By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
NEARLY one year after it was reported that the United States was intercepting and monitoring Bahamian telephone calls, America has agreed to use the “lawful” authority to obtain surveillance information from this country, according to Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday.
Following a wave of backlash over the US spying allegations, it was agreed that information gathering would only be used for interdiction purposes. This includes information that aids in the clamp down of illegal activity, The Tribune understands.
While Mr Mitchell would not elaborate on this yesterday evening when contacted for comment, he gave a vague statement to parliamentarians during the morning session of the House of Assembly suggesting that the Christie administration had made headway on the matter.
He said: “The matter of the alleged surveillance and the taping of conversations of Bahamians by the United States’ agencies in The Bahamas has been the subject of public interest for some time.
“The Bahamas government has made inquiries on this matter and received the following answer from the United States’ State Department by way of an oral communication on January 26.
“The US will – going forward – use the lawful authority that was mutually agreed between the two countries to obtain surveillance information for drug interdiction and criminal activities.”
Earlier this month, Mr Mitchell confirmed that the government had received assurances from the US that consideration would be given to America’s oversees telephone monitoring procedures relating to the Bahamas.
In May 2014, 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 US’ National Security Agency (NSA) was “secretly intercepting, recording and archiving” the audio of every cell phone conversation in the Bahamas and storing these calls for up to 30 days.
The information was reportedly 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.
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, among others, whose phone calls were reportedly being recorded by the NSA.
Those documents further claimed that the majority of the phone calls were monitored and intercepted shortly before the 2012 general election, during the Ingraham administration’s term in office.
In the wake of claims that the monitoring took place mainly under the Ingraham administration, 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.