By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE allegations of possible surveillance of cellphone calls in the Bahamas are “startling” and, if proven, then the behaviour would be “clearly illegal”, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said yesterday.
Mr Mitchell said the government is investigating the accuracy of a report that revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States allegedly intercepting and recording all cellphone conversations within the Bahamas.
At the moment, Mr Mitchell said the government is unable to determine whether the information in the article posted on The Intercept’s website is accurate.
“It would also represent a great moral failing on the part of its perpetrators, in addition to illegality which challenge the founding principles of the rule of law. It would also be an invasion of the privacy of the individual, a cherished democratic value and a legal right,” the Minister said.
According to Mr Mitchell, the Bahamian charge d’affaires in Washington, DC, has contacted the US Foreign Office in search of an explanation in addition to the Bahamas Ambassador to the United Nations, Eugene Newry, meeting with them as well.
The Foreign Affairs Minister also said that two weeks prior to Monday’s publication of the article government had been warned of its development by an official at the US Embassy.
However, Mr Mitchell, addressing reporters at the Diplomatic Lounge of the Lynden Pindling International Airport, said he first learned of the information on Monday.
He also noted that the allegations in the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden are believed to have taken place during a period around 2011, when Hubert Ingraham’s Free National Movement (FNM) was the government of the Bahamas.
The Tribune has contacted the NSA to confirm the validity of the information revealed. They have since sent a statement neither confirming nor denying the truthfulness of it.
It read: “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 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.”
As far as the negative impacts the discovery could have on the country’s financial and tourism industries, Mr Mitchell believes the government is able to handle it just as well as other countries that have been caught in the same predicament have been able to.
“We’ve seen this play out with countries and leaders across the world,” he said. “Angela Merkel, of Germany, and the president of Brazil have all suffered the indignity of this kind of report.”
“If you look at the way those countries responded, the fundamentals did not change in the relationship, although I’m sure they made adjustments in their various policies and how they protect the data in their countries. I guess regardless of what the truth is of this, the Bahamas would be taking a similar look at things like data protection, the security of its communications and how those communications ought to be protected.
“Interestingly enough, in discussing the matter with the attorney general this morning the government is still studying the Privy Council’s ruling in the recent appeal, which took place on a drug matter that considering the Listening Devices Act here in the Bahamas. As a result of that the legislation is being reviewed in any event.”
Mr. Mitchell also claimed that FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler is to blame for having caused confusion over privacy in the Bahamas when she spoke of the illegal parameters to which the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is operating.
“One wonders if whether or not the FNM has some answers to give to all of this NSA talk as they were the ones in power when some, or most or all of this occurred,” he said.
“Maybe that’s the reason why we’re talking all this smokescreen about the NIA. The NIA as it is now constituted is simply an aggregation of people drawn from various law enforcement bodies. It really is more concerned with an administrative function more than anything else. There’s nothing intrusive about it. There’s nothing illegal about it. There’s nothing unlawful about it and nothing is being spied on by any member of the public here. That is simply not the case. Anybody who puts that forward simply doesn’t have the truth within them and is just spreading idle propaganda.”
Meanwhile Mrs. Butler-Turner, in a statement yesterday said: “I think there are two very important questions that the Bahamian people would need answered today. First of all whether the government is looking after the interest of the Bahamian people in determining from the United States government, either diplomatically or through its intelligence, to determine if they are in fact spying and capturing all of our cellphone conversations. That is a job for the government which I understand, they said they will do.”
When asked to comment on the matter Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis said he preferred to get the facts first before giving an opinion.
Mr Mitchell is now in Georgetown, Guyana attending the 17th Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) where he plans on shedding light on the issue as he believes the Bahamas is the only CARICOM nation affected by the purported cellphone tapping.
Thinker 9 years ago
Maybe if we join the WTO, our sovereignty and safety will be protected. (Wink)
Cobalt 9 years ago
Dear Mr Mitchell.....first of all, the average Bahamian dose not have the necessary resources required to prove that you politicians are liars and have indeed been spying on the Bahamian public. So it's easy for you to demand proof of action, especially when your government does everything in secrecy and clandestancy. As a matter of fact, investigative reporters themselves have difficulties uncovering certain truths regarding government day to day operations. People only become aware of political crimes after each action becomes manifest and the motives behind these actions are exposed... and by this time, it's usually too late (just ask the people of Bimini). Second of all, it's amazing that whenever the PLP is caught up in their usual scandal, they always try to divert the attention away from themselves by placing the blame on the FNM. This type of strategy is what the PLP has become known for, and is classic, typical "plantation politics" (muddy the water in order to confuse the fish). The truth of the matter is; the Bahamas government has been spying on the Bahamian people, only to find that the United States government has been spying on them! Furthermore, the idea that Hubert Ingrham and the FNM initiated a program for NSA to intercept phone calls, is ridiculous. The Bahamas government fell under the radar of the DEA and CIA after Ronald Eagan declared a "war on drugs" during the drug running regime of Sir Lynden Pindling's PLP back in the 70's and 80's. During this time a number of Bahamian politicians were indicted. However, an extradition treaty with the United States did not exist yet. Ever since then, the U.S. has been spying on us and monitoring telephone calls. They're doing it to every country in the world for crying out loud! Yet, Fred Mitchell expects us to believe that this isn't the case. Instead, he wants us to believe that spying on the Bahamian people by the U.S. first started with Hubert Ingrham and the FNM. Get real Fred! The United States has been spying on us since Sir Lynden Pindling and the PLP allowed Joe Leadher to operated a cocaine hub in Normans Cay!
