The NSA's interception of billions of telephone conversations, emails, Internet searches and other forms of communication made by Latin American individuals, companies and government agencies has provoked a wave of protests and demands for explanations by the Obama administration.
Snowden, the source of the secret documents, remained confined to the transit zone of Moscow's international airport Wednesday, with conflicting reports about the prospect of his finding asylum in Venezuela or elsewhere.
According to the documents reported in the Rio de Janeiro-based daily O Globo, the most intensive surveillance has been conducted against both US allies -- including Brazil, Colombia and Mexico -- and against Venezuela, whose bourgeois nationalist regime has in the past come into conflict with US aims in the region.
Also subjected to the NSA surveillance net have been Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Peru and El Salvador, according to the O Globo report.
The spying has involved two programs: PRISM, which collates email, Internet chats, searches and other material directly from the servers of IT companies such as Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Skype; and "Boundless Informant," which collects telephone calls, faxes and other communications.
Also in use has been a program code-named Silverzephyr, which an NSA power-point slide explains is aimed at "accessing lines for information transmission through a partner," referring to an unnamed private corporation with access to satellites, telephone networks and data transmission systems.
The revelation that telephone and Internet communications in numerous Latin American countries have been exposed to constant surveillance by the NSA has given the lie to US officials who have defended the agency's wholesale spying on the populations of both the US itself and other countries as a necessary weapon in the so-called war on terror.
There is no evidence that the countries subjected to this spying were the source of terrorist threats against the US. Moreover, as the documents made public by Snowden make clear, much of the US surveillance has been directed at uncovering "commercial secrets," arms purchases and other matters designed to further the interests of US-based banks and corporations in their struggle to dominate the region's economies.
"One aspect that stands out in the documents is that...the United States doesn't appear interested in military affairs alone, but also in trade secrets -- 'oil' in Venezuela, and 'energy' in Mexico, according to a list produced by the NSA in the first quarter of this year," O Globo reported.
In its surveillance of Venezuelan communications, for example, the NSA has focused both on military procurements and the oil sector, while conducting intense spying operations following the death of President Hugo Chavez, who headed the country's government for 14 years.
In Mexico, in addition to a focus on drug trafficking, the surveillance has been directed at securing information on energy policy and deals.
Significantly, among those protesting the spying operation was the Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most powerful business lobby. Paulo Skaf, the president of the federation, said that "any espionage is condemnable and an abuse, whether it is against individuals or against companies, no matter what government commits it." He added that the US government should be compelled to "make some kind of reparation."
The NSA documents make clear that Colombia, which is Washington's closest ally in the region, receiving more military aid than any other countries save Israel and Egypt, has trailed only Brazil and Mexico as a target for US espionage. Even the right-wing government of President Juan Manuel Santos found itself compelled to issue a formal protest.
Mexico's government demanded that Washington provide "ample information" on its spying operation and affirmed that "relations between countries must be conducted with respect and observance of legal frameworks," while "energetically condemning any deviation from this practice."
Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, declared that she "felt a shiver going down my spine when we learned that they are spying on us all through their services in Brazil."
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