Brazil demands written explanation from Obama over spying allegations

New revelations emerge that US intelligence tapped President Rousseff’s calls

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.E. PERES (AP)

Just one day after revelations emerged that US intelligence services may have spied on President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil demanded on Monday that President Barack Obama send a written explanation by the end of the week.

The order was handed over to US Ambassador Thomas Shannon following what was described as a heated meeting with Brazil’s new Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo.

The allegations, which have shocked Brazilian society, were made on the popular Sunday night news program Fantástico on the private Globo TV network. Besides monitoring Rousseff’s calls, the US National Security Agency (NSA) allegedly tapped into her emails and cellphone text messages. The NSA is also said to have spied on other top Brazilian officials, including some of her closest advisors.

The revelations are based on documents obtained by US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who helped now-wanted ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden make public the information he obtained from the agency’s computer files. Greenwald lives in Brazil.

On Monday, Rousseff called a top level Cabinet meeting to discuss the latest “threats to national sovereignty,” as her Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo described it.

It is unacceptable that this espionage takes place in a country, such as ours, where there is not so much as an inkling of terrorism"

Folha de São Paulo reported Wednesday that Rousseff explained to her Cabinet members that the spying may have had to do with the upcoming public auction for oil company permits in the Libra pre-salt field, the largest petroleum reserve to be discovered to date by Brazil and located in the Santos Basin, about 140 miles off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. It is situated under a thick layer of salt beneath the South Atlantic seabed.

“It is unacceptable that this espionage takes place in a country, such as ours, where there is not so much as an inkling of terrorism,” said Ricardo Ferraço, chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations committee.

Next month, Rousseff is expected to make her first official visit to the White House but the São Paulo daily said that there existed the possibility that the Brazilian president could cancel the trip. Quoting aides, Folha de São Paulo described Rousseff as “outraged” and “very irritated.” As yet, there has been no official announcement on whether the planned October 23 visit will be canceled.

According to Foreign Minister Figueiredo, the talks with Shannon on Monday were “frank and direct.”

“The ambassador has already been informed what Brazil expects and it must be the US government that has to respond directly — not through him,” he said. This isn’t the first time there have been allegations that US intelligence is focusing its spying activities on Brazil. Based on documents leaked by Snowden, O Globo, another major daily, reported in July that the US employed Brazilian telecom companies and internet providers to spy on thousands of citizens.

Ex-Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota had demanded a full explanation from US Secretary of State John Kerry, who made a stopover in Brasilia last month during a two-nation visit to Latin America. Kerry also had to offer explanations to Colombia, which along with Mexico and Venezuela, appeared on a list provided by Snowden of the nations that are frequently spied on. “I think it’s very obvious to everybody that this is a dangerous world we’re living in,” Kerry said at the time in Bogota as he explained why the United States was monitoring communications from its allies.

But Paulo Bernardo, Brazil’s communications minister, said the US’s reasoning was “totally absurd” because “it has nothing to do with national security” but is about getting an advantage in trade and business negotiations.

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