Published On: Thu, Jun 5th, 2014

Bahamas raises NSA spy scandal at OAS summit

MitchellASUNCION, Paraguay -- Published reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation in The Bahamas were bought to the attention of Organization of American States (OAS) on Wednesday by Bahamas Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell in his address to the 44th regular session of the General Assembly of the OAS currently being held in Asunción, Paraguay, from June 3 to 5, 2014.

“The Bahamas wishes to underscore the most worthy principles of this Organization, as expressed in the OAS Charter: that international law is the standard of conduct of States, the primacy of sovereignty, maintenance of territorial integrity, freedom from undue external intrusion and influence, safeguarding the rights of our citizens, and a reaffirmation of the importance of good faith for relations,” Mitchell told fellow delegates, adding that it is “this framework and mutual respect for these tenets which allows for a hemisphere to coexist peacefully and progress together and which helps to avoid moral double-mindedness and selective application of these principles, which can unnecessarily hinder harmony amongst states and in the multilateral sphere.”

Noting that delegates “will be aware of the challenge The Bahamas faces now where our citizens are questioning what these high ideals of territorial integrity, sovereignty and respect for the rule of law actually mean in practice,” Mitchell made direct reference to the alleged spying scandal.

“On 19th May, news reports across the globe reported that an action occurred which violated the rights of Bahamians and visitors to our shores to their privacy,” Mitchell said.

“Indeed The Bahamas is not the only country who has suffered this alleged activity. We have engaged at a bi-lateral level to determine the truth or accuracy of these reports, and continue to do so. Cooperation in international fora requires an interdependent context. Whether we are large or small, rich or powerful, we depend on each other,” he said.

Declaring that The Bahamas has also brought the matter to the attention of fellow CARICOM member states, Mitchell said it is already in the public domain and the public has called for an explanation.

“In order to avoid any misperceptions about our friendship, there should be an explanation,” The Bahamas foreign minister said. “There is a justifiable expectation that a full and frank explanation will be forthcoming; that the ideas and norms to which we all espouse will be supported. All of us are bound by the charter of this organization which speaks to the fundamental right of each of our citizens to the protection of their privacy.”

Mitchell told fellow delegates that it would not be right to dismiss the encroachment on the right to privacy as the way things are done in a modern world.

“For now and in this forum, it is sufficient to challenge those who espouse these high ideals to live up to the ethical standards which are touted throughout the world as the desired norm,” Mitchell said. “The truth must come out. We are sworn on behalf of our citizens to live up to the ideals which we set for ourselves.”

Mitchell said that should the need arise, The Bahamas “will endeavour to use the appropriate mechanism of the Organization to apprise member states of related developments.”

Reports that NSA was secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of cell phone conversation in The Bahamas were based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which claimed that the surveillance was part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government.

NSA reportedly used access legally obtained in cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 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 Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

In a statement prior to his departure for Paraguay, Mitchell foreshadowed at a press conference that he intended to bring the matter up at the OAS meeting, adding that the ministry of foreign affairs is gathering “all the pertinent information that we can about the history of this matter and the facts as we know it.”

“Following the OAS meeting and my return to the country, it is my expectation that I will be in position to brief Parliament by the time I am to speak on the Budget debate,” Mitchell said at his press conference.

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