National News

Govt 'none the wiser' on spying says Mitchell

by: Sharell Lockhart, News Reporter

Minister of Immigration and Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell updated the country on the United States National Security Agency (NSA) recordings of cellular phone conversations Wednesday in the House of Assembly.

The minister's remarks come after a former NSA analyst leaked allegations of the recordings in documents.

The Bahamas has since met with U.S. officials on the matter and requested clarity regarding the allegations.

" As of this moment, we are none the wiser as to the truth or otherwise of these allegations,"  he said.

The minister revealed that he received a report on Tuesday that was provided by The Bahamas Embassy in Washington, D.C.

" The Embassy was advised yesterday that the (United States of America) State Department is currently working on an official response to your letter, which was written for the attention or action of the Honorable John Kerry,"  Mitchell said, while reading from the document.

It is anticipated that you will receive a response within one week.

" The particular issue is the following allegation, which has not been controverted by the United States Government and I quote from the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs given on May 20th, 2014." 

It was also revealed that the allegations made by former U.S. Government employee Edward Snowden are believed to relate â to a period in and around 2011." 

Quoting from the article, Minister Mitchell said, "According to documents provided by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden the surveillance is part of a top secret system code name 'Subtle Ge' that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of he Bahamian Government. "Instead the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to open a backdoor to the countryâ s cellular telephone network in aiding it to covertly record and store the full taped audio of every mobile call made to, from and within The Bahamas and to replay those calls for up to a month." 

Mitchell said The Bahamas has raised the matter with its CARICOM sister countries and the Organization of American States (OAS).

" We have heard from the agencies in our own country that no one in authority, insofar as the political level is concerned, has authorized any such listening or monitoring,"  he said.

" We have determined that the appropriate forum on a multi-lateral basis is the OAS." 

The minister has also noted the comments of two ministers of the former government, who also denied authorizing such listening device in The Bahamas.

" At the moment the issue is being discussed bilaterally. There have been many views espoused but almost universally, there is the view that we must know of the truth of these allegations and if that is in fact the case then, the activity should and must cease,"  the minister said.

As for those whose opinion indicates the issue is of no concern to them, Mitchell said it has more to do with the right to control what happens to and with your personal conversations.

Furthermore, he noted, apart from the Constitutional guarantees of the right to privacy and the Statutory Protections of the Listening Devices Act and the Data Protection Act.

" I am now able to advise that, in light of the continuing conversations with the U.S. side, we are allowing diplomacy to take its course for the moment,"  he said.

" In the meantime, our own agencies are doing a thorough review of the allegations with ongoing reports to the government and I promise to keep the country informed." 

Mitchell noted that he is aware of those who also say that the United States is too big or large for The Bahamas to challenge such behavior when it depends on them for so much and, because of that, should let the matter be.

" I agree that they are larger than us, richer and more powerful than us, that is the way of the world, but I have made the point in another forum, if you defeat me by your power I can do nothing about that,"  he said.

" But I have responsibility to stand up for my rights whatever power is paraded before me. I can at least challenge the great power to live up to the penance of its own decree and the morality of its own principles." 

Mitchell reiterated the government's stance on the issue.

" In the view of the government, this does not go to the fundaments of the relationship with the United States of America, who choose on the basis of available evidence to see this first, as an allegation and secondly, if true an aberrant rather than a regular occurrence,"  the minister said.

" For good or ill, we are joined at the hip and we have to ensure that relations continue in all the spheres in which good work is done rather than dwell on the one possible aberrant irritant in the relationship."


Published Thursday, June 12, 2014

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