BRASILIA: U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden offered to help Brazil defeat U.S. spying Tuesday but in an open letter said he needed permanent political asylum to do so.
The move was widely interpreted as a request for asylum in Brazil, including by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that published the letter in both English and Portuguese.
Snowden, by downloading a vast trove of classified documents while working as an intelligence contractor for the NSA, has revealed a vast NSA program that culls information from telephone calls and emails around the world, including in Brazil.
In the letter, he writes that U.S. officials justify the actions by saying they aim “to keep you safe.”
But, he says, “these programs were never about terrorism: They’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
Now, he insists, “the tide is turning.”
“Now, the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too.”
“The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing.”
Snowden avoids directly requesting asylum from Brazil in the letter, but he notes that Brazilian senators “have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.”
Snowden says he is willing to help “wherever appropriate and lawful,” but “unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so.”
“Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak,” he says.
Folha said his goal is in fact to come to Brazil. Glenn Greenwald, who has written about many of the documents released by Snowden, is based in Brazil. The Latin American country has a long tradition of granting asylum.
Greenwald’s partner, Brazilian journalist David Miranda, began a campaign last month in support of an asylum request there.
“ Brazil is one of the rare countries with the strength to give him asylum,” Miranda told AFP Tuesday.
He said Snowden had written the letter in response to questions over why he was not cooperating with the Brazil probe.
“It’s clear that he can’t do it while he doesn’t have permanent asylum,” Miranda said.
But the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it had not “received any official request” for asylum from Snowden. In July, the ex-contractor had informally requested asylum from a number of countries, including Brazil, before Russia granted him a yearlong visa.
In the letter to Brazilians, Snowden praises Brazil’s fierce reaction to news that it was among those the NSA spied on. President Dilma Rousseff canceled a visit to Washington in October after learning of it and helped sponsor a U.N. resolution aimed at protecting “online” human rights.
Rousseff’s cellphone was monitored by the U.S. surveillance program, as were the state oil company Petrobras and everyday Brazilian citizens.
Snowden’s apparent bid for Brazil asylum was also quickly supported by rights group Avaaz. “Snowden is now trapped alone in Russia on a short-term visa. Brazil could offer him the hero’s welcome he deserves,” Avaaz director Michael Mohallem said.