Brazil and Mexico outraged over NSA surveillance
Authorities demand answers from US
Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff: communications with several unidentified aides probed by US spy agency. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
Brazil’s government summoned the US ambassador to respond to new revelations of US surveillance of president Dilma Rousseff and her senior aides, complicating relations between the countries ahead of Ms Rousseff’s state visit to Washington next month.
While senior Brazilian officials expressed indignation over the revelations of spying by the National Security Agency on both Rousseff and Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto - reported on Sunday on the Globo television network - they stopped short of saying whether Ms Rousseff’s visit was at risk of being called off.
“This would be an unacceptable violation to our sovereignty, involving our head of state,” José Eduardo Cardozo, Brazil’s justice minister, said in an interview. Mr Cardozo said Brazil had requested an explanation from Washington regarding the revelations, emphasising that he had proposed in meetings with US officials a legal accord regulating US intelligence activities in Brazil.
“Something like this would clearly not fit” within such an agreement, Mr Cardozo said. The report, based on documents provided by the fugitive NSA contractor Edward J Snowden to Glenn Greenwald, a US journalist living in Brazil, described how the NSA used different computer programs to filter through communications and gain access to specific emails, telephone calls and text messages of Rousseff’s top aides.
In the case of Mexico’s leader, the Globo report described how the NSA obtained a text message from Pena Nieto himself in 2012, while he was a candidate for the presidency, which referred to an appointment he planned to make to his staff if elected.
Mexico’s response to the revelations was relatively muted compared with Brazil’s. Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was asking the United States in a diplomatic note for an “exhaustive investigation” into the matter, while also summoning the US ambassador to emphasise the government’s position.
Washington has been seeking to enhance its ties with Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, by reaching out to Ms Rousseff. Her government was already angered by previous revelations that Brazil ranked among the NSA’s most spied-upon countries.
While Brazil maintains generally warm ties with the United States, resentment lingers over the repressive eavesdropping during its military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 and the support of the United States for the coup that brought the military to power.
US officials were put on the defensive just weeks after secretary of state John Kerry briefly visited Brazil last month in an effort to ease tension over earlier reports describing how the NSA had established a data collection centre in Brasilia, among the strategies the NSA is said to have used to delve into Brazil’s large telecommunications hubs.
The US Embassy in Brasilia said yesterday that it would not comment on the matter. Beyond condemning US spying practices, Brazil is taking other steps. For instance, General Sinclair Mayer, who runs the Brazilian army’s science and technology department, recently told politicians of a plan to establish underwater Internet cables linking Brazil to Europe and Africa, reflecting an effort to reroute Internet traffic now going through the United States.
Brazil also said last month that it had chosen a French-Italian venture to build a satellite for military and civilian use, part of a bid to ensure sovereignty of important communications.
Brazilian authorities have also ordered its postal service to develop a national email system allowing users to exchange encrypted messages that would presumably be harder for intelligence agencies to monitor.
The new system, scheduled to begin in 2014, is intended as an alternative to US services like Gmail and Hotmail.
Cybersecurity experts have expressed skepticism, pointing to how even hackers have found ways to penetrate seemingly secure satellites and porous parts of the Internet, but Brazil is still moving ahead with the programs.
For Mexico, the report comes at an awkward time, with vice president Joe Biden scheduled to visit Mexico soon to promote economic talks and US law enforcement officials continuing to chafe over the unexpected release of one of the most notorious drug lords from a Mexico prison.
The security relationship under Pena Nieto has been strained at times, with his government seeking to more tightly control US law enforcement activity in Mexico, but both countries have promised to collaborate closely and have worked on arrests.