A fresh dossier of documents apparently from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden claims that the NSA is running a telephone-tapping system that records the metadata and content of all mobile phone calls of two countries, including the island paradise of the Bahamas.
The documents, published in The Intercept, state that the system, dubbed SOMALGET, was installed as part of a legal Drug Enforcement Administration tapping system. This was then used by NSA operatives to record a month's worth of audio calls made in the Bahamas. SOMALGET can process "over 100 million call events per day," and store them for a month at a time.
A 2012 memo from an official in the NSA's International Crime & Narcotics division claims that SOMALGET has already been useful in tracking down drug smugglers and "special-interest alien smugglers." With the right data warehousing and server support, the system is capable of storing five billion "call events", the memo says.
Another memo states that the data processing for such information has been outsourced to US firm General Dynamics, which signed an eight-year, $51m contract with the NSA for the job. The company declined to comment on the issue and referred media questions to the NSA.
SOMALGET has only been deployed in the Bahamas and one other country, according to the documents. The Intercept isn't releasing the name of the other country having its calls slurped "in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence."
The SOMALGET system is part of a larger telephone-tapping system developed by the NSA dubbed MYSTIC. The newly leaked documents show MYSTIC is active in others countries – including Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines – but that in those cases it only collects phone metadata.
MYSTIC was set up in 2009 by the NSA's Special Source Operations (SSO), and uses tapping equipment set up by telecommunications companies to implement legally requested taps for law enforcement. The NSA team uses these covertly to intercept signals intelligence, an NSA memo states.
An undated SSO memo states that the MYSTIC taps are run in conjunction with other government agencies, including the DEA and the CIA. Both the Kenyan and Mexican metadata logging systems are run in conjunction with the CIA and are dubbed DUSKPALLET and EVENINGEASEL respectively.
While declining to comment on the specifics of SOMALGET, the NSA said that "the implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false," adding that it follows procedures to "protect the privacy of U.S. persons" when communications are "incidentally collected." ®