The U.S. intercepted phone calls and e-mails of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico to showcase the reach of an anti-terror surveillance program, according to documents leaked by fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden.
The allegations were made last night by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret documents from Snowden in May, on Brazil’s most-watched TV news magazine, Fantastico, owned by the Globo network.
In one document, the National Security Agency cites how it intercepted text messages by Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto in which the then-presidential front-runner discusses two possible cabinet picks. The 24-slide presentation was dated June 2012, a month before Pena Nieto was elected. In the case of Brazil, the document highlights software that was used to probe President Dilma Rousseff’s communications with several unidentified aides. Both leaders will cross paths with President Barack Obama this week at a Group of 20 summit in Russia.
“What struck me about these documents was how personal they were. They had pictures of them,” Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro and writes for The Guardian newspaper, said in a phone interview. “I’d think there has to be some sense of violation and invasion that will produce some outrage.”
Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo, who met last week in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss Brazilian concerns about the surveillance program, told Fantastico that such spying is “unacceptable,” and if confirmed, constitute a “clear violation of our national sovereignty.”
Rousseff, after an emergency meeting with Cardozo and other aides last night, called on the U.S. ambassador, Thomas Shannon, to provide explanations. The U.S. envoy left without speaking to reporters following a meeting this morning with Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. Pena Nieto’s office didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.
Greenwald said the presentation was part of the first batch of documents he received from Snowden when he met him in Hong Kong in May. That was before the former Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) employee was granted a one-year asylum in Russia on President Vladimir Putin’s condition that he stop disclosing documents that harm U.S. interests.
In July, Greenwald co-wrote articles in O Globo newspaper that said Brazil’s telecommunications network, a hub for traffic from Latin America, was a priority target for the NSA, alongside China, Iran and Russia. The surveillance was facilitated by associations between Brazilian and American companies, the extent and names of which Greenwald said he couldn’t verify.
Shannon at the time denied the report by the Rio de Janeiro newspaper, telling officials that the U.S. didn’t spy on Brazilian citizens and only collects records of phone calls or e-mail messages abroad to pursue suspected terrorists.
“Shannon first said we only look at meta-data,” said Greenwald. “It was a complete and absolute lie.”
The secret document disclosed yesterday was prepared by a division of the NSA known only by its acronym SATC, Greenwald said. The presentation concludes that by teaming with the NSA’s division in Latin America, the agency was able to penetrate the communications networks of high-profile, security-savvy Brazilian and Mexican targets. The benefits of the exercise allow analysts to “find a needle in a haystack in a repeatable and efficient way,” according to the document.
A press official at the U.S. Embassy said any statement would be handled by the State Department in Washington, where staffing is limited due to the Labor Day holiday. Rousseff’s office and the Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Pena Nieto didn’t mention the allegations in his annual state of the union address today. His foreign minister, Jose Antonio Meade, later said that the government is seeking information from the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
Rousseff and Pena Nieto will meet Obama at the G-20 summit this week in St. Petersburg. In addition, Rousseff is also scheduled to be feted at the White House in October during the first state visit by a Brazilian leader in more than two decades.
That visit was scheduled before Snowden’s leaks rocked relations between the Western Hemisphere’s two biggest economies, leading Rousseff’s government to take its concerns to the United Nations and discuss legislation to restrict data gathering by U.S. companies in Brazil.
Cardozo said that in his meetings last week with Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder he proposed a protocol of intentions between the two countries to reinforce Brazil’s sovereignty and prevent the U.S. from collecting data in the country without a judicial order. The proposal was rejected, Cardozo said.
In a separate document shown by Fantastico outlining the NSA’s assessment of U.S. geopolitical challenges through 2019, the rise of Brazil on the global stage is classified as a “stressor” to regional stability and a potential risk to U.S. interests. In the document it appears alongside Iran, Mexico, Sudan, Egypt and several other countries under the heading “Friends, Enemies or Problems?”
“The government reaction has to be fast because this is a delicate problem,” Andre Cesar, director of consulting firm Prospectiva, said by phone from Brasilia. “Officials have to show strength. They have to show that they won’t accept this.”
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