Brazilian officials are voicing outrage and along with Mexico demand the U.S. explain why it allegedly intercepted the phone calls and e-mails of their presidents as part of an anti-terror surveillance program.
The allegations were made Sept. 1 by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret documents from fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden in May, on Brazil’s most-watched TV news magazine, Fantastico.
“This represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty,” Brazil’s Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo told reporters in Brasilia yesterday about spying allegations. “This kind of practice doesn’t live up to the type of trust needed to have a strategic partnership.”
In one document, the National Security Agency highlights software that was used to probe Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s communications with several unidentified aides. Brazil’s government will decide how to respond after it receives a written response to the allegations from U.S. authorities, Figueiredo said.
Brazil’s government has no plans to cancel Rousseff’s state visit to the White House in October, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman who asked not to be named because of internal policy. Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo yesterday reported Brazilian officials would consider canceling the trip in retaliation for the alleged spying, citing government advisers it didn’t name.
The NSA also intercepted text messages by Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto in which the then-presidential front-runner discusses two possible cabinet picks, Greenwald said on the Sept. 1 show, citing a 24-slide presentation. Pena Nieto assumed office in December 2012.
Mexico’s government is studying the allegations and has summoned the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City, Anthony Wayne, for consultations, the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The government “categorically condemns” spying against its citizens, it said.
Pena Nieto didn’t mention the report in his annual state of the union address yesterday.
Brazilian authorities want the U.S. to answer their questions as soon as this week and will file a complaint with the United Nations, Figueiredo said. Officials in Latin America’s largest economy also will reach out to other developing nations on the matter, including Mexico and the BRICS group of countries made up of Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“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.”
Rousseff, after an emergency meeting with Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo and other aides Sept. 1, called on the U.S. ambassador, Thomas Shannon, to provide explanations. The U.S. envoy, who left a meeting with Figueiredo yesterday morning without speaking to reporters, will discuss the allegations with White House officials, Cardozo told reporters.
The Senate is creating a committee to probe the allegations, according to a statement posted on the upper house website today. The committee will seek federal police protection for Greenwald and his partner David Miranda, who last month was held for questioning at London’s Heathrow airport under the U.K. Terrorism Act.
In meetings with ministers Sept. 1, Rousseff discussed legislation to suspend companies that participate in spying and to create a secure internal e-mail network for government communication, O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper reported, citing Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo.
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. 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 Sept. 1 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.
The U.S. government will address Mexican and Brazilian requests on the spying allegations through diplomatic channels, said a U.S. official with knowledge of the matter who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. The U.S. gathering of intelligence on foreign countries is similar to practices carried out by other nations, the person said in an e-mail.
Rousseff and Pena Nieto will meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the G-20 summit this week in St. Petersburg, Russia. In addition, Rousseff next month is scheduled to make the first state visit to Washington 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 discuss legislation to restrict data gathering by U.S. companies in Brazil.
Cardozo said on Fantastico Sept. 1 that in his meetings last week with Vice President Joe 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.
The justice minister yesterday characterized the new spying allegations as “very serious” that if true would be an affront to Brazil’s sovereignty.
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.”