About a week ago, we found out that the NSA has been spying quite thoroughly on our European allies. Well, the snooping on our (supposed) allies doesn't stop there. As the Washington Post recently reported: "A Brazilian newspaper on Tuesday published an article ... based on documents provided by the former American contractor Edward Snowden asserting that the United States has been collecting data on telephone calls and emails from several countries in Latin America, including important allies such as Brazil, Colombia and Mexico."
O Globo, a popular paper based in Rio de Janeiro, wrote that Snowden's documents reveal the NSA collected security and military secrets on hostile nations like Venezuela. Such collection would be par for the course in international espionage, except for two things. First, collection went far beyond military and government secrets; U.S. spying penetrated the financial sector as well, collecting inside commercial information on Venezuela's oil industry and Mexico's energy sector. Second, some of the most thorough spying was done on allies like Brazil and Colombia.
Unfortunately, the U.S. response to the O Globo report was similar to its response to allegations of NSA spying on Europe: utter silence aside from a terse statement that “we have been clear that the United States does gather foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
The Tuesday O Globo report came after Brazilian outrage over the weekend when the country initially learned that it has been a major target of the NSA’s telecommunications collections program. In response to the first reports of snooping, Brazil's president called on the United States to explain why and how intelligence agencies have been examining "millions" of Brazilian phone records and emails. As far as I know, she has not yet received a sufficient answer to her concerns.
No doubt, these revelations will provide more fuel for Snowden's quest for asylum, especially because even before the O Globo reports the region already seemed receptive to Snowden. Indeed, the reports coincided with Russian reports that Snowden had accepted Venezuela's asylum offer.
The revelations have the potential to fuel even more outrage in Latin America because of the region's unique past. During the Cold War, the U.S. directly supported dictatorships notorious for warrantless wiretapping and illegal surveillance.
Faced with all this outrage from Mexico and Brazil, I can't help but wonder whether our NSA programs in Latin America have uncovered anything that will be worth the long-term diplomatic damage.