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10 Jul, 2013 09:23

NSA spied on Latin America for energy and military intel

NSA spied on Latin America for energy and military intel

The NSA’s spy program encompasses most countries in Latin America, new cables released by Edward Snowden have confirmed. The data gathered on military affairs and “commercial secrets” has provoked a flurry of furious rhetoric from regional leaders.

Brazilian daily, O Globo, which obtained the cables released by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, published a report on Tuesday detailed the National Security Agency’s initiatives in Latin America.

The US government retrieved key data on a number of issues including the oil market, drugs trade and political movements. Colombia is a top priority for the US, registering the most spy activity, with Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil following closely behind. In addition, Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Peru and El Salvador are under surveillance, though to a lesser degree.

According to the documents obtained by O Globo, the NSA carried out espionage in Latin America in the first quarter of 2013 using at least two data-snooping programs: ‘PRISM,’ from February 2-8 and ‘Boundless Informant’ from January through to March.

‘PRISM’ recorded metadata through Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube, while ‘Boundless Informant’ monitored telephone calls and access to the internet.

O Globo also reported that the NSA gathered information through private Brazilian telecommunications companies using a program called ‘Silverzephyr.’ The daily was unable to identify the companies, but stated that using the program the US gained access to phone calls, faxes and emails.

Furthermore, the leaked information revealed the existence of data-crunching centers in Bogota, Caracas, Mexico City and Panama City and Brasilia that dealt with information intercepted from satellites.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (AFP Photo/Evaristo Sa)

Brazil is currently investigating telecommunication companies believed to be involved in the massive US surveillance program. The country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, was quick to react to the news, stating that if the reports of spying were confirmed it would definitely be a “violation of our sovereignty, without a doubt, just like it’s a violation of human rights.”

Brazil’s Senate foreign relations committee has requested that US ambassador Thomas Shannon to testify on the allegations. It is unclear whether Shannon, who is not legally obliged to provide testimony, will agree.

Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to President Rousseff, called for a "very hard" response to the United States .

"If we lower our heads, they will trample all over us tomorrow,"
he said.

President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said she hopes the US’ actions will be condemned at the next Mercosur (an economic union between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela) summit. 

“I feel a shiver going down my spine when I see that they are spying on all of us through their services in Brazil,” she said in reference to the O Globo article. 

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (AFP Photo/Alejandro Pagni)

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, known for his pro-US stance, stated that the reports were “concerning.” 

"We are against these kinds of espionage activities,"
he said in a televised interview. "It would be good for [Peru's] Congress to look with concern at privacy issues related to personal information." 

In turn, Colombia has called on the US for an explanation for an “unauthorized” data collection program.

"In rejecting the acts of espionage that violate people's rights and intimacy as well as the international conventions on telecommunication, Colombia requests the corresponding explanations from the United States government through its ambassador to Colombia," the Colombian Foreign Ministry said in the statement.

Mexico, one of the most surveilled countries, has thus far refrained from commenting on the reports .

US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who currently has an extradition order against his name from Washington, is holed up in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport unable to leave because his passport has been revoked. He has applied for political asylum in a number of Latin American countries. Venezuela and Nicaragua have said they are currently assessing his request.