December 5, 2013
How the US lied and spied on LatAm leaders
RIO DE JANEIRO — The United States intercepted phone calls and emails of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico to showcase the reach of an anti-terror surveillance programme, according to documents leaked by fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden.
The allegations were made Sunday night by US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret documents from Snowden in May, on Brazil’s most-watched TV news magazine, Fantastico, owned by the Globo network.
In one document, the National Security Agency cites how it intercepted text messages by Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto in which the then-presidential front-runner discusses two possible cabinet picks. The 24-slide presentation was dated June 2012, a month before Pena Nieto was elected.
In the case of Brazil, the document highlights software that was used to probe President Dilma Rousseff’s communications with several unidentified aides. Both leaders will cross paths with President Obama this week at a Group of 20 summit in Russia.
“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 British newspaper The Guardian, said in a phone interview. “I’d think there has to be some sense of violation and invasion that will produce some outrage.”
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 employee was granted a one-year asylum in Russia on President Vladimir Putin’s condition that he stop disclosing documents that harm US 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 US companies, the extent and names of which Greenwald said he couldn’t verify.
The US Ambassador to Brasilia Thomas Shannon, at the time, denied the report by the Rio de Janeiro newspaper, telling officials that the US didn’t spy on Brazilian citizens and collects records of phone calls or email messages abroad only to pursue suspected terrorists.
“Shannon first said we only look at metadata,” said Greenwald. “It was a complete and absolute lie.”
The secret document disclosed Sunday 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.
Rousseff and Peña Nieto will meet Obama at the G20 summit this week in St Petersburg. In addition, Rousseff is also scheduled to be feted at the White House in October during the first state visit 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 take its concerns to the United Nations and discuss legislation to restrict data-gathering by US companies in Brazil.
In a separate document shown by Fantastico outlining the NSA’s assessment of US 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 US 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,” André César, 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.”