If you’re a member of the Taliban plotting an attack against a girl’s school, you may want to think twice before speaking on your cell phone.
In other words, Edward Snowden is at it again.
The ubiquitous National Security Agency is purportedly recording every single landline and cell-based phone call placed within Afghanistan. A recent trove of new documents, thought to come from the Moscow-based Snowden and released by the Washington Post, among other media outlets, said the collection program has been going on for more than a year.
This is old news. Kind of. A story in the Intercept, reporter Glenn Greenwald’s new online home since leaving the Guardian, exposed a heretofore unknown NSA program called SOMALGET, which purportedly was tasked with intercepting phone data from the Bahamas, Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya. The Intercept’s story ran May 19.
Greenwald, who co-wrote the piece, declined to name Afghanistan at the urging of U.S. intelligence officials, who were worried the leak would compromise U.S. military personnel working in the country. Wikileaks named the country, Afghanistan, Friday. SOMALGET, according to Greenwald, is part of a broader NSA metadata collection program called MYSTIC. And yes, the DEA found itself involved.
According to the Intercept:
“The program is a serious — and perhaps illegal — abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.”
Recording an entire nation’s phone calls is a challenge but is doable for the NSA. The NSA’s problem, of course, is sifting the vast troves of electronic noise for usable kernels of intelligence that indicates a operational terrorist network or imminent attack, for example. The NSA had intercepted the cell calls of two of the terrorists involved in 9-11 while they were living in San Diego, but the information wasn’t extrapolated until it was too late. The failure list is a big one.
While Greenwald respected the urging of U.S. intelligence not to release the fact that Afghanistan was included in the SOMALGET program, Wikileaks brainchild Julien Assange, from within the protective walls of the Ecuardorian embassy in London where he’s been granted asylum, pulled the trigger. And he released a statement defending his position. In this case, he was sweating the U.S. drone program.
“We know from previous reporting that the National Security Agency’s mass interception system is a key component in the United States’ drone targeting program. The US drone targeting program has killed thousands of people and hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in violation of international law. The censorship of a victim state’s identity directly assists the killing of innocent people.”
Another day, another document leak. Onward!