Brazil, Mexico angrily demand answers from US over alleged NSA 'violations'

Newly published documents released by Edward Snowden indicate the US spied on the presidents of both countries.

Eraldo Peres/AP
Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo (r.) speaks alongside Justice Minister Eduardo Cardoso during a news conference in Brasilia today. The Brazilian government called in the US ambassador Monday to provide explanations about new revelations that the National Security Agency's spy program directly targeted the South American giant's leader, President Dilma Rousseff.

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The governments of Brazil and Mexico have summoned the US ambassadors to their respective countries to demand explanations over the most recent allegations that the National Security Agency spied on their leaders – revelations that threaten to sour US relations with Latin America's two largest economies.

On Sunday night’s episode of O Globo’s “Fantastico,” Glenn Greenwald, a US journalist involved in breaking leaks from former NSA employee Edward Snowden, provided documents showing Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had been spied on. It is unclear if the spying continues.

The revelations related to Mr. Peña Nieto show he was spied on during his presidential campaign in 2012. This included text messages in which Peña Nieto discussed possible cabinet and ministry appointments, reports Reuters.

The document referenced by Mr. Greenwald also reveals the NSA read online messages and e-mails written by Mrs. Rousseff. According to the Associated Press:

As for Brazil’s leader, the NSA document “doesn’t include any of Dilma’s specific intercepted messages, the way it does for Nieto,” Greenwald told The Associated Press in an email. “But it is clear in several ways that her communications were intercepted, including the use of DNI Presenter, which is a program used by NSA to open and read emails and online chats.”

The U.S. targeting mapped out the aides with whom Rousseff communicated and tracked patterns of how those aides communicated with one another and also with third parties, according to the document.

“Without assuming the information that came out in the media is accurate, Mexico’s government rejects and categorically condemns any espionage activity against Mexican citizens that violate international law,” a statement from the Mexican Foreign Ministry said. “This type of practice is contrary to the United Nations Charter and the International Court of Justice.”

This is the second recent revelation of US spying in Brazil. In July, Greenwald wrote that the South American nation was the largest target for US spying in Latin America, with millions of e-mails and calls reportedly intercepted.

“From our point of view, this represents an unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty,” Brazilian Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo said in a news conference. “This type of practice is incompatible with the confidence necessary for a strategic partnership between two nations.”

Before the evidence of US spying in Brazil was released, Vice President Joe Biden invited Rousseff to attend a state dinner during her October visit to the US. The Los Angeles Times reports that “it was widely seen as a long-awaited recognition of Brazil’s status as a rising power and symbol of improved relations between the two countries.” Given the recent leak, however, this diplomatic event could be put in jeopardy. Rousseff’s was one of the only state dinners on the schedule this year.

An investigation into the US focus on Brazil is likely to be launched this week, Sen. Ricardo Ferraco, head of Brazil’s Senate foreign relations committee said, according to a separate AP report.

“I feel a mixture of amazement and indignation. It seems like there are no limits. When the phone of the president of the republic is monitored, it’s hard to imagine what else might be happening,” Mr. Ferraco said in a press conference. “It’s unacceptable that in a country like ours, where there is absolutely no climate of terrorism, that there is this type of spying.”

According to The New York Times, spying in Brazil has historically sensitive implications:

While Brazil maintains generally warm ties with the United States, resentment lingers over the repressive eavesdropping by the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 and the support of the United States for the coup that brought the military to power.

American officials here were put on the defensive just weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry briefly visited Brazil in August in an effort to ease tension over earlier reports describing how the N.S.A. had established a data collection center in Brasília, among the strategies the N.S.A. is said to have used to delve into Brazil’s large telecommunications hubs.

The Los Angeles Times reports that not only do the newest leaks indicate spying on the nations’ highest leaders, they also “depict a different type of information-gathering, according to an expert cited on Sunday’s show.”

The spying was not aimed at protecting U.S. national security, but was allegedly meant to give Washington an upper hand in international meetings by knowing the other players' "cards."

Brazil's communications minister, Paulo Bernardo, said the spying was "absurd." "This has nothing to do with national security," he said. "It’s snooping to gain advantages in industrial and commercial negotiations."

“We’re going to talk with our partners, including developed and developing nations, to evaluate how they protect themselves and to see what joint measures could be taken in the face of this grave situation,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said in a news conference, according to the AP. “There has to be international regulations that prohibit citizens and governments alike from being exposed to interceptions, violations of privacy and cyberattacks.”

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