WikiLeaks promises new astonishing revelations

It seems that there’s good reason to be paranoid, as more and more information surfaces about the NSA’s data and mobile conversation surveillance. In the…
WikiLeaks promises new astonishing revelations

Cell phone users in the Bahamas are, allegedly, having almost all of their phone calls collected by the NSA. (shutterstock)

It seems that there’s good reason to be paranoid, as more and more information surfaces about the NSA’s data and mobile conversation surveillance. In the next 72 hours, we may know even more: WikiLeaks claims to have the name of another affected country.

News organization The Intercept recently revealed that cell phone users in the Bahamas are having almost all of their phone calls collected by the U.S. security agency, using a program called SOMALGET.

However, The Intercept redacted the name of a second country in which it claimed phone calls were also recorded; news editor Glenn Greenwald said that the organization censored the name of that country because they were “very convinced” that revealing the name would “lead to deaths,” according to the South China Morning Post.

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WikiLeaks, led by Julian Assange, pledged to name the second country, despite the warning. It’s unknown whether the rogue news organization actually has access to the documents with that information.

SOMALGET capabilities

The Intercept based its report on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

According to the news report, the NSA accessed the Bahamian cell phone network by way of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Using legal access in cooperation with that agency, the NSA bypassed the Bahamian government in order to “covertly record and store the ‘full-take audio’ of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas—and to replay those calls for up to a month.”

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SOMALGET, the program used to accomplish this, is supposed to have been deployed in order to locate international drug traffickers or “special-interest alien smugglers.”

However, The Intercept suggested that there’s little international threat to the U.S. from the Bahamas, raising the question of why the NSA felt it necessary to conduct a secret sweep of mobile conversations.

Challenging censorship

While it named the Bahamas, Greenwald’s publication chose to redact the name of a second country under NSA surveillance, a decision that didn’t sit well with WikiLeaks.

After the article’s publication, WikiLeaks posted a response on Twitter:

“GGreenwald @johnjcook We will reveal the name of the censored country whose population is being mass recorded in 72 hours.”

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The Intercept has so far stood behind its choice, continuing to warn WikiLeaks that revealing the mystery country’s name could lead to the death of innocent people.

Both organizations pride themselves on information transparency: while Julian Assange, editor of WikiLeaks, revealed classified government documents in 2010, Greenwald helped spread Edward Snowden’s knowledge and documents about U.S. surveillance around the world.

Given that, Greenwald’s word of caution is especially interesting, since he’s not typically one to withhold information. Some have suggested that WikiLeaks would do well to respect the editor’s choice, while others argue that censoring the name of the mystery country amounts to complicity with the NSA.

Making good on the pledge

Regardless of the morality of revealing that information, it’s still unclear whether WikiLeaks has the goods it claims to have.

According to Business Insider, WikiLeaks would only have access to the second country’s name if it had seen the pertinent Snowden documents or had somehow deduced the country’s name from The Intercept’s redaction.

One means of accessing those documents would be through Der Spiegal contributor Jacob Appelbaum, a former WikiLeaks hacker and friend of Assange. Because Appelbaum had access to several of Snowden’s NSA documents, it’s plausible that he could have shared information on SOMALGET with Assange.

Appelbaum already came out on the side of revealing the country’s name, tweeting that The Intercept should have named that country.

On the other hand, some suggest that WikiLeaks is bluffing in an effort to make The Intercept or the NSA reveal more information; if either of the latter organizations feels that damage control is an issue, it’s possible that WikiLeak’s pledge (or threat, depending on your perspective) will force someone’s hand.

If WikiLeaks does make good on its pledge and Greenwald is right about the ensuing violence, the situation is likely to raise further questions about the morality of both surveillance and freedom of information.