Creative Commons-licensed Photo by paulcapewell

Former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden wrote a letter to Brazil informing the country that, without an offer of permanent asylum, he would not be able to speak to the government about US surveillance because of his legal situation.

He explained that Brazilian senators had asked for his assistance with investigations into “suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.”

“I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so — going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America!,” Snowden stated.

“Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.”

Snowden recalled, while working for the NSA, he witnessed, “with growing alarm,” how the agency was placing “whole populations” under surveillance “without any suspicion of wrongdoing.”

“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,” Snowden argued.

“These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

Addressing spying on Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, he added, “The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own ‘safety’-for Dilma’s ‘safety,’ for Petrobras’ “safety”-they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.”

Snowden informed Brazilians that the NSA is keeping track of their location if they are carrying a cell phone. “They do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world.”

“When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. 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,” he explained. “They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.”

In September, Brazil president Dilma Rousseff criticized the National Security Agency when documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed in September that the NSA had likely targeted and intercepted her communications and the NSA had operated a program that collected data on “billions of emails and calls flowing through Brazil.”

She was further outraged when it was made public that the NSA had hacked into Petrobras. She said if hacking had taken place this would be industrial espionage. A visit to Washington, DC, to meet with President Barack Obama was postponed and she delivered a speech at the UN General Assembly, where she scathingly condemned US surveillance as a “breach of international law.”

For the purposes of keeping his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden does not address the Brazilian government and request permanent asylum. Journalist Glenn Greenwald says that is, however, what he would like the country to offer him.

Yesterday, Snowden was vindicated for blowing the whistle on an NSA program collecting and storing the phone records of all Americans when a federal judge ruled it infringed upon Americans’ privacy.
“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Richard Leon concluded.

In his letter, Snowden mentioned that six months ago the “NSA wanted to listen to the whole world.” But now “the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too. And the NSA does not like what it’s hearing.”

“The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing.”

Later in the letter, he declared, “The tide has turned, and we can finally see a future where we can enjoy security without sacrificing our privacy. Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organization, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens.”

His government made him stateless and tried to imprison him, he said. They revoked his passport, but Snowden would do it again. “I would rather be without a state than without a voice,” he said.

“If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.”