WikiLeaks: US eavesdrops on Kenyans’ calls

Whistleblower Edward Snowden.

A US intelligence agency is allegedly tapping all phone calls made in Kenya, possibly informing the recent travel advisories and the heightened alert at its Embassy in Nairobi.

The spying claim that could be a major breach of privacy for millions of Kenyans is contained in a WikiLeaks exposé by the global whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Already, the US Embassy in Nairobi has announced plans to cut down  its staff following what it termed information on potential terror threats. Britain has also evacuated its holidaying citizens over what it terms credible terror threats.

Documents leaked by Mr Snowden reveal that the National Security Agency is recording millions of phone communications made on mobile and even fixed lines, with the intention of spying and possibly thwarting any terror threats.

Further, NSA archives and replays specific conversations of interest for up to a month in a secret surveillance system code-named Somalget. There is no indication, however, whether the information collected could be abused.

But the surveillance could be a major concern for ordinary citizens minding their own business. It is expected that the claims, if confirmed, could unsettle Kenya whose relations with the US have been lukewarm at best.

Kenya has not granted permission to any country for such surveillance, while such tapping could make up a criminal offence. The Constitution guarantees freedom to privacy that includes communication.

The Intercept, an online publication that releases the US’ classified information leaked by Snowden, alleges that the NSA secret programme, Mystic, collects information and content from all phone networks in Kenya and three other countries.

“All told, the NSA is using Mystic to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people,” The Intercept reported yesterday.

Mystic listens in on mobile networks for information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls. Somalget is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country. The documents claim the spy operation in Kenya is “sponsored” by the CIA, which collects GSM metadata with the potential for content at a later date. 

“It is believed the focus of the local operation is to intercept phone communication relating to terror since the US works closely with local security forces in combating the militant fundamentalist group Al-Shabaab, based in neighbouring Somalia,” reports The Intercept.