Assange names country targeted by NSA's MYSTIC mass phone tapping program

Not revealing the name of the country is censorship, Wikileaks' Julian Assange said

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been recording and storing nearly all domestic and international phone calls from Afghanistan, according to Wikileaks' front man Julian Assange.

Wikileaks revealed the name of the country after The Intercept reported Monday that the NSA was actively recording and archiving "virtually every" cellphone call in the Bahamas and one other country under a program called SOMALGET. The Intercept said it did not name the second country because of concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.

The voice interception program is part of a broader program called MYSTIC revealed in March when the Washington Post published documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

MYSTIC is used to collect phonecall metadata and is used in Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines, according to The Intercept. SOMALGET enables the NSA to gather and store the contents of every conversation in an entire country, it said.

The program gives the NSA the capability to record and store the phone calls of an entire nation for up to 30 days, according to the Washington Post. The paper decided not to identify the countries affected on request of the U.S. government.

While The Intercept revealed the identity of five of the Mystic target countries, Assange said the decision not to name Afghanistan was "censorship."

"Such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population," ="">he said on Wikileak's site. "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," he said.

To protect his source, Assange did not disclose how Wikileaks confirmed the identity of the second country. However, he said, it can also be independently verified through forensic scrutiny of imperfectly applied censorship on related documents released to date, and through correlations with other NSA programs.

The censorship of a victim state's identity directly assists the killing of innocent people, Assange said. The U.S. has been using mass interception programs as a key component in its drone targeting program that has killed "thousands of people and hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in violation of international law," he added.

"We do not believe it is the place of media to 'aid and abet' a state in escaping detection and prosecution for a serious crime against a population. Consequently Wikileaks cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is Afghanistan," he said.

U.S. intelligence officials defended the program in a presentation to the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in March, the day after the Washington Post ran its MYSTIC article. The surveillance program focused on overseas telephone and email communications is targeted and narrow, and not the bulk collection portrayed in numerous news reports, the officials said.

The U.S. government's claims lack credibility, said Assange.

"Not only has it not bothered to contact Wikileaks pre-publication in this matter, it has been aware of the material obtained by Edward Snowden for almost a year. Almost every office in Washington DC has specifically been aware of the material relating to the censored victim country since at least March 18, 2014, when the Washington Post issued a front page story on the subject," he said.

The U.S has had plenty of time to protect its assets, he said, adding that Wikileaks believes any ongoing perceived risks to be fanciful or willfully embraced by the U.S. government. "We also reject the implication that it is the role of the international press to protect U.S. assets from arrest for the mass infringement of the rights of another nation's people."

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityU.S. National Security Agencylegalwikileaks

More about IDGNational Security AgencyNSA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Loek Essers

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place