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NSA Spying Has Chilling Implications for The Bahamas

Digging into the NSA documents

It is hard to establish from leaked National Security Agency (NSA) documents when that agency started recording all cellular phone calls made in The Bahamas.

Charts contained in those documents point to reporting on NSA activities in The Bahamas between January 22, 2012 and April 27, 2013. It is unclear how active the program has been outside of this period.

The documents show there was weekly reporting of Basecoat activities. Basecoat is the code name for The Bahamas.

The most active reporting period was between January and April 2012.

While the documents do not go into detail on specifically what was reported, they show that significant reporting took place from existing Bahamas sites.

The documents leaked by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden reveal that the U.S. agency is able to process over 100 million “call events” per day.

According to those documents, the NSA is using a surveillance system called SOMALGET to collect and store “full-take audio” of every mobile call made in The Bahamas and storing it for up to 30 days.

“The overt mission for SOMALGET is under the lawful intercept auspices via DEA accesses,” the documents state. “Host countries are not aware of NSA’s…collection using these systems.”

The documents reveal that there are two sites located in The Bahamas through which NSA activities are being facilitated.

“It is currently being used as a test bed for system deployments, capabilities and improvements,” the NSA states, referring to the Bahamas A-link GSM.

The documents also point to the need to adjust the secret program as a result of new technologies, including 3G, 4G and voice data technologies.

The documents list SOMALGET as part of a bigger program called MYSTIC, which is described as a program for “the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communication networks”.

It is doubtful that we will ever know. The Bahamas government’s demands for an explanation on NSA activities in The Bahamas do not appear likely to result in any detailed explanation from the Americans on the extent of their secret Bahamas missions.

According to the documents, MYSTIC was started in 2009.The U.S. website, The Intercept, which broke this story last Monday, notes that while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called metadata — information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls — SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

According to the NSA documents, analysts can extend his/her knowledge of a known target by observing elements of metadata that relate to that target.


From NSA reporting, it appears analysts have been pleased with their covert Bahamas mission.

The documents refer to how “beneficial” the SOMALGET system can be as compared to more traditional models.

“SOMALGET is a family of collection systems which greatly facilitate and make possible remarkable new ways of performing both target development and target discovery,” the documents state.

“Significant analytic breakthroughs and success in both areas have been made by… analysts in the two countries where SOMALGET accesses currently exist.”

It adds, “SOMALGET collection systems forward full-take metadata in real time and buffer full-take audio for nominally 30 days.”

The 30 days storage actually varies depending upon space, power and observed activity levels, the documents state.

The NSA reportedly deploys high-performance processing to manage the vast amount of data captured.

Referring to The Bahamas as a “test bed” for mobile audio collection, the NSA says “with proper engineering and coordination, there is little reason this capability cannot expand to other accesses provided compatible hardware and interfaces are developed and deployed”.

The full purpose of the secret program is not yet understood.

It is doubtful that we will ever know. The Bahamas government’s demands for an explanation on NSA activities in The Bahamas do not appear likely to result in any detailed explanation from the Americans on the extent of their secret Bahamas missions.

What seems clear from the latest Snowden leaks is that the telecommunications system in The Bahamas has been severely compromised.

Those leaks have raised a series of critical questions: How were the Americans able to access our network, if indeed they did? Did any Bahamian official know what was transpiring and how will officials be able to ensure the protection of our telecommunication system?

The activities of the NSA have chilling implications.

Wikileaks and the leaks from Edward Snowden have taught us that the United States is unable to keep its secrets secret.

It makes us wonder whether the audio allegedly being recorded by the NSA could become susceptible to leaks.

As the United States seeks to keep its citizens and borders safe, it could end up negatively impacting the national security of other nations, resulting in dire consequences.

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