Brent Symonette and Fred Mitchell.
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette yesterday accused Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell of “grandstanding” over plans to give a full report into allegations that the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) is spying on Bahamians.
Mr Symonette, who served as minister of foreign affairs and immigration in the last Ingraham administration, spoke with The Tribune a day after Mr Mitchell said he had nothing new to report on the spying claims, seven weeks after they became public.
Mr Symonette said it was “a shame” that the Christie administration has not been successful in gleaning answers from the US on the alleged infringement of Bahamians’ privacy.
“I absolutely feel that he (Mr Mitchell) was grandstanding,” Mr Symonette said. “He was in the press beating up his gums about the issue in the days that followed the report going public. He promised Bahamians that he would get the answer and we see today, there still is no answer.
“He gets on a plane to meet with colleagues for OAS (Organisation of American States meeting) rather than flying to Washington. If you have an issue with America go to Washington and deal with the matter. But it is just a shame that all this time has passed and still, he can’t tell us anything.”
On Sunday Mr Mitchell told this newspaper that he had not received a full account on the spying claims from the US but had planned to have lunch with John Dinkleman, US Chargé d’affaires yesterday. He suggested that the issue could be discussed at that time.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Mitchell said despite a meeting with the American diplomat, the Bahamas government still did not have an update on the spying allegations.
“They are still collecting information,” Mr Mitchell said. “They have no instructions (from the US government) and they are to provide an answer as soon as they get instructions.”
On May 19, The Intercept reported from documents obtained by whistle-blower Edward Snowden which showed that an NSA programme, SOMALGET was “secretly intercepting recording and archiving” every cell phone conversation in the Bahamas and that those recordings were kept for a month.
On June 10, Mr Mitchell told reporters that he would present a full report in Parliament on the spying claims, as the Bahamas government had asked US officials to give an account on whether the alleged spying was true. If found to be true, he said the government would insist on finding out if the recordings were taken legally or illegally.
Mr Mitchell the next day announced in the House of Assembly that John Kerry, the United States’ secretary of state, had stepped in to oversee investigations and that a report was promised. That report was expected to be handed over to the Christie administration some time during the following week, but to date the government has not received it.
Mr Mitchell has said he has no concerns with America’s lack of response because the Bahamas government was doing its own investigations.