By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
ANY surveillance conducted by the United States in the Bahamas would have been done within the law, according to a senior anti-drugs official yesterday.
While he did not confirm or deny spying claims, Ambassador William Brownfield, assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement, told The Tribune that if monitoring took place, it would have had the appropriate judicial authority.
Mr Brownfield said: “To the best of my knowledge any and all collection of intelligence or data or information by those law enforcement institutions of the US are done pursuant to law, under court order, with appropriate judicial authority for any and all such activities.
He added: “I will also say that the President of the United States, over the last six months, has articulated the government’s approach, response and proposals to deal with those revelations that have come out.”
In an article posted on Firstlook.org last month, the authors claimed that the National Security Agency (NSA) is “secretly intercepting, recording and archiving” the audio of every cellphone conversation in the Bahamas.
The information is reportedly one of many documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
BTC’s Senior VP of Brand and Communications Marlon Johnson has repeatedly denied that the company, the country’s sole mobile phone provider, was involved in accommodating the NSA.
Tommy Turnquest and Brent Symonette, former National Security minister and former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, respectively, have also denied any knowledge of claims.
However, in an interview last month, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis suggested that the former government “was aware of” an arrangement to accommodate alleged cell phone spying.
Public agitation over the issue has been considerable, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell.
In his latest statement on the matter, Mr Mitchell said US Secretary of State John Kerry had stepped in to deal with the matter, and was expected to provide a report into the accuracy of claims that Bahamian phone calls are being recorded.
In an interview with The Tribune last week, Hubert Chipman, FNM Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, said he is curious as to when The Bahamas will get an answer, if any, on the alleged recording of cellphone conversations by the NSA.
Yesterday, Mr Brownfield answered questions from The Tribune during a conference call briefing on the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).
The amount of cocaine imports that have passed through the Caribbean into the United States has tripled from five per cent in 2011 to 16 per cent last year - a trend that the ambassador said was “worrisome” given that the region was a “victim of its geography”.
The INL has spent more than $151m over the last five years through the CBSI programme to fund initiatives such as “information and intelligence sharing; fingerprint and arms databases; and regional police training”.
However, Mr Brownfield clarified that the alleged NSA monitoring was not included in his scope of initiatives executed under the CBSI.
He said: “When I said information and intelligence sharing, what I was referring to was to have access to a shared data base. It’s not a question of being able to intercept or tap into communication, but rather the ability of law enforcement authorities in the Bahamas to share the same basic data as law enforcement authorities in the US, or Jamaica, or Trinidad and Tobago, or any other country.”
According to international reports, the government’s American lawyers from the firm Hogan Lovells have 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.