Edward Snowden reaches out to Brazil, hints at asylum request

Edward Snowden revealed alleged U.S. spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, causing a chill in relations between the two countries. Above, Rousseff at a ceremony at the presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has published a lengthy “open letter to the people of Brazil,” saying he has been inspired by the reaction around the world to his revelations, and lamenting that he can’t fully assist the South American nation’s investigations into spying without being granted permanent political asylum.

“Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak,” he wrote in the letter published by Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

Snowden, who is living in Russia on a one-year visa, had previously sought asylum in Brazil, among other nations. In November, he wrote a letter that he gave to a German lawmaker, asking international help to persuade the U.S. government to drop its espionage case against him.

Although a senior NSA official suggested last week that the U.S. should consider cutting a deal with Snowden, the White House said Monday that the fugitive should return to the U.S. to face felony charges.

In the most recent letter, Snowden makes reference to alleged spying on Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and on state-run oil company Petrobras, as revealed by documents he took from NSA. Those revelations were published after Snowden took refuge in Russia and led to a falling-out between Rousseff and the Obama administration.


In September, Rousseff canceled an official visit to Washington as a result of the reports, and Brazilian lawmakers have attempted to meet with Snowden. Some members of Brazil’s government have called for Snowden to be granted asylum.

A spokesman for Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, who declined to be identified, citing official policy, told The Times that the government had no official statement to make on Snowden’s letter, as it had not received any recent, formal request for asylum. He said that Brazil did receive an official request previously, but “decided not to consider it.”

Asked if Brazil would consider a new request, he said, the government “cannot speak about hypothetical situations.”

In his letter, Snowden said of his leaks: “I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.”

He added: “My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.”

Snowden said that in response to queries by Brazilian senators he has expressed willingness to assist, “wherever appropriate and lawful,” Brazil’s “investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.”

Since Snowden’s identity was first revealed in June, a number of reports have been published in Brazilian media, co-authored by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Brazil. In addition to allegations of spying on Rousseff and Petrobras, they revealed alleged details of U.S. spying on Brazilian citizens.

“Today, if you carry a cellphone in [Sao Paulo], the NSA can and does keep track of your location: They do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world,” Snowden wrote. “If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more.”

Revelations about spying have also led Brazil to consider passing a controversial law that would require foreign companies such as Facebook and Google to keep their data on Brazilian soil, and thus subject to Brazilian rather than U.S. law.

On Monday, a judge in the United States said that wholesale collection of Americans’ phone records probably violates the U.S. Constitution.

Snowden said that the culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance is “collapsing.”

“There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement -- where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion -- and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever,” he wrote. “These programs were never about terrorism: They’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”