the NSA appears to have worked with the DEA to spy on an entire nation’s worth of private phone calls, cloaking the project in the DEA’s legal work to intercept international drug kingpins.
“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,” theIntercept article notes. “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.”
The Intercept’s authors point out that the NSA’s use of the DEA as an excuse for their mass spying could severely damage foreign cooperation in future international law enforcement efforts.
Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice told the Intercept:
“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government.”German spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”
Read the full Intercept report here.