The National Security Agency has been capturing and storing almost all domestic and international phone calls out of Afghanistan since at least 2013, according to a Friday statement released by Wikileaks.
Recording Afghan phone calls is part of a larger program intercepting nearly every call in the Bahamas, plus additional records in Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines. Reports earlier this week by the Washington Post and The Intercept revealed the program, but omitted specific mention of Afghanistan at the request of the U.S. government “in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”
“WikiLeaks has confirmed that the identity of victim state is Afghanistan,” the statement said. “For reasons of source protection we cannot disclose how.”
According to the organization notorious for high-level government information leaks, the government’s concerns over increased violence are nothing more than an attempt to retain a valuable intelligence program, and similar claims in the past have resulted in no such negative effects following a disclosure.
“WikiLeaks has years of experience with such false or overstated claims made by U.S. officials in their attempts to delay or deny publication,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote. “To this day we are not aware of any evidence provided by any government agency that any of our eight million publications have resulted in harm to life.”
The program in question reportedly has the capability to record up to 100 percent of a select country’s phone calls and play them back for up to a month afterward. In the Bahamas, the program was deployed outside the Signals Intelligence Agency’s standard mission, targeting “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” as opposed to possible terrorist or intelligence targets.
Wikileaks made no mention of the program’s purpose in Afghanistan, though its likely more within the agency’s traditional realm of surveilling terror suspects, military insurgents and political figures in the lead up to and aftermath of the county’s first democratic election this year.
The majority of NSA outrage and reform efforts in the U.S. have been focused on domestic surveillance. Despite the agency’s stated mission to intercept overseas signals and surveil foreign targets, and the decades-long history of U.S.-Middle East tensions, Wikileaks, an international organization, argues countries targeted by mass U.S. surveillance have a right to know they’re being surveilled, and that “such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population.”
“An ongoing crime of mass espionage is being committed against the victim state and its population,” Assange writes. “By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimization, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere.”