Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Americas: Update--Fallout from Snowden Disclosures, Focus on Flawed Background Checks

According to Reuters, Latin American governments urged the US on  Wednesday (July 10) to be more forthcoming in answering allegations of US global spying efforts that have set off a wave of outrage that could damage Washington's standing in the Amerícas, if not the world.

Colombia, Washington's closest military ally in Latin America, joined the chorus of governments seeking reassurances from Washington that cyber surveillance programs to monitor Internet traffic on a global scale do not infringe on privacy laws in the region's countries.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said it would be "totally unacceptable" if it were revealed that the US had spied on in its neighbor and largest Latin American business partner.

Also, a leading Brazilian newspaper reported on Tuesday (July 9) that the National Security Agency (NSA) targeted most Latin American countries with the secret spying programs, citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former US intelligence contractor.

In Brasilía, the United States' largest trading partner in South America, angry senators questioned a state visit that President Dilma Rousseff plans to make to Washington in October, and the potential billion-dollar purchase of US-made fighter jets that Brazil has been considering.

One senator even said that Brazil should offer Snowden asylum for providing information of vital importance to the country's national security. Another senator said the hunted American should be offered Brazilian citizenship.
COMMENT: Latin America's concern surfaced one week after South American nations fumed about the diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane in Europe because of the suspicion that Snowden was on board.

As anger mounts in the region, the MERCOSUR trade bloc plans to issue a tough response at a meeting in Uruguay on Friday (July 12).

"We're going to be very firm ... the United States has to show some respect to the sovereignty of Latin America and when spying is discovered, it should be punished," Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said in an interview with RADIO DEL PLATA. "What is striking is just how massive the US spying is and how unskilled they are at keeping it a secret,"Timerman emphasized.

"In rejecting the acts of espionage that violate people's rights to privacy as well as the international conventions on telecommunication, Colombia requests the corresponding explanations from the United States government through its ambassador to Colombia," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Other countries across the region have used tougher language in condemning what some have called a violation of their sovereignty and a trampling of individuals' rights to privacy.

Brazil's government said it would seek further explanations from the United States as it investigates the spying allegations. Rousseff's office said in a statement that any person or company found to be involved would be prosecuted.

Given the outage expressed by a number of Latin American nations, it would have served Washington well to have met with Latin American leaders prior to their global data-mining program that seemingly captures email and telephone communications on a global level.

Although the data captured no doubt is focused largely on trans-national terrorism, countries on whom data has been collected should have been discreetly briefed on the program as a courtesy, even though full details of the effort cannot be disclosed to all nations.

A major risk for countries involved is the lingering question as to whether the data is collected and retained for more nefarious purposes, which has to be going through the minds of some global leaders. 

Even though there is an inherent risk in sharing the cyber surveillance effort to broadly, Washington should have discreetly shared the program's existence with trusted allies.

Most notably, despite Washington's sophisticated cyber tracking resources and assets, the reality is that the US was grossly deficient in affording high-level national security access to a contractor whose underlying motive was to steal sensitive government information and release it. Was he not investigated thoroughly?