U.S. Said to Record all Cell Phone Calls in Afghanistan and…Bahamas

Monday, May 26, 2014
Cell phone user in Bahamas (photo: BTC)

Ah, go ahead. Order that second piña colada. You’ve earned your tropical vacation in the Bahamas. Just remember, when you call home to check on the kids, Uncle Sam will be listening in.


That’s right, listening. Much has been made of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) gathering of metadata from calls that they think might be related to terrorism. But in the case of Afghanistan and the Bahamas, the federal government is actually recording all the cell phone conversations to, from and within those countries, according to information provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.


At the request of the federal government, The Intercept and The Washington Post, which have done stories on the program, mentioned only the Bahamas. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange put out a statement on Friday declaring that the second country was Afghanistan.


NSA documents show that the program, called SOMALGET, is in use in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers,” according to The Intercept.


Washington doesn’t even pretend there’s a terror-related reason for the collection. “The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States. There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest,” according to a 2013 State Department report.


It would seem that using SOMALGET in a country like the Bahamas is a bit of overkill. The system is set up to process millions of calls. A former engineer told The Intercept that most phone systems are set up to monitor about 1,000 calls if called upon to do so by legal authority. He suggested that the Bahamian system has been used as something of a test bed.


For whatever reason the system’s in place, it’s monitoring the private conversations of millions of people, including Americans vacationing in the Bahamas. “An American citizen has Fourth Amendment rights wherever they are,” Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Intercept. “Nevertheless, there have certainly been a number of things published over the last year which suggest that there are broad, sweeping programs that the NSA and other government agencies are doing abroad that sweep up the communications of Americans.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas (by Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, The Intercept)

WikiLeaks Statement On The Mass Recording Of Afghan Telephone Calls By The NSA


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