By Anthony Boadle
The U.S. National Security Agency spied on the communications of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, a Brazilian news programme reported, a revelation that could strain U.S. relations with the two biggest countries in Latin America.
The report late Sunday by Globo’s news programme “Fantastico” was based on documents that Guardian newspaper journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, was listed as a co-contributor to the report.
“Fantastico” showed what it said was an NSA slide dated June 2012 displaying passages of written messages sent by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was still a candidate at that time. In the messages, Pena Nieto discussed who he was considering naming as his ministers once elected.
A separate slide displayed communication patterns between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top advisers, “Fantastico” said, although no specific written passages were included in the report.
Both slides were part of an NSA case study showing how data could be “intelligently” filtered by the agency’s secret internet surveillance programmes that were disclosed in a trove of documents leaked by Snowden in June, “Fantastico” said.
Brazil’s government, already smarting from earlier reports that the NSA spied on the emails and phone calls of Brazilians, called in U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon to explain the new allegations that the agency had spied on Rousseff herself.
Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said the contents of the documents, if confirmed, “should be considered very serious and constitute a clear violation of Brazilian sovereignty.”
“This (spying) hits not only Brazil, but the sovereignty of several countries that could have been violated in a way totally contrary to what international law establishes,” he told O Globo newspaper.
STATE VISIT, F-18 JETS
Cardozo travelled last week to Washington and met with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and other officials, seeking more details on a previous, seemingly less serious set of disclosures by Snowden regarding U.S. spying in Brazil.
Rousseff is scheduled to make a formal state visit in October to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, a trip intended to illustrate the warming in Brazilian-U.S. relations since she took office in 2011.
A spokesman for Rousseff would not comment on the new spying allegations. Mexico’s presidential palace said it had no immediate comment.
Rousseff held a Cabinet meeting on Monday that included the country’s defence, justice, communications and foreign affairs ministers to discuss the espionage report.
In July, after initial reports of NSA surveillance of internet communications in Latin American nations, Mexico’s Pena Nieto said it would be “totally unacceptable” if it were revealed that the United States had spied on its neighbor and largest business partner in the region.
The United States is hoping to sell Brazil 36 F-18 fighter jets, but a Brazilian government official said manufacturer Boeing’s chances of landing the more than $4 billion deal have been set back by the espionage scandal.
During a visit last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Brazil not to let spying revelations derail growing trade, diplomatic and cultural relations between the two largest economies in the Americas. But he gave no indication the United States would end the secret surveillance.
Kerry said the NSA surveillance was aimed at protecting Americans and Brazilians from terrorist attacks.
Justice Minister Cardozo said on Monday that the latest revelations based on Snowden’s documents show that U.S. electronic surveillance goes beyond combating terrorism and has political targets and may even involve commercial espionage.
Snowden, an American who worked as a contractor for the NSA before leaking the documents, currently lives in asylum in Russia. “Fantastico” said it contacted Snowden via internet chat, and that Snowden said he could not comment on the content of the report because of his asylum agreement with Russian authorities.