Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guess the ~12 letter name country whose phone calls are fully recorded by NSA

The Interecept recently published an article, based on Wikileaks information, where it was explained that (at least) three sovereign states (Mexico, Philippines and Kenya) have 100% of their phone calls metadata collected by the USA, while other two have 100% of their full fall calls available for them for at least 30 days.

One of those is named, Bahamas, but, for mysterious reasons, the magazine decided to hide a second country's under the same extreme telephone control, claiming that it "could lead to increased violence". 

Wikileaks strongly disagrees with that argument, claiming, surely with great reason, that truth never harmed the innocent, and has given The Intercept a 72 hours deadline for the publication of the censored country name. Otherwise they will make it public themselves. 

Meanwhile we can play crossword puzzles, or something like that.

Image from TI, originally NSA document, with a country name censored

Something I immediately noticed is that the censor's mark size is a huge clue. Try measuring it with a ruler and compare with "Bahamas". It is significantly larger 25-to-18-ratio (in mm at my screen resolution). You have to take out one or two blank spaces and consider that the capital letter is twice the size of regular ones. Also some letters like m, w, i or l have greater or smaller widths, so it's not so easy but my estimate is that the redacted country has a name of around 12 letters. 

That basically excludes nearly all America and in fact most country names, which are way too short. So which country may it be?

With the help of a crossword puzzle guide, I gather the following candidates:

12 letter category:
  • Great Britain (actually 13 with the blank space, it also has two capitals but short characters may compensate for that)
  • United States (discarded because it is supposed to be foreign).
  • Turkmenistan
  • St Kitts-Nevis (sic)
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • New Caledonia (a French colony, not likely either)
Of these I consider seriously Great Britain and Turkmenistan. The rest seem much less likely. 

11 letter category:
  • Afghanistan (a very likely candidate, if you ask me)
  • Saudi Arabia (12 with the blank space, why not?)
  • Philippines (discarded because it is in another phone-tapping category)
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • South Africa (12 with the blank space)
  • Sierra Leone (same)
  • Burkina Faso (same)
  • Vatican City (usually written The Vatican - similar width though)
Afghanistan is my number one candidate because of several contextual cues but Saudi Arabia and most of the others are plausible anyhow.

13 letter category:

Liechtenstein is the only one without an intermediate space and/or requiring a "the" before the name (would be too long).  

10 letter category (just to be sure):

  • Azerbaijan
  • Bangladesh
  • El Salvador (space and two capitals)
  • Ivory Coast (same)
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Luxembourg
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritania
  • Micronesia
  • Montenegro
  • Mozambique
  • New Zealand (space and two capitals)
  • North Korea (same)
  • Puerto Rico (unlikely for the same reason as United States)
  • Seychelles
  • South Korea (double name again)
  • South Sudan
  • Tajikistan
  • Uzbekistan
The main interest here seems to be that key Central Asian countries are included, as well as some prominent West Pacific countries (both US allies and hostiles). 

As I said above, my best tentative candidate is Afghanistan. Why? Because of TI references to increased violence risk and Wikileaks accusations of "racism". I'd say from that it's not a European country nor a stable one, so Afghanistan seems a most likely candidate and one to which the US secret services would have easy access because of 12 years of continued occupation.

But I'm not finished: after I first publish this I will try to match the length of the names directly to Bahamas, plus the corresponding ratio, using a type that approximates the one used in the cable (seems Times New Roman, right?). Doing so must necessarily thin the list of candidates a lot. Stay tuned for updates.

Update: the optimal fits:

Copy-pasted from a formatted word editor (the xx- characters try to approximate the missing letter-space and blank space). I used Times New Roman, which seems to be the actual type. Much longer than Bahamasxx- and it's not it, shorter than Bahamasxx and it's not it either.

My main suspects:
Saudi Arabia
Great Britain
I have already explained why I think that Afghanistan has by far the greatest chances to be the one: opposed claims of increased violence risk and racism, as well as the fact that the country has been occupied by the USA (and allies) for more than a decade, make it almost default.

Both Great Britain and Saudi Arabia are also "main suspects" because of their particularly important role in the US Empire. However Great Britain at least does not seem to fit the context of the Wikileaks-IT allegations. On the other hand, it does have a history of being extremely subservient to US whims, even deporting its own citizens to the North American republic, and does not have a formal legal system of human rights, as it is a chartered parliamentary kingdom and not a constitutional state, with many laws dating to centuries ago.

Saudi Arabia fits somewhat more in the discussion context  than Britain and is equally subservient to US diktats. Being the most totalitarian state on Earth, it has no human rights whatsoever.

Other Asian fits:

North Korea
South Korea

African fits:

South Africa
Sierra Leone
South Sudan
Burkina Faso
European and American fits:

El Salvador
Well, now judge yourself... or just wait for the solution to be revealed on Friday.

Update (May 24): it is Afghanistan - no surprises. 

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