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Continued: Ecuador heats up anti-US talk as Obama cools discussion of Snowden

  • Article by: JULIE PACE , Associated Press
  • Last update: June 27, 2013 - 8:27 PM

Embarrassment for the Obama administration over the surveillance revelations