BIG BROTHER is watching and our local Sherlock Holmes is busy beating the local bushes to find out who invited him in.
We didn’t need whistleblower Edward Snowden — now holed up in a safe haven in Russia — to tell us that the most sophisticated equipment in the US arsenal is being used by the National Security Agency in the US to intercept, record and hold for 30 days every cell phone conversation made in the Bahamas.
If we had any common sense, we should know from as far back as the eighties that the US would be keeping a watchful eye on these islands. True, today’s equipment is far more sophisticated than in the eighties, but an interest in our affairs has certainly not slackened as far as the Americans are concerned.
Bahamians put their country in harm’s way when they allowed our islands to facilitate the smuggling of drugs into the US. A Commission of Inquiry found that the facilitators of that smuggling operation permeated every level of Bahamian society.
The 1984 Commission of Inquiry into the transshipment of drugs noted that Bahamians liked to blame the smuggling on a “lucrative US market”. They swept it under the carpet as an “American problem”. However, the Commissioners strongly advised Bahamians to recognise that “the US problem has created what the Bahamian people as a whole must recognise and accept as a Bahamian problem”. It was now the Bahamas’ problem to solve.
The Commissioners were “alarmed” at “the extent to which persons in the public service” had been corrupted. It concluded that corruption existed in the upper and lower levels of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and certain Immigration and Customs officers. “We were particularly concerned to discover that those corrupting influences made their presence felt at the levels of Permanent Secretary and Minister.”
The Commissioners also noted “with some concern” the part played by some members of the private sector. They made special mention of the legal profession, commercial banks and trust companies.
“It has become clear to us,” it concluded, “that some lawyers and bankers utilised the bank secrecy laws of the Bahamas to launder drug money. It is also plain to us that until fairly recent times, little or no consideration was given as to the source of funds entering the banking system. There is every reason to believe that the material benefits of the drug trade caused persons to ‘wink their eyes’ or look the other way.”
In fairness, it must be acknowledged that much has been done since those days and laws have been introduced to plug the holes in the banking sector.
Although the location of the Bahamas so closely snuggled to the US coast has been a boon to our tourist and financial industries, with all its many small cays and hideaway inlets these islands will always present a “clear and present danger” to the US mainland. It is ideally located to be used by malevolent souls wishing the US no good.
And so if Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell wants a diversion and has time to lose focus on the real issue this is where he can start and follow the thread from the eighties to the present day. As The Intercept, a US publication notes, the Bahamas is not viewed as a national security threat to the US government.
Although the Bahamas is not considered a security threat, it is claimed that the National Security Agency’s classified programme – SOMALGET – has been focused on the Bahamas and its cell phones without the knowledge or consent of our government. The Intercept also reported that last year the State Department described the Bahamas as a “stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and the rule of law with the United States.” It concluded that the Bahamas posed “little to no threat” to Americans in terms of “terrorism, war, or civil unrest”.
In reply to a Tribune request for information, all NSA would say is that every day it “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.”
Today our police force is doing an outstanding job in intercepting millions of dollars worth of smuggled drugs. Is this through the cellphone gathering of information collected by NSA?
We recall the angry protests when airlines introduced the search of passengers and their luggage before they could board an aircraft. Our privacy was being breached, our independence was being taken away. Today, as terrorism increases and some aircraft never reach their destinations, the body searches have become more intrusive, but one no longer hears even a whimper of protest. People have decided that their personal safety is far more important than their independence. As terrorism spreads, tapping cell phones, within the law, for security reasons will also cease to be an issue.
The Americans maintain that whatever their surveillance team is doing is to protect the security of the United States and that of our entire region. Instead of Mr Mitchell wasting everybody’s time by telling former deputy prime minister Brent Symonette to “climb back up under the rock from whence he came”, he should make certain that whatever the Americans are doing is in fact being done within the law and that the privacy of innocent individuals is not being breached.