Is NSA’s Foreign Surveillance Still Over the Top?
The National Security Agency and other American intelligence agencies have been subject to serious criticism regarding their surveillance practices and information acquisition in foreign countries as well as the U.S. Now, according to the Washington Post, more information has come to light on the NSA’s capabilities when it comes to telephone monitoring.
The program, entitled MYSTIC, utilizes the RETRO tool, which gives those monitoring phone calls for salient information a unique power — retroactive recording. Documents released by former contractor to the NSA, Edward Snowden, as well as people with “direct knowledge of the effort” alerted the Washington Post to the nature of the program, with a senior manager on it describing it as being like a time machine. If an individual becomes a person of interest after the fact, it is possible to go back and examine calls later in the game. The system began in 2011 with a rolling storage of 30 days so that the older calls would be replaced by newer calls. According to the Washington Post, “100 percent” of foreign country’s telephone calls could be recorded, but the system is only in place in one at the present time.
In a statement, as per the Washington Post, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden refused to comment on the “specific alleged intelligence activities,” but did say that in general “new or emerging threats [are] often hidden within the large and complex system of modern global communications, and the United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify those threats.”