NSA whistleblower says in letter he is willing to help in wake of revelations that President Dilma Rousseff’s phone was hacked
Edward Snowden has offered to help Brazil investigate US spying on its soil in exchange for political asylum, in an open letter from the NSA whistleblower to the Brazilian people published by the Folha de S Paulo newspaper.
“I’ve expressed my willingness to assist where it’s appropriate and legal, but, unfortunately, the US government has been working hard to limit my ability to do so,” Snowden said in the letter.
“Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out,” he said.
Snowden – currently living in Russia, where he has been granted a year’s asylum until next summer – said he had been impressed by the Brazilian government’s strong criticism of the NSA spy programme targeting internet and telecommunications worldwide, including monitoring the mobile phone of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff.
Rousseff has been one of the most vocal critics of the spying revealed by Snowden. In September she launched a blistering attack on US espionage at the UN general assembly, with Barack Obama waiting in the wings to speak to next.
The following month, she cancelled a visit to Washington that was to include a state dinner, and she has joined Germany in pushing for the UN to adopt a symbolic resolution that seeks to extend personal privacy rights to all people.
Rousseff has also ordered her government to take measures including laying fibre-optic lines directly to Europe and South American nations in an effort to “divorce” Brazil from the US-centric backbone of the internet that experts say has facilitated NSA spying.
Brazilian senators have asked for Snowden’s help during hearings about the NSA programme’s aggressive targeting of Brazil, an important transit hub for transatlantic fibre-optic cables.
In his letter, Snowden used Brazilian examples to explain the extent of the US surveillance he had revealed. “Today, if you carry a cellphone in São Paulo, the NSA can track where you are, and it does – it does so 5bn times a day worldwide.
“When a person in Florianópolis visits a website, the NSA keeps track of when it happened and what they did on that site. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck with his exam, the NSA can save the data for five years or longer. The agency can keep records of who has an affair or visits porn sites, in case it needs to damage the reputations of its targets.”
He added: “Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now the whole world is listening, and also talking back. And the NSA does not like what it is hearing.”
Snowden’s offer comes a day after the White House dashed hopes that the US might be considering an amnesty for the whistleblower, insisting he should still return to the US to stand trial.
Asked about weekend comments by senior NSA official Richard Ledgett suggesting that an amnesty was “worth talking about” if Snowden returned the missing NSA documents, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “Our position has not changed on that matter – at all. He [Ledgett] was expressing his personal opinion; these decisions are made by the Department of Justice.”
Also on Monday a US district judge ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records probably violates the US constitution’s ban on unreasonable search. The case is likely to go all the way the supreme court for a final decision. Snowden responded to that decision with a public statement that said: “Today, a secret program authorised by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
The Guardian first published accounts of the NSA’s spy programmes in June, based on some of the thousands of documents Snowden handed over to the Brazil-based American journalist Glenn Greenwald and his reporting partner Laura Poitras, a US filmmaker.
Early morning calls to Brazil’s presidential office and to the foreign ministry for comment were not answered.
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