The NSA has constructed a surveillance system that can record 100 percent of a foreign country’s telephone calls, according to documents leaked to the Washington Post. The agency is able to “rewind” conversations for up to a month. The NSA’s Special Source Operations–the team in charge of bulk collection surveillance–developed the MYSTIC tool for the wholesale tapping of an undisclosed country’s phone-calls. The voice interception program began its life in 2009, and was in full swing against the target nation by 2011. Its RETRO (retrieval) tool is collecting billions of conversations, on a scale like no other NSA program to date.
The “emblem” of the MYSTIC program just so happens to be this wizard, taken from the PowerPoint slide of the briefing.
Of course, the mystical dragnet is designed to capture just a fraction of potential threats. Caitlin Hayden, of the National Security Council, stated that “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 these threats.” The RETRO tool now allegedly targets six countries to varying degrees. Ubiquitous voice surveillance, even against foreign nations, sweeps in a massive amount of American conversations. As the Post notes, this appears to be “inconsistent” with President Obama’s January 17, 2014 pledge “that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security,” regardless of nationality, “and that we take their privacy concerns into account.”
The NSA’s Utah facility is being built to handle the huge amounts of data storage needed to handle telephone calls and other digital data.
With 30 days of recorded conversations in the “buffer” (plus any saved messages), the NSA is instantly able to retrieve information about a target’s movements, associates, and daily life. Other intelligence agencies–probably the CIA–have access to RETRO information.
RETRO and MYSTIC fall under Executive Order 12333–the famous piece of mujahideen-era legislation signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 for U.S. intelligence agencies. It’s the same order that “bans” assassination. Perhaps the irony here is that the NSA is intimately involved in passing along its SIGINT for the CIA and JSOC’s drone wars… See: The Kill-Net: NSA and CIA Collaboration in Drone Manhunt