Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Report on NSA Surveillance Sparks Outrage in Brazil

The revelation by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the United States has collected data on millions of Brazilians' phone calls and internet activity has raised tensions between the two countries, with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff accusing the U.S. of violating her country’s sovereignty.

As mentioned in yesterday’s brief, Sunday’s O Globo featured a front page report on the NSA’s espionage work in Brazil, citing internal NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden. According to the paper, last January Brazil was the second most spied-upon country by the NSA’s surveillance program, after the U.S. The report was co-authored by Rio de Janeiro-based Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Edward Snowden story.

The allegations caused a stir in Brazil, and later in the day Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota released a statement demanding an explanation from U.S. authorities. Patriota also said Brazil would launch “U.N. initiatives aimed at prohibiting abuse and preventing invasion of privacy of virtual network users ... in order to ensure cyber security that protects citizens' rights and preserves the sovereignty of all countries.”

In the two days since the statement was released, O Globo has released two more articles on the NSA activities. Monday’s report alleges that the U.S. intelligence agency set up a data collection center in Brasilia. While the duration of the center’s activities is unknown, it was in operation as early as 2002. There is also evidence to suggest that the agency applied its surveillance program to the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, as well as the Brazilian mission to the United Nations in New York.

In the Global Post, Taylor Barnes notes that this sparked further outrage, causing the Foreign Relations Committee in Brazil’s Senate to demand a meeting with US Ambassador Thomas Shannon, and President Rousseff called the NSA’s alleged activities a “violation of sovereignty.” The president ordered a federal investigation into the claims, and whether local telecommunications companies were complicit in the program. After meeting with Brazilian Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo, Ambassador Shannon told reporters that O Globo had misrepresented the NSA’s activities, and promised to cooperate with Brazil’s investigation. 

This morning -- in another report co-authored by Greenwald -- O Globo provides more insight into the NSA’s data collection program, detailing its use in countries across Latin America. After Brazil, Colombia was apparently the next most-targeted country on the list, which also included Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador. Interestingly, in some cases the key words used by the NSA to filter through internet communications in the region appears to have strayed from security issues to economic interests. O Globo claims that the NSA flagged messages using the word “petroleum” in Venezuela, and the word “energy” in Mexico. This has already been picked up by Mexico’s El Universal, though it remains to be seen how the news will be received in the country.


News Briefs
  • The New York Times looks at the closure of Ecuadorean weekly newsmagazine Vanguardia, founded in 2005. While the owner claims that he was compelled to end publication due to the passage of a controversial new media regulation law in the country, Vanguardia’s editors and reporters disagree. Late last month, El Comercio reported that the staff did not see the passage of the law as the main reason for the closure. Others, including President Rafael Correa, claim that the magazine had financial troubles, and was simply unable to expand its readership base.
  • After Venezuelan officials said they would give Snowden until Monday to take up their asylum offer, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced late last night that he had received an official request for asylum from the former NSA contractor, El Nacional reports. However, Maduro said Snowden still had yet to “decide when he will fly here, if he definitely wants to fly here.” This suggests Snowden’s plans remain unclear.
  • Yesterday Maduro annouced that five officials involved in a development fund financed by China have been arrested in connection with the embezzlement of $84 million. The AP notes that, while the president gave no further details about the case, the arrests come after an anti-corruption initiative unveiled in June.
  • Meanwhile, Animal Politico notes that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called on all candidates in the country to recognize the results of the elections, and on opposition parties to continue to adhere to the Pact for Mexico. With the results in Baja California uncertain, and members of both the PAN and PRD looking to reassess the legislative alliance in light of the post-election landscape, the outlook for the pact is looking dimmer.
  • After five Latin American presidents issued a statement condemning several European nations Bolivian President Evo Morales’ involuntary layover in Vienna last week, the government of Spain’s foreign minister has apologized for having caused “some misunderstanding.”
  • When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s initial plan to fight a lack of medical treatment in the interior by sending a contingent of 6,000 Cuban doctors to the country was met with criticism from the opposition, the Health Ministry announced that this plan had been dropped. Reuters reports that Rousseff is now looking to hire Spanish and Portuguese doctors to address its needs.
  • According to the Miami Herald, one of the most visible dissident groups in Cuba, the Ladies in White, has been plagued by infighting in recent weeks, prompting 18 members to resign in the eastern Santiago province. Members of the group say the drama has been caused by a state infiltrator in their movement, who has fueled rivalries and squabbling in an attempt to destabilize the group.
  • After more than a month of escalating, sometimes violent clashes between police and farmers in the eastern Colombian region of Catatumbo left four dead and dozens injured, President Juan Manuel Santos has announced he will be sending two envoys to negotiate with locals. NACLA has a good overview of the protesters’ main grievances, which are largely linked to local farmers increasingly finding themselves competing with foreign imports.