Wikileaks stated Friday that, in addition to the Bahamas, the United States is tracking and recording all mobile phone calls within the country Afghanistan. In making the announcement, the publication claimed to be shedding light on information redacted by journalists at The Intercept who reported earlier this week on the existence of far-reaching NSA surveillance in a series of countries.
Characterizing The Intercept's decision to withhold the identity of what came to be called 'country x' as a form of media censorship, Wikileaks released a statement on Friday which argued:
Such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population. An ongoing crime of mass espionage is being committed against the victim state and its population. By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimisation, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere. Pre-notification to the perpetrating authorities also permits the erasure of evidence which could be used in a successful criminal prosecution, civil claim, or other investigations. [...]
For those reasons, the group continued, "[we] cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is Afghanistan."
Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of the media outlet which focuses on exposing government and corporate secrets, stated: "Although, for reasons of source protection we cannot disclose how, WikiLeaks has confirmed that the identity of victim state is Afghanistan. This can also be independently verified through forensic scrutiny of imperfectly applied censorship on related documents released to date and correlations with other NSA programs (see http://freesnowden.is)."
On Monday, journalists Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras revealed that the United States is intercepting nearly every mobile phone call in the Bahamas and an additional country, which they declined to name, citing "credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence." Based on documents revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the story also disclosed that the United States is spying on telecommunications networks in Mexico, Kenya, and The Philippines, using previously disclosed program MYSTIC.
Wikileaks immediately condemned the redaction of 'country x'—compared it to previous "censorship" it perceived in reporting by the Washington Post—and vowed to reveal the nation's identity within 72 hours.
@wikileaks that's a willfully stupid interpretation of the relationship between our story and the post's. but your condemnation is noted.
— John Cook (@johnjcook) May 19, 2014
In a March article, the Washington Post reported on a similar NSA program capable of recording 100 percent of phone calls in a foreign nation. Yet, the article refused to name a single nation targeted, citing "the request of U.S. officials."
Controversy over The Intercept's redaction sparked an internal debate between advocates of independent journalism and civil liberties, including this exchange between Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald:
@wikileaks Given that we just published FOUR non-white countries whom the NSA wanted suppressed & the WP did suppress, that's absurd.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 19, 2014
In his statement released Friday, Assange declared, "While one might seriously question the moral exceptionalism which would deny another nation and its people the right to react to a mass rights infringement in a manner of its own choosing, such claims of risk by the US government have in any event consistently fallen short."
When asked for a comment by Gawker, Cook stated, "There was a fairly comprehensive debate on this issue earlier this week on Twitter, my preferred discussion platform. This thread and related replies are about all we have to say on the matter."