The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been recording and storing nearly all domestic and international phone calls from Afghanistan, according to Wikileaks' front man Julian Assange.
Wikileaks revealed the name of the country after The Intercept reported Monday that the NSA was actively recording and archiving "virtually every" cellphone call in the Bahamas and one other country under a program called SOMALGET. The Intercept said it did not name the second country because of concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.
The voice interception program is part of a broader program called MYSTIC revealed in March when the Washington Post published documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
MYSTIC is used to collect phonecall metadata and is used in Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines, according to The Intercept. SOMALGET enables the NSA to gather and store the contents of every conversation in an entire country, it said.
The program gives the NSA the capability to record and store the phone calls of an entire nation for up to 30 days, according to the Washington Post. The paper decided not to identify the countries affected on request of the U.S. government.
While The Intercept revealed the identity of five of the Mystic target countries, Assange said the decision not to name Afghanistan was "censorship."
"Such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population, he said on Wikileak's site. "By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimization, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere," he said.
To protect his source, Assange did not disclose how Wikileaks confirmed the identity of the second country. However, he said, it can also be independently verified through forensic scrutiny of imperfectly applied censorship on related documents released to date, and through correlations with other NSA programs.
The censorship of a victim state's identity directly assists the killing of innocent people, Assange said. The U.S. has been using mass interception programs as a key component in its drone targeting program that has killed "thousands of people and hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in violation of international law," he added.
"We do not believe it is the place of media to 'aid and abet' a state in escaping detection and prosecution for a serious crime against a population. Consequently Wikileaks cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is Afghanistan," he said.
U.S. intelligence officials defended the program in a presentation to the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in March, the day after the Washington Post ran its MYSTIC article. The surveillance program focused on overseas telephone and email communications is targeted and narrow, and not the bulk collection portrayed in numerous news reports, the officials said.