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8 Jul, 2013 13:19

Hitting the reset: NSA spying targeted BRICS

Hitting the reset: NSA spying targeted BRICS

Members of BRICS featured high on the list of countries singled out for special consideration by the National Security Agency’s intensive Prism program, which collected data on billions of telephone and internet records globally.

An article published at the weekend in Brazil’s O Globo newspaper makes the observation that "Brazil…appears to stand out on maps of the U.S. agency as a priority target for telephony and data traffic, alongside nations such as China, Russia..."

Brazil, Russia and China are three prominent members of the international association, which goes by the acronym BRICS, which also includes India and South Africa.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed "deep concern” that electronic and telephone communications of citizens are being collected by the American intelligence community. The report did not specify how much traffic was monitored by the NSA, but it did emphasize that in the Americas, Brazil was second only to the US in the number of communications intercepted by the spy agency.
Patriota said Brazil will ask the UN for measures "to impede abuses and protect the privacy" of internet users, laying down rules for governments "to guarantee cybernetic security that protects the rights of citizens and preserves the sovereignty of all countries."

"There are many more populations of non-adversarial countries which have been subjected to the same type of mass surveillance net by the NSA: indeed, the list of those which haven't been are shorter than those which have," wrote Glenn Greenwald, who originally broke the Snowden story in the Britain's Guardian newspaper, as quoted in the O Globo report.

Reuters / Thomas Peter

The report did not provide details on the type of data the NSA collected, but much of the focus has been on the retrieval and storage of so-called ‘metadata’, which gives intelligence-gathering agents the records of message times, identities, addresses and other information – but not necessarily the content of the messages themselves.

Russia on the NSA radar

That Russia was a prime target for NSA surveillance became evident when NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the details of a massive ‘data-mining’ surveillance operation, known as Prism, which collected details on billions of telephone, email and internet communications both at home and abroad.

Although the full extent of the NSA’s spying activities against Russia lacks a precise numerical figure, the tentacles of the global ‘data-mining’ operation is known to have penetrated into the highest levels of the Russian government, even eavesdropping on the top-secret communications of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, during his visit to Britain for the G20 summit in London.

Medvedev arrived in London on Wednesday 1 April. That same day, the NSA intercepted communications from his delegation, according to the NSA paper, entitled: "Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London – Intercept at Menwith Hill station."

The details of the intercept were allegedly shared with officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Dmitry Medvedev holds a press briefing in London on April 2, 2009 (AFP Photo / RIA Novosti / Kremlin Pool / Vladimir Rodionov)

The NSA interception of the Russian leader’s G20 communications came just hours after Presdient Obama and Medvedev met for the first time, and in the midst of the much-hyped ‘reset’ between the former Cold War foes. During their meeting, the two discussed a wide range of thorny issues, including the global financial crisis, nuclear disarmament and Washington’s controversial decision to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

Now, Russia finds itself in the position of playing host to the individual responsible for what many believe to be the most damaging leak of US intelligence ever.

Last month, Snowden boarded a plane from the United States to Hong Kong with a mountain of sensitive US documents, which he released once safely inside the China-owned territory. On June 23, the American whistleblower boarded a plane for Moscow, where he has been holed up in Sheremetyevo Airport’s transit zone ever since.

Judging by statements coming out of Moscow, however, it seems Mr. Snowden is at risk of overstaying his welcome, and potentially worse.

As Venezuela became the third South American country to hold out the offer of political asylum, even placing a deadline of Monday before their offer expires, one high-ranking Russian politician strongly suggested that Snowden consider the invitation.

Alexei Pushkov, who heads the international affairs committee in Russia's parliament, posted a message on Twitter saying: "Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden. This, perhaps, is his last chance to receive political asylum."
Venezuelan authorities say they have not heard from Edward Snowden since the country offered the NSA whistleblower asylum, but would wait until Monday for his response.

“There has not been any type of communication,'' Foreign Minster Elias Jaua said on state television. “We are waiting until Monday to know whether he confirms his wish to take asylum in Venezuela.”

Robert Bridge, RT