New reports released yesterday have found that the much scrutinized NSA (National Security Agency) has a program that is capable of recording and collecting all of the phone calls in a foreign country. The name of the program is MYSTIC, and it was first launched back in 2009. Much of the information the public has about the program comes from documents that were leaked to the media by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the NSA.
MYSTIC was fully operational in 2011, but the country where the data was collected is unknown at this time, per the request of the federal government. Documents suggest that the NSA had been planning similar surveillance operations elsewhere in the world. According to the reports, MYSTIC records and stores billions of calls for up to 30 days. None of the individuals who are being recorded have been notified beforehand that they are targets for data collection.
Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the NSA, has stated that the organization does not conduct any kind of signal intelligence collection unless it can help further U.S. national security efforts or foreign policy interests. In the recent past, President Obama has said that America would continue to gather intelligence about the intentions of foreign governments around the world, but would not collect data on ordinary citizens. The problem here is that the MYSTIC program clearly went beyond those bounds and most definitely recorded the phone conversations of private individuals, both in the US and abroad.
The fact that the NSA has a program that is capable of collecting phones calls in a foreign country is both appalling and frightening. Recording and collecting the phone calls of private individuals without notification or consent is a violation of a person’s right to privacy, regardless of their country of residence. The right to privacy is part of natural law, meaning that it is a right inherent to human nature. It is not a right given to an individual by the government, so even though a person does not live in the US, they still have this right.
There is little doubt that many of the phone calls intercepted by MYSTIC included those made by Americans. The country is already well aware of NSA data collection, but this program demonstrates just how out of control the organization and the federal government have gotten. Since none of the Americans who likely had their records seized were presented with a warrant specifically addressed to them by a judge, stating what data was specifically being searched for, this data mining is a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, and should infuriate all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.
Another frightening consequence of this program is the potential it has for “blowback.” The term “blowback” is the term used to describe the negative side effects of bad interventionist foreign policy. For example, some of the blowback from a prolonged occupation of countries in the Middle East is increased enrollment numbers for terrorist organizations unhappy with the US presence in their country. The MYSTIC program represents a form of the worst kind of interventionism. Recording and storing phone calls from a large number of private individuals in other countries without consent, in an attempt to learn the comings and goings of the government, is definitely sticking your nose where it does not belong. It is a violation of the sovereignty of that particular nation. If a country found out what the U.S. was up to, there is little doubt the response would be negative, and could have devastating effects on the safety and economy of America.
One has to wonder what type of information the government is looking for and how they plan to use it. When a spokesperson for an organization like the NSA says the data would be used to help further foreign policy interests, is that code speak for manipulation and imperialistic occupation? Is it indicative of using information to pick a fight or find a battle to get involved in that is completely unnecessary and only serves to further line the pockets of the military industrial complex? Who defines what a threat to national security looks like? The bottom line is that the NSA having the capability to collect phone calls in a foreign country or on domestic soil is bad news for everyone.
Opinion by Michael Cantrell