Up until now, whenever the NSA's spying programs were brought up, defenders would claim that it wasn't a big deal. The reason is that the NSA was only collecting "metadata."
In other words, it wasn't listening to phone calls or reading email, just seeing the parties involved and when the conversation happened. Or so it claimed.
That claim turns out to be untrue, at least in the case of the Bahamas. Allegedly, the NSA cooperated with the DEA to get access to the Bahamas' mobile phone network. Then it ran a program called SOMALGET.
SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.