BRASILIA (Reuters) - Irate Latin American nations are demanding explanations from the United States about new allegations that it spied on both allies and foes in the region with secret surveillance programs.
A leading Brazilian newspaper reported on Tuesday that the U.S. National Security Agency targeted most Latin American countries with spying programs that monitored Internet traffic, especially in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico.
Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor, O Globo newspaper said the NSA programs went beyond military affairs to what it termed “commercial secrets,” including oil and energy resources.
Regional leaders called for a tough response to the alleged espionage that O Globo said included a satellite monitoring stations based in Brazil’s capital.
“A shiver ran down my back when I learned that they are spying on all of us,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said in a speech on Tuesday.
She called on the Mercosur bloc of South American nations, due to meet on Friday, to issue a strong statement and demand explanations from Washington. “More than revelations, these are confirmations of what we thought was happening,” she said.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who has emerged as a close U.S. ally, said the reported spying was worrisome.
“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.”
Brazil’s government said it set up a task force of its defense, communications, justice and foreign affairs ministries to investigate the alleged espionage and establish whether the privacy of Brazilian citizens had been violated.
The Brazilian Senate’s foreign relations committee has asked U.S. ambassador Thomas Shannon to testify on the allegations. It is unclear whether Shannon, who is not obliged to testify, will do so.
Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to President Dilma Rousseff, said a “very hard” response to the United States was needed. “If we lower our heads, they will trample all over us tomorrow,” he said.
The espionage allegations surfaced one week after South American nations were outraged by the diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Europe because of the suspicion that Snowden was on board.
O Globo said a main NSA surveillance target was Colombia, the United States’ top military ally in the region, where drug trafficking and movements by the FARC guerrilla group were monitored.
It said the NSA spied on military procurement and the oil industry in Venezuela, and in Mexico it gathered information on the drug trade, the energy sector and political affairs.
Also swept up in what O Globo termed as U.S. spying were Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile and El Salvador.
The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, Roberto Kaz and José Casado.
An American citizen who works for Britain’s Guardian newspaper and lives in Rio de Janeiro, Greenwald was the journalist who first revealed classified documents provided by Snowden that outlined the extent of U.S. communications monitoring activity at home and abroad.
Greenwald said on Sunday in a Twitter message that he had worked with O Globo on the reports to relay more quickly the scope and reach of the alleged surveillance. The bulk of Greenwald’s stories thus far have appeared in the Guardian.
As disclosed by Snowden to the Guardian, the NSA’s “Prism” program collated mail, Internet chat and files directly from the servers of companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.
O Globo cited documents saying that NSA agents carried out “spying actions” via “Boundless Informant,” which it said cataloged telephone calls and access to the Internet.
The newspaper reported on Sunday that the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency had gathered telephone and email data in Brazil, based on documents Snowden provided to Greenwald.
Brazil’s telecommunications agency said on Monday it would investigate whether local operators had violated customer privacy rules in alleged surveillance of Brazilian telecommunications data by the U.S. spy agencies.
According to O Globo, access to Brazilian communications was obtained through U.S. companies that were partners with Brazilian telecommunications firms. The report did not identify any of the companies but said an NSA program called Silverzephyr was used to access phone calls, faxes and emails.
O Globo also reported this week that the CIA and the NSA jointly ran monitoring stations to gather information from foreign satellites in 65 countries, including five in Latin America, citing documents dating from 2002 leaked by Snowden.
The so-called Special Collection Service operated from the capitals of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. The newspaper said it was not known whether the alleged satellite espionage continued after 2002. (Additional reporting by Jeferson Ribeiro in Brasilia, Terry Wade in Lima, Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires and Pablo Garibian in Mexico City; Editing by W Simon, Kieran Murray and Philip Barbara)