A National Security Agency program called SOMALGET records and stores “virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas,” Glenn Greenwald’s new publication The Intercept reports.
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.
According to the story (credited to Greenwald, Ryan Devereaux, and Laura Poitras), the calls can be stored for up to a month. The authors note that the NSA’s internal documents identify narcotics traffickers and “special-interest alien smugglers” as the targets of the surveillance, writing that such subjects are not obviously related to goals like “derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction” that are often used to justify large-scale surveillance. (It may be worth noting, though, that the federal government seems to define “special-interest aliens” as individuals from countries “such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan.”)