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U.S. Collects 100% of Conversations in At Least 5 Countries

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

RT America recently picked up a Washington Post story detailing an NSA program called MYSTIC, which can store 100 percent of a nation's phone conversations. There is no indication from the story that the program is being conducted in the United States, but in countries where there is a national security interest.

"A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance," WaPo reports.

Upon request of U.S. officials, the story does not explicitly list any countries the NSA is targeting, but WaPo does later report that leaks and other information gathered indicates that at least 5 countries are currently targets of MYSTIC and the U.S. is considering more targets.

The MYSTIC program, along with its retrospective retrieval tool (RETRO), reached full capacity with its first target nation in 2011. Collecting "every single" conversation and storing them for a month, the program has the ability to reach back and “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.”

While analysts only listen to a fraction of one percent of these calls, millions of audio clips are sent for processing and long-term storage every month.

While all reports indicate that this program is only being used abroad, it has many privacy advocates at home concerned. After all, Americans use the same devices and networks as people around the world; so, what is to stop the NSA from domestic use of MYSTIC and RETRO?

“It’s important to have institutional protections so that advanced capabilities used overseas don’t get turned against our democracy at home,” said Peter Swire, a member of the president's review group.

That sounds all well and good, but the lingering question for many is if such institutional protections exist and if they do, who is going to watch the watchmen?

Many lawmakers have been quick to defend the NSA because they say their mission is in the best interest of national security, but there seem to be plenty of congressional leaders and U.S. officials who simply are not too concerned with oversight. We have the oversight measures in place which can be effective, but as Edward Snowden explained in his South by Southwest (SXSW) appearance, the overseers don't seem to want to do their job.

It is not paranoia or hysteria to consider the possibility that in the name of national security the NSA would use MYSTIC to target Americans, further trampling on the constitutionally-protected rights of our citizens while Congress silently sits back and blindly nods their head because it is all for the "greater good."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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