Moral Low Ground


NSA Brazil Spying Scandal Widens; Snowden Reveals Petrobras Targeted

Rousseff and Obama at a recent meeting (Photo: White House)

Rousseff and Obama at a recent meeting (Photo: White House)

Brazil’s president has personally informed her US counterpart that her planned visit to the United States depends on his administration’s response to a widening NSA spying scandal.

President Dilma Rousseff raised her concerns directly with President Barack Obama at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Earlier this month, former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, revealed that the NSA spied on the phone and email communications of both Rouseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. These revelations have incensed Brazilians, leading to a one-on-one meeting between the leaders of the two most powerful nations in the Americas.

Rousseff, who said that Obama had taken responsibility for the NSA scandal, told reporters that the US leader had promised to formally respond to the spying allegations by Wednesday.

“My trip to Washington depends on the political conditions to be created by President Obama,” Rousseff said. She is due to travel to Washington DC on October 23, where the two leaders are expected to discuss a possible $4 billion jet fighter deal as well as cooperation on oil and biofuel technology and other commerce, VOA reported.

Now Obama has even more explaining to do, as it emerged earlier this week that the NSA spied on Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run oil giant. Globo TV, the nation’s largest network, cited classified documents leaked by Snowden which revealed NSA spying on Petrobras’ computer network, as well as on the networks of Google and the European money transfer firm Society for Worldwide Interbank Telecommunication (SWIFT).

Rousseff responded angrily to the latest NSA spying allegations.

“If the facts reported by the press are confirmed, it will be evident that the motive for spying attempts is not security or the war on terrorism but strategic economic interests,” Rousseff said in a statement on Monday.

“Clearly, Petrobras is not a threat to the security of any country,” Rousseff added, warning that Brazil would take unspecified steps to protect itself, its government and its corporations. She asserted that the sort of espionage alleged by the Brazilian press is illegal and has no place in relations between democracies.

The US government denied allegations of corporate espionage against Petrobras. James R. Clapper Jr., director of US national intelligence, released a statement claiming “it is not a secret” that the US spies on “economic and financial matters and terrorist financing,” but that the US does not “use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies.”

So far, Brazil has been highly skeptical of the US government’s efforts to explain away NSA spying.

“All of the explanations that have been given to us from the beginning have proven to be false,” Brazilian communications minister Paulo Bernardo is quoted by Democracy Now!

Brazilians are very wary of US meddling in their domestic affairs. In 1964, João Goulart, the democratically elected vice president who became president following the resignation of Jânio Quadros, was overthrown in a US-backed military coup. Goulart, whose independent foreign policy, land, education and tax reform angered both Washington and Wall Street, was ousted by military officers backed by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, which was directly involved in the decision to support the coup, by force if necessary.

Brazil remained a US-backed military dictatorship until 1985. The Constitution was suspended. Congress was dissolved. Political parties were banned. Kidnappings, disappearances, imprisonment for political ‘crimes,’ torture and murder were commonplace. US-backed death squads terrorized the nation. Brazilian military officers were trained in torture, terror and assassination at the US Army School of the Americas, where many of the hemisphere’s worst human rights violators were taught using US-authored torture manuals.

President Rousseff, who as a young woman fought against the military regime with leftist and Marxist urban guerrilla groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the regime’s forces from 1970-72.

Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue, told the Washington Post that Snowden’s revelations show that the US “went way too far, beyond any reasonable justification of containing security threats” in its extensive spying on its ally and partner Brazil.

“Such an overreach is disrespectful and has touched a real nerve in Brazil, a country that prizes its sovereignty and is understandably sensitive about such abuses,” Shifter said.

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