By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis suggested yesterday that the former government “was aware of” an arrangement to accommodate alleged cell phone spying conducted by the United State’s National Security Agency (NSA) on the Bahamas.
However, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr Hubert Minnis insisted that the Ingraham administration knew nothing about the reported spying. He called on the government to make public any information it has that implicates the former government.
Mr Davis said an investigation US officials conducted into the claims at the request of Bahamian officials has ended. He said the findings should be turned over to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week.
Mr Davis said a meeting held last week with the Bahamas’ Ambassador to Washington Eugene Newry, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US representatives proved to be fruitful in terms of revealing whether or not permission had been granted for the recording of Bahamian phone conversations.
“That meeting did take place and a certain sharing of information was agreed upon,” Mr Davis told reporters on the sideline of a memorial for fallen US servicemen at Clifton Pier.
“I have not gotten an explanation as yet. But what they have said is that this is a result of an arrangement that the government was aware of. But we’re still awaiting a full report on it.”
When pressed on the issue, Davis said, “With all the speculation out there, I just want the full and complete thing before I comment any further. We (the government) are waiting. We’ve agreed to abide by the undertakings and wait, first of all, to determine whether or not the allegations are true. But if true, based on when the arrangements took place, what was the purpose of it all?”
Mr Davis added that “whatever happened, happened prior to May 7, 2012”, the date of the general election.
After the claims of spying emerged, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said the Ingraham administration may have questions to answer about the reported surveillance.
Yesterday, Minnis responded to the claims.
“They (the PLP) are now the government,” he said. “So rather than accusing us of anything, they have access to the files. So all they need to do is review those files and they can show it to the public if they think there was any involvement with us.”
The spying claims are contained in documents said to be leaked by Edward Snowden, a former employee of the NSA now living under asylum in Russia.
According to the leaked documents, the NSA was using a system called SOMALGET to collect and store cell phone data for up to 30 days.
Documents which accompanied an article on Firstlook.org, which first posted the claims, reveal that the NSA used a programme called MYSTIC to carry out the phone snooping. The codename used for the Bahamas in the documents is Basecoat.
On Friday, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks revealed that Afghanistan was another country whose phone calls were reportedly being recorded by the NSA.
According to portions of the leaked documents, the NSA had prepared plans to expand their phone snooping access to other countries other than the Bahamas and Afghanistan.
“With proper engineering and coordination, there is little reason this capability cannot expand to other accesses (besides_ and The Bahamas), provided compatible hardware and interfaces are developed and deployed,” noted a 2012 memo reportedly written by the NSA’s International Crime & Narcotics Division.
Some have questioned if BTC, the country’s sole mobile phone provider, knew of the reported spying.
When contacted for comment yesterday, BTC’s Senior VP of Brand and Communications Marlon Johnson again denied that the company was involved in accommodating the NSA.
He said: “BTC operates consistent with the laws of The Bahamas with respect to data protection. We will not be partied to any illegal branch. There is a Data Protection Act and we abide within that.”
When asked if there is any possible way the NSA could have illegally tapped phone calls in The Bahamas, Mr Johnson said, “We don’t know what all mechanisms are out there. There is a process by which customers information is accessible. The law sets out the parameters for that and BTC operates consistent with it.”
BTC has over 300,000 active telephone accounts.