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U.S.-Brazil tensions rise after new spy report

Sep. 2, 2013 - 05:29PM   |  
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RIO DE JANEIRO — The Brazilian government called in the U.S. ambassador Monday to provide explanations about new revelations that the National Security Agency’s spy program directly targeted the South American giant’s leader.

Ambassador Thomas Shannon arrived and left the Foreign Ministry without speaking to reporters, and there was no comment from the Brazilian side either, even as President Dilma Rousseff met separately with top ministers to discuss the case.

A report by Globo TV, citing 2012 documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, alleges that the U.S. intercepted Rousseff’s emails and telephone calls, along with those of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose communications were being monitored even before he was elected as president in July, 2012.

Sen. Ricardo Ferraco, head of the Brazilian Senate’s foreign relations committee, said lawmakers already had decided to formally investigate the U.S. program’s focus on Brazil because of earlier revelations that the country was a top target of the NSA spying in the region, and that the probe would likely start this week.

“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,” Ferraco told reporters in Brasilia. “It’s unacceptable that in a country like ours, where there is absolutely no climate of terrorism, that there is this type of spying.”

During the Sunday night TV program, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, told the news program “Fantastico” that a document dated June 2012 shows that Pena Nieto’s emails were being read. The document’s date is the month before Pena Nieto was elected.

The document indicated who Pena Nieto would like to name to some government posts, among other information.

It’s not clear if the spying continues.

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.

Messages sent to Pena Nieto’s office were not immediately returned. He was delivering his state of the nation speech on Monday. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said it had no comment.

The spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Brazil’s capital, Dean Chaves, said in an emailed response that U.S. officials wouldn’t comment “on every specific alleged intelligence activity.” But he said, “We value our relationship with Brazil, understand that they have valid concerns about these disclosures, and we will continue to engage with the Brazilian government in an effort to address those concerns.”

Brazilian Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo told the newspaper O Globo that “if the facts of the report are confirmed, they would be considered very serious and would constitute a clear violation of Brazil’s sovereignty.”

“This is completely outside the standard of confidence expected of a strategic partnership, as the U.S. and Brazil have,” he added.

In July, Greenwald co-wrote articles in O Globo that said documents leaked by Snowden indicate Brazil was the largest target in Latin America for the NSA program, which collected data on billions of emails and calls flowing through Brazil.

The Brazilian government denounced the NSA activities outlined in the earlier reports.

Greenwald reported then that the NSA collected the data through an undefined association between U.S. and Brazilian telecommunications companies. He said he could not verify which Brazilian companies were involved or if they were aware their links were being used to collect the data.

Greenwald began writing stories based on material leaked by Snowden in May, mostly for the Guardian newspaper in Britain.

Before news of the NSA program broke, the White House announced that Rousseff would be honored with a state dinner in October during a trip to the U.S., the only such full state dinner scheduled this year for a foreign leader. The move highlighted the U.S. desire to build on improved relations since Rousseff took the presidency on Jan. 1, 2011.

Rousseff’s office said last week that there were no plans to scrap the state dinner because of the NSA program.

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