NSA Collects All Phone Calls from One of World’s Most Secretive Tax Havens, But Doesn’t Track That

In its report on how the NSA collects every cell phone conversation that takes place in the Bahamas, The Intercept focuses on the use of such intercepts for drug investigations (indeed, one of the other countries targeted in the MYSTIC program is Mexico, which clearly has a DEA angle).

But one memo indicates that SOMALGET data is covertly acquired under the auspices of “lawful intercepts” made through Drug Enforcement Administration “accesses”– legal wiretaps of foreign phone networks that the DEA requests as part of international law enforcement cooperation.

When U.S. drug agents need to tap a phone of a suspected drug kingpin in another country, they call up their counterparts and ask them set up an intercept. To facilitate those taps, many nations – including the Bahamas – have hired contractors who install and maintain so-called lawful intercept equipment on their telecommunications.

Perhaps the most telling part of the article, however, is that NSA/DEA don’t appear to be using this facility to track money launderers.

If the U.S. government wanted to make a case for surveillance in the Bahamas, it could point to the country’s status as a leading haven for tax cheats, corporate shell games, and a wide array of black-market traffickers. The State Department considers the Bahamas both a “major drug-transit country” and a “major money laundering country” (a designation it shares with more than 60 other nations, including the U.S.). According to the International Monetary Fund, as of 2011 the Bahamas was home to 271 banks and trust companies with active licenses. At the time, the Bahamian banks held $595 billion in U.S. assets.

They’re tracking pot, but not bothering to track the dollars that drive the pot.

So aside from the hubris of stealing off of the cell phone calls from Bahama, this is also a testament to the US’ misplaced priorities, its inability to understand how its coddling of tax havens serve to drive the drug trade.

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10 Responses to NSA Collects All Phone Calls from One of World’s Most Secretive Tax Havens, But Doesn’t Track That

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @pastordan REALLY not a fireworks fan, especially living in place where everyone sets them off. Was interesting learning abt buying process
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emptywheel I also managed to buy most of the beer left in the little convenience store still open, so I traded beer for lessons in fireworks.
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emptywheel Fourth of July trivia: I got stuck sleeping on the floor of Nagoya airport w/one of the main fireworks buyers from the NE once.
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emptywheel RT @WarOnTheRocks: How China can use the #OPMhack data to identify undercover intelligence officers http://t.co/7t2kKtRX9e
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bmaz @RPullen @stephenlemons @Steve_Irvin When an arbitrary, by all appearances racist, "umpire" calls anything, it is total laughable bullshit.
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emptywheel @billmon1 Also, American hubris says we'll never get in a dogfight with another industrial policy, all the contrary evidence notwithstanding
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emptywheel @billmon1 It helps if you think of it as an industrial policy instead. Pilots aren't encouraged to turn their head in industrial policies.
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emptywheel @billmon1 Fred: It doesn't much matter because USG will keep paying Lockheed no matter what we do.
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emptywheel @ZaidJilani Means you have to play the license plate game all summer.
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emptywheel @BlinnPR Google voice got collected under DEA's dragnet, so I think it gets picked up off majors' backbone.
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emptywheel Did NSA add another provider with its latest phone dragnet order? https://t.co/R4XI7iiebM
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