Alleged NSA surveillance in Brazil stirs regional tension – again

Documents leaked to O Globo newspaper by Edward Snowden suggest the US has monitored billions of Brazilian calls and emails. Its leaders are demanding an explanation.

Eraldo Peres/AP
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks at the launching of a health program that aims to improve public care and the education of Brazilian doctors, at the presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, July 8. The Brazilian government began an investigation Monday into whether telecommunications firms operating in the country cooperated with the US as part of a spying program that has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations.

Brazilian politicians are calling on President Dilma Rousseff to take a tough stance against the United States and boycott her official visit to the White House in October this year, following allegations that the US monitored billions of emails and other communications made by Brazilian citizens.

The revelations that Brazil may have been subjected to the highest level of surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) of any South American country came in a leaked report from the former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to the Brazilian newspaper, O Globo, which published its findings over the weekend.

President Rousseff immediately condemned the action.

“Brazil's position on this issue is very clear and very firm: We do not agree with interference of this kind in Brazil and in any other country,” she said at a press conference Monday.

The disclosure also sparked a heated debate in the Federal Senate in Brasilia on Monday as Senators representing both the ruling parties and the opposition argued that Brazil should demand an apology from the US if the accusations of spying on Brazilian territory are found to be true.

“These allegations of eavesdropping are very serious and affect the sovereignty of our country,” said Senator Alvero Dias, a member of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). “President Rousseff should discuss the matter directly with President Obama and if the answer is not satisfactory, she should cancel her visit to Washington in October,” he added.

Politicians on all sides also voiced their support for Mr. Snowden, arguing that Brazil should have followed the lead of Venezuela and publically offered him political asylum. Senator Lindbergh Farias, a member of the majority Workers Party (PT), said that because Snowden had “the courage to expose the international espionage against citizens of the world, he should be treated differently.”

The data and correspondence interception allegations made over the weekend suggest there has been NSA surveillance on Brazilian citizens on a vast scale over the past decade, outstripping levels in most countries in the world. Although Snowden did not reveal precise figures, he alleged that in January Brazil was just slightly behind the US, where 2.3 billion phone calls and messages were logged.

The Brazilian government has already asked for official clarification on the matter from the US government. State Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo also launched an inquiry on Monday led by the federal police and said the investigation could lead to criminal proceedings.

Brazil’s National Telecommunications Agency, Anatel, has stepped in with its own investigation into whether any telecommunications and data handling companies based in Brazil have violated the confidentiality of the country’s citizens by deliberately or inadvertently cooperating with NSA.

The latest revelations follow a diplomatic debacle last week in which the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales was denied access to European airspace due to suspicions that Snowden was on board. At the time South American leaders expressed solidarity with President Morales.

On Friday July 12, the leaders will meet at a summit of Mercosur – the South American group of nations – to discuss the matter.

For some analysts, the developing situation could have a damaging impact on diplomatic relations between America and Brazil.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff warned on Sunday that Snowden's overall disclosures have undermined American relationships with other countries and affected what he calls "the importance of trust." Gen. Martin Dempsey told CNN's "State of the Union" that the US will have to "work our way back."

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