Despite warnings that doing so “could lead to increased violence” and potentially deaths, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks says it plans to publish the name of a country targeted by a massive United States surveillance operation.
On Monday this week, journalists at The Intercept published a report based off of leaked US National Security Agency documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden which suggested that the NSA has been collecting in bulk the contents of all phone conversations made or received in two countries abroad.
Only one of those nations, however — the Bahamas — was named by The Intercept. The other, journalists Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras [wrote this week, was withheld as a result of “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”
WikiLeaks has since accused The Intercept and its parent company First Look Media of censorship and says they will publish the identity of the country if the name remains redacted in the original article. The Intercept’s Greenwald fired back over Twitter, though, and said his outlet chose to publish more details than the Washington Post, where journalists previously reported on a related call collection program but chose to redact more thoroughly.
“We condemn Firstlook for following the Washington Post into censoring the mass interception of an entire nation,” WikiLeaks tweeted on Monday.
“It is not the place of Firstlook or the Washington Post to deny the rights of an entire people to know they are being mass recorded,” WikiLeaks added. “It is not the place of Firstlook or WaPo to decide how a people will [choose] to act against mass breaches of their rights by the United States.”
When Greenwald defended his decision to publish the names of four countries where telephony metadata is collected by the NSA but withhold a fifth where content is recorded as well, WikiLeaks said it could be interpreted as meaning that the unknown country doesn’t deserve to know they’re being surveilled, but Greenwald said The Intercept was “very convinced” it could lead to deaths. Later, WikiLeaks equated this as an act of racism.
But as the conversation escalated, the WikiLeaks Twitter announced it would disclose the nation’s identify if The Intercept did not, despite requests from the US government to leave that information redact over fears of what the response could be.
“When has true published information harmed innocents?” WikiLeaks asked. “To repeat this false Pentagon talking point is to hurt all publishers.”
“We will reveal the name of the censored country whose population is being mass recorded in 72 hours,” WikiLeaks wrote at 6:35 p.m. EST Tuesday evening. If the organization intends to uphold that promise, that the identity of the country could be revealed before the weekend.
As RT reported earlier this week, The Intercept story made claims that the NSA has used a program codenamed MYSTIC to collect basic phone records in at least five countries, similar to the metadata that has been controversially collected in bulk domestically as revealed in one of the first documents released by Snowden last year. In the Bahamas and one more locale, though, The Intercept reported that NSA documents reveal another program, codenamed SOMALGET, is deployed in order to process “over 100 million call events per day.”
SOMALGET, the document reads, is a “program for embedded collection systems overtly installed on target networks, predominantly for the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communications networks.” According to The Intercept, the decision to wiretap all calls in and out of the Bahamas was made unilaterally and without the knowledge of the island’s government or its quarter-of-a-million people.