By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell will present a full report in Parliament this week on the investigation into reports that the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) is intercepting and recording all cellphone conversations in the Bahamas.
Mr Mitchell said the government has asked US officials to give an account as to whether the reported spying is true, and if so, were the recordings taken legally or illegally.
The minister, who spoke on his return from an Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting in Paraguay, told reporters in the Diplomatic Lounge of the Lynden Pindling International Airport that he hopes the investigation conducted by the US State Department into the accuracy of the claims is finished in time for his presentation in the House of Assembly tomorrow.
According to Mr Mitchell, the matter has been dealt with and his report will be as full as the government can make it at that time.
“The matter of the alleged taping of mobile phone calls was dealt with frankly, directly and firmly,” he said. “The government of the United States has indicated that they are still in the midst of an investigation into the matter and has further undertaken to provide answers. We accept their undertaking.”
For the past several weeks both the government and the opposition have been in a heated debate as to who gave the NSA permission to record phone calls.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis and Mr Mitchell have denied that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government had any knowledge of the alleged spying and insisted that if any surveillance took place, the Ingraham administration might have questions to answer.
However, former Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette and former National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest have denied giving any permission to the NSA or having knowledge about the reported spying.
According to the Bahamas’ Listening Devices Act, permission had to be given by either the minister of national security or the commissioner of police, after consultation with the attorney general.
Mr Mitchell said he has shown US representatives media reports where these denials were made and asked them to firstly determine if the recordings were done, and if so, explain whether or not they were done illegally.
The German Parliament has recently appointed a committee to carry out investigations into claims that the US is snooping on the Chancellor’s phone calls. As for whether or not the accuracy of this information could have a strain on the relationship between the Bahamas and the US, Mr Mitchell said, “I think you have to look at the way both Germany and Brazil conducted their relations with the US and this was something in the meeting that the US reaffirmed.
“From their point of view they understand that this is a difficult and awkward moment. But it does not change the fundamentals of the relationship. I would agree with that. It has to be something that we can work through and that’s why it’s so important that we find out what the facts actually are.
“Right now, it’s just this allegation being made in the public domain, which appears to be credible, particularly given the response from the other side.”
Mr Mitchell said the government must first find out the facts and act on this information. “For good or ill, we are geographically joined at the hips and that’s the way it is,” he said. “We have no other choice but to get along.”
According to international reports, the government’s American lawyers from the firm Hogan Lovells has been directed to give advice and representation to the Bahamas government on “general diplomatic representation and foreign policy matters, US laws, regulations, policies and actions by US Congress, Executive Branch and US government agencies that may affect or relate to the activities and interests (of The Bahamas), including but not limited to surveillance and privacy matters ...”
The website cites a federal disclosure document from the US Department of Justice, which The Tribune has seen, which was reportedly signed on May 30 by Hogan Lovells. The firm has represented the Bahamas for 41 years.
When asked about the report on Wednesday, Mr Mitchell declined to comment. However on Thursday he said: “The newspapers took a routine filing by a law firm according to the Foreign Agents Act of 1938 of the US which requires any firm who is representing a foreign government and will be working from time to time on matters with the US Congress and the executive to register as such an agent.
“That is the long and short of it. The filing took place three days ago and is a public document.”
So far, the US State Department has not confirmed or denied the claims. The Tribune contacted the NSA last month about the spying claims.
“Every day, NSA provides valuable intelligence on issues of concern to all Americans – such as international terrorism, cyber crime, international narcotics trafficking and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the NSA said in a statement sent to The Tribune.
“The fact that the US government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all.
“NSA’s efforts are focused on ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and our allies through the pursuit of valid foreign intelligence targets. Moreover, all of NSA’s efforts are strictly conducted under the rule of law and provide appropriate protection for privacy rights.”