MYSTIC is a surveillance system, capable of recording 100% of a foreign country's telephone communications and store them for 30 days. It was set up in 2009 by the NSA and reached full capability in 2011.

The existence of the programme was revealed by documents obtained by Edward Snowden.

The programme operates with an additional tool, called RETRO (short for retrospective retrieval) which enables users to retrieve and replay stored phone calls, that at the time, may have not been targeted.

Scope of Operation

According to the 'Snowden' documents, MYSTIC is currently operational in one country. The Washington post, reporting on the story, said they had to withhold any details that might reveal the target country. The documents suggest that the RETRO tool was built as a "unique one-off capability", however, last year's secret intelligence budget mentions an additional five countries for which "comprehensive metadata access and content"is held. Internal reviews of RETRO, reveal a strong desire to expand it elsewhere.

Use of Programme

In the documents, US officials express the unique value of the programme, as it allows them to retrieve communications of suspects, who at the time had not been targeted.

The programme's briefings contain names, dates, locations and fragments of calls.


the Washington Post "NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls" 2014

The Guardian "Pentagon watchdog 'not aware' of NSA bulk phone data collection" 2014