According to new documents released by international whistleblower Edward Snowden this Monday, the NSA and GCHQ have been running a program which can spy on, record, and store every single phone conversation in an entire country over a 30 day period.
The campaign, dubbed MYSTIC by a department which I can only assume has the job of “come up with the whackiest program names possible”, was revealed by The Washington Post yesterday, and details the NSA’s efforts to try and record and store all the phone conversations that happened within an unnamed country every single month.
MYSTIC, and its analytical partner in Constitutional crime RETRO, were first fired up back in 2009, and apparently reached full operational capacity sometime around mid-2011.
What makes this program particularly worrisome in comparison to some of the others we’ve heard about so far, is unlike the rest, MYSTIC is capable of capturing and analyzing 100% of the phone calls that come in through their network, and provides a sort of “instant replay” feature for any agents or officials that want to check the archive for something someone might have said in the past month.
This capability is in direct contrast to the dozens of briefings and interviews we’ve heard out of the Obama administration since the leaks first started, who claimed that “only metadata” was being stored, and that the agency did not have a way to explicitly record the full conversations of anyone they might view as a target.
Perhaps most chilling of all, is the “anonymous” nature of the country in question. The author took specific notice out of the article to explain the close, almost too-intimate relationship that exists between people very high up in the chain, and the journalists attempting to expose what those same people have been up to for the past decade or two.
“At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.”
Essentially what this means is that the NSA was so terrified of people finding out which country these programs were being implemented in, they had to show up at the doors of the Post on their knees, with hat in hand asking as nicely as they possibly could not to publish the name of whichever nation was involved in the scandal.
Hint: it probably starts with a U, isn’t Uruguay, and ends with an A.