Cobalt 9 years ago
Don't get me wrong. I know that my above mentioned comments seem bias towards the FNM. But truth be told, I neither support the FNM or PLP. It just really vexes me when Bahamian politicians feed the citizen of our country nonsense, and expect us to believe it. Their comments, reasoning, and excuses are just indirect ways of calling Bahamian people fools. They insult our intelligence every time they open their mouths.
Minnie 9 years ago
It is clear that many people have not read the article by Glen Greenwald nor understand the extent of the U.S spying program. They are attempting to collect everything, e-mail, photos, text messages through the use of electronic surveillance. This goes far beyond any one political party in The Bahamas. PBS did an excellent documentary titled "The United States of Secrets". The link is below. Truth be told, The Bahamas is just being used as a test case for the technology. We should all remember that in such a small country, everyone is connected to at least one crook and that affiliation no matter how small can cause you to become a surveillance target of the U.S. Finally, this matter should go beyond partisan politics. EVERY cell phone call means EVERY cell phone call including those between politicians, their constituents and their sweeties . It's just a hop, skip and a jump to blackmail on a national scale. This matter requires more contemplation from our politicians than we have seen so far.
The United States of Secrets http://video.pbs.org/video/2365250130">http://video.pbs.org/video/2365250130
John 9 years ago
If You think the internet is safe or if you have ever used google before you may wanto to see this clip: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365249799/">http://video.pbs.org/video/2365249799/
GrassRoot 9 years ago
Maybe time to kick the DEA out - to let them back in for USD 500 MM. Am sure the US will finally appreciate that the Bahamas is doing them a favor and not the other way round. Same for pre-clearance. If we are being spying on, why not make the spyor pay?
GrassRoot 9 years ago
and yes I like the comments about Plantation Politics......we are Bahamian first before we are FNM, PLP or green, blue or grey. Mr. Mitchell and cohorts are quick to forget that. That is why the Bahamas is where the Bahamas is. Mr. Mitchell takes the bait right away and falls for it. It is call "DIVIDE ET IMPERA" (divide and conquer....). 1x1 of Diplomatic Skills.
afficianado 9 years ago
PLEASE WATCH!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEZrT...">https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEZrT...
242orgetslu 9 years ago
PLEASE READ AND PASS ON! This is the link where the full story is:http://si.com/vault/article/magazine/...">http://si.com/vault/article/magazine/... Across the inky-blue Gulf Stream from Florida, near the sheer edge of the Great Bahama Bank, a new island is emerging from the sea. Although it bears the appealing name Ocean Cay, this new island is not, and never will be, a palm-fringed paradise of the sort the Bahamian government promotes in travel ads. No brace of love doves would ever choose Ocean Cay for a honeymoon; no beauty in a brief bikini would waste her sweetness on such desert air. Of all the 3,000 islands and islets and cays in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay is the least lovely. It is a flat, roughly rectangular island which, when completed, will be 200 acres and will resemble a barren swatch of the Sahara. Ocean Cay does not need allure. It is being dredged up from the seabed by the Dillingham Corporation of Hawaii for an explicit purpose that will surely repel more tourists than it will attract. In simplest terms, Ocean Cay is a big sandpile on which the Dillingham Corporation will pile more sand that it will subsequently sell on the U.S. mainland. The sand that Dillingham is dredging is a specific form of calcium carbonate called aragonite, which is used primarily in the manufacture of cement and as a soil neutralizer. For the past 5,000 years or so, with the flood of the tide, waters from the deep have moved over the Bahamian shallows, usually warming them in the process so that some of the calcium carbonate in solution precipitated out. As a consequence, today along edges of the Great Bahama Bank there are broad drifts, long bars and curving barchans of pure aragonite. Limestone, the prime source of calcium carbonate, must be quarried, crushed and recrushed, and in some instances refined before it can be utilized. By contrast, the aragonite of the Bahamian shallows is loose and shifty stuff, easily sucked up by a hydraulic dredge from a depth of one or two fathoms. The largest granules in the Bahamian drifts are little more than a millimeter in diameter. Because of its fineness and purity, the Bahamian aragonite can be used, agriculturally or industrially, without much fuss and bother. It is a unique endowment. There are similar aragonite drifts scattered here and there in the warm shallows of the world, but nowhere as abundantly as in the Bahamas. In exchange for royalties, the Dillingham Corporation has exclusive rights in four Bahamian areas totaling 8,235 square miles. In these areas there are about four billion cubic yards—roughly 7.5 billion long tons—of aragonite. At rock-bottom price the whole deposit is worth more than $15 billion. An experienced dredging company like Dillingham should be able to suck up 10 million tons a year, which will net the Bahamian government an annual royalty of about $600,000.
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