This past Tuesday, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald testified before the Brazilian Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense (CRE) at a public hearing on the clandestine surveillance activities of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in Brazil.
Greenwald, who has published many top-secret NSA documents leaked to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden, explained how the agency’s surveillance programs go far beyond gathering intelligence related to terrorism and other national security threats, as the U.S. government has suggested. According to Greenwald, NSA spying has focused on foreign business interests as a means for the U.S. government to gain a competitive advantage in negotiations. Greenwald mentioned that he has information regarding instances of NSA surveillance of the Organization of American States (OAS) and secret intelligence documents on economic agreements with Latin American nations. He explained that this type of surveillance has helped the U.S. to make the agreements appear more appealing to Latin American countries. Brazil’s concern about this economic espionage is particularly understandable given that it is the U.S.’s largest trading partner in South America.
During the hearing, Greenwald made reference to a 2009 letter wherein Thomas Shannon, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (from November 2005 – November 2009) and current U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, celebrated the NSA’s surveillance program in Latin America and how it has helped advance U.S. foreign policy goals in the region. Greenwald wrote a detailed account of his findings in an article entitled “Did Obama know what they were thinking?” in the Brazilian print magazine, Época. In this piece, Greenwald explains that Shannon’s letter, addressed to NSA Director Keith Alexander, discusses how the spy agency obtained hundreds of documents belonging to Latin American delegations detailing their “plans and intentions” during the summit. Shannon asserted that these documents were instrumental in helping the Obama administration engage with the delegations and deal with “controversial subjects like Cuba” and “difficult counterparts” like former President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and Bolivian President, Evo Morales. In the same letter Shannon encouraged Alexander to continue providing similar intelligence as “the information from the NSA will continue to give us the advantage that our diplomacy needs,” especially ahead of an upcoming OAS General Assembly meeting in which he knew discussions on Cuba’s suspension from the OAS would ensue.
Greenwald went on to explain the functioning of the NSA’s XKeyscore program to the Brazilian senators, which he referred to as the most frightening of all the programs revealed thus far. He also discussed the first U.S. secret surveillance program revealed to the world, PRISM. In the next 10 days, Greenwald said, he will have further reports on U.S. surveillance and “[t]here will certainly be many more revelations on spying by the U.S. government and how they are invading the communications of Bra[z]il and Latin America.”
When asked by the current CRE President, Senator Ricardo Ferraço, what the international community should do if the U.S. continues its mass surveillance programs, Greenwald said that although many governments around the world have expressed indignation, it has been a “superficial indignation.” He called on foreign governments to put pressure on the U.S. by granting Snowden asylum, which would be most effective if many countries were to do so.
According to Reuters, Greenwald also told reporters that “[t]he Brazilian government is showing much more anger in public than it is showing in private discussions with the U.S. government,” but that “[a]ll governments are doing this, even in Europe.” Although some Brazilian senators have questioned President Rousseff’s upcoming trip to Washington, yesterday, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told reporters that “the trip is still on.” Nevertheless, Patriota added that the NSA revelations are “an issue that cannot be left out of the bilateral US-Brazil agenda,” and that he would raise the issue when John Kerry travels to Brasilia early next week.