Relations between the U.S. and Brazil have grown tense in the days since leaked National Security Agency documents revealed that the U.S. government spied on Brazil’s president.
The initial report was made by Brazil’s O Globo news station. Based on NSA documents leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, the broadcast revealed that the agency targeted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as well as Mexican President Enrique Pina Nieto.
According to Reuters, the NSA apparently spied on the emails, phone calls, and text messages of Rousseff. The revelation comes only weeks after Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald reported in O Globo that the agency has conducted a massive spy operation on Brazilian citizens, tapping directly into the country’s Internet cables.
At the time, it seemed America’s intelligence activities in the country were not so much geared at Brazil but at the international communications that pass through it.
Brazil is one of the world’s major nodes for Internet traffic. By tapping into its pipelines, the NSA had access to information from countries whose traffic does not flow directly into the U.S.
In August, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the purpose of NSA spying was to protect U.S. and Brazilian citizens from terrorist attacks. Sunday’s O Globo report, however, would seem to indicate the NSA has a stronger interest in gathering intelligence on Brazil than previously assumed.
On Monday, Rousseff’s administration told the U.S. ambassador to Brazil that the American government had a week to respond to the allegations. “I expressed…the Brazilian government’s indignation over the facts revealed in the documents,” Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said at a news conference.
According to Reuters, U.S. officials said they will respond to Rousseff through “diplomatic channels.” White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said, “We have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
Figueiredo has indicated that if the Obama administration’s response is not satisfactory, Rousseff may cancel her upcoming visit to America. “From our point of view, this is an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty,” he told Reuters.
A similar leak from Snowden earlier this summer indicated that the NSA was also spying on confidential United Nations diplomatic conversations, another action difficult to justify as counterterrorism. Surveilling diplomatic conversations is in violation of international law as established by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
If the O Globo allegations prove true, the consequences could be severe for the White House. Brazil and the U.S. are the two largest economies in the Americas.
“This type of practice is incompatible with the confidence necessary for a strategic partnership between two nations,” Brazilian Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo said in a press conference.
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