By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
AMERICAN officials presented Prime Minister Perry Christie with a formal communication regarding reports that the US’ National Security Agency had been intercepting and monitoring the telephone conversations of Bahamians, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell confirmed yesterday.
The official correspondence, The Tribune understands, contained an assurance from the United States that consideration would be given to changing America’s oversees telephone monitoring procedures.
However, Mr Mitchell declined comment on this saying he had yet to formally present the communication to Cabinet. He said once this was done, it was his intention to make a formal statement in Parliament when it meets next, pending instructions from Cabinet.
Last May, reports that the US was monitoring mobile phone calls in the Bahamas emerged in an article posted on website Firstlook.org. The report alleged that the NSA was “secretly intercepting, recording and archiving” the audio of every cell phone conversation in the Bahamas.
The information was reportedly one in a series of documents leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who was granted a year’s asylum in Russia in June 2013 after being sought by his native America.
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.
Firstlook.org also posted claims that the NSA used a programme called MYSTIC to carry out phone snooping. The codename used for the Bahamas in the documents is Basecoat.
Whistle-blower website WikiLeaks further 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.
Those documents also claimed that the majority of the phone calls were monitored shortly before the 2012 general election, during the Ingraham administration’s term in office.
When the claims first went public, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis suggested that the former Free National Movement government was aware of an arrangement to accommodate cell phone spying.
However, former National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest denied giving any consent to the NSA to record cell phone conversations in the Bahamas. The FNM has maintained that it knew nothing of the reported NSA spying.
The issue led Mr Mitchell to take a firm position over the situation. He said it was a matter of concern and the government would not remain silent.
On June 11, Mr Mitchell told parliamentarians that John Kerry, the US secretary of state, had stepped in to oversee the investigation of spying reports.
He said the US had promised to have a report handed over to the government the following week. However, the report has not yet been presented.
The lack of a response to the spy claims sparked a firestorm of criticism, particularly from FNM Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Hubert Chipman who expressed displeasure at Mr Mitchell’s handling of the issue.
He suggested that the foreign affairs minister had not been aggressive enough in pursuing the answers.
The Bahamas Telecommunications Company Ltd has denied any involvement in accommodating the NSA.