Report: US spy program eyes energy info in LatAm

AP News
Posted: Jul 09, 2013 9:31 PM
Report: US spy program eyes energy info in LatAm

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A U.S. spy program is widely targeting data in emails and telephone calls across Latin America, and is focusing on energy issues, not just information related to military, political or terror topics, a Brazilian newspaper reported Tuesday.

The O Globo newspaper said it has access to some of the documents released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The American journalist who obtained the classified information from Snowden lives in Brazil and is helping write stories for the daily.

O Globo published what it said are slides that Snowden released indicating the U.S. effort is gathering information on energy in Mexico and oil in Venezuela. There was no information released about what information was obtained, nor any companies that were targeted.

The report also said that Colombia, the strongest U.S. military ally in South America, along with Mexico and Brazil, were the countries where the U.S. program intercepted the biggest chunks of information on emails and telephone calls during the last five years. Similar activities took place in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.

Figures weren't published on how many intercepts occurred.

O Globo also reported that the documents it's seen indicate the U.S. had data collection centers in 2002 for material intercepted from satellites in Bogota, Caracas, Mexico City and Panama City, along with Brasilia. There was no information published about the existence of these centers after 2002.

Snowden's disclosures indicate that the NSA widely collects phone and Internet "metadata" — logs of message times, addresses and other information rather than the content of the messages. The documents have indicated that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone customers, and has gathered data on phone and Internet usage outside the U.S., including those people who use any of nine U.S.-based internet providers such as Google.

Earlier, O Globo reported that in Brazil, the NSA collected data through an association between U.S. and Brazilian telecommunications companies. It said it could not verify which Brazilian companies were involved or if they were even aware their links were being used to collect the data.

The Brazilian government is investigating the alleged links with telecommunications firms with a Brazil presence.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said any such activity infringed upon the nation's sovereignty — and that Brazil would take the issue up at the United Nations.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said that "we've asked for a formal explanation from the United States and we're awaiting that response."

Leaders in Mexico and Colombia didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Argentina President Cristina Fernandez said she hopes leaders attending a meeting this week of regional trade bloc Mercosur "will take a strong stance against this and ask for explanations amid these revelations. More than revelations, they're confirmations of what we already feared was happening."

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his nation wanted explanations from the U.S. He demanded that the spying stop and said the U.N. should take up the matter.

U.S. officials in Brazil declined to comment other than to emphasize they were working directly with Brazilian officials to answer questions.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said that "we have been clear that the United States does gather foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations."

The foreign relations committee in Brazil's Senate voted Tuesday to invite U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon to speak before them about the NSA program — though he is not legally bound to appear before the committee.

The U.S. Embassy said in an emailed statement that it will continue working with Brazil's Foreign Ministry to answer all questions, and that it would "conform our actions to only those channels specifically identified by the diplomatic relations between our two countries."

Sandra Borda, a professor of international relations at the University of the Andes in Bogota, said the Colombian government "isn't going to say anything" about the allegations, leading her to think that Latin American governments with strong U.S. ties, such as Colombia and Mexico were aware of the program on some level.

"It's very likely that the type of information that was being obtained through (the NSA program) is something that was being done with ... the authorization, or done with the knowledge, of the government," she said.

Also Tuesday, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said that his country received an asylum request from Snowden. Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have said they would grant asylum to Snowden.

"We have decided to give political asylum to young Edward Snowden in the name of Venezuela for dignity, of an independent Venezuela," Maduro said hours after the announcement was made, and ratifying his earlier offer for safe haven. He said that Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, the countries that have offered Snowden asylum "are not afraid" of the United States.

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"The United States has entered into a crazy phase," the president said at an event with the military. He also said that the "hysterical insanity of the elite who govern the United States, against all the other countries of the world, practically provoked the assassination of (Bolivian) President Evo Morales."

Maduro was referring to the uproar last week over the rerouting of Morales' presidential plane over Europe amid suspicions by some countries that Snowden was aboard the craft.

Later Tuesday, Venezuela Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters that Snowden "still hasn't ratified his intention to seek asylum in Venezuela."

An official with the Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press, said Venezuela has received a letter containing a request for asylum from Snowden similar to what he has sent to other countries. But the ex-CIA agent hasn't ratified the offer of asylum Maduro made earlier.

Jaua said that if Snowden confirms to them his intention to seek asylum in the South American country, Venezuelan authorities will contact the Russian government to come up with a "viable" process.

The foreign minister said the fact that the NSA leaker is in the transit area of Moscow's airport "is a reality that limits the possibility of immediate asylum."

Snowden arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on June 23 and at the time was believed to be headed for Cuba. But he did not board a flight he was booked on that day and hasn't been publicly seen since. He is widely believed to still be in the airport's transit zone.


Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia; Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela; Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador; Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.