By Rahul Maganti:
Yet another controversy involving the NSA along with a Media house, The Intercept and WikiLeaks broke out early this week. The stand-off is between ‘The Intercept’ and ‘WikiLeaks’ with the NSA taking the role of a mute spectator. ‘The Intercept’ published an article written by Glenn Greenwald, the primary keeper of Edward Snowden’s documents along with journalist and documentary film maker Loura Poitras and journalist Ryan Devereaux on the 19th of May, 2014 about NSA’s ability to monitor phone systems and tap calls in five countries — Bahamas, Mexico, Philippines, Kenya and a mysterious country that ‘The Intercept’ is refusing to reveal for its own reasons. The whole debate started off with ‘The Intercept’ redacting the name of the fifth country after ‘everyone in its team was convinced’ that putting the name of the country out in the open will lead to death of innocent common men.
Before further going into the details about the issue, a small background about the kind of operation NSA took up will help comprehend the issue more sensibly. According to the documents provided by Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who made news a few months ago, NSA is indulging in surveillance in the country of Bahamas and its 37 million people as part of a top secret programme code-named — SOMALGET — that was implemented without the knowledge of the Bahamian Government. Instead, NSA appears to have used the access which was legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the country of Bahamas — and to replay those calls for up to a month. Incidentally, the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” — traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.
SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned, is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries; including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” — information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls — SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.
All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.
While the spying and the surveillance by NSA in the name of internal security of US against posing threats of global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like the Russia and China is a dangerous trend, and has been vocally criticized by Human Rights activists and hackers across the world of the loss of ‘individual privacy’, the present debate is about the issue of censorship/redaction by Glenn Greenwald and his co-authors of not naming the fifth country in the article published in ‘The Intercept’. Glenn Greenwald tweeted that “we were *very convinced this 1 would –> deaths,” meaning that they received convincing information that publishing the name of the fifth country would almost certainly result in people getting killed. WikiLeaks, represented by Jacob Applebaum, once a WikiLeaks hacker and the one who has access to Snowden’s documents called the redaction a mistake. In the words of WikiLeaks, the group has condemned “Firstlook for following the Washington Post into censoring the mass interception of an entire nation.” This battle is not the only backlash Firstlook media is facing from internet activists right now.
The decision by Greenwald and his colleagues sparked off an interesting debate about the responsibility of journalists who have already been publishing important sensitive information about filtering stuff on a ‘conspiracy theory’. The ethics of journalism have taken a back-seat in a bid to save lives of common people and to possibly decrease chances of violence in that mysterious country, according to Greenwald. However, many important questions should be raised in the process which deserves answers from Greenwald and his company. How did Greenwald and Co. come to such a conclusion and if it based on solid proofs and evidences, why not put that out in the public domain? Did Greenwald and Co. give in to the pressure of the NSA and the USA Government? When has true published information harmed innocents? WikiLeaks has also accused Greenwald that this was done ‘to avoid spin and to avoid legal attacks’.
The twist in the tale comes when WikiLeaks announces that it will make the name of the fifth country public in 72 hours, challenging the censorship/redaction by Glenn Greenwald and his co-authors of the articles they authored in ‘The Intercept’. In fact, it did! The fifth country is Afghanistan, according to WikiLeaks, which tweeted, “WikiLeaks cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is Afghanistan.” Their press statement can be read here. The statement signed by Julian Assange, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, says, “Such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population.” Subsequently, WikiLeaks also cannot be absolved of some serious questions. Why is the radical organization not paying to the argument of Greenwald who himself had worked on the lines of publishing full, nearly uncensored materials that have leaked from secret government agencies? How did they get source to this information when Snowden hasn’t worked with them and instead worked with Greenwald? WikiLeaks should answer these questions to make sure it hasn’t done anything worth regret by revealing the name of the fifth country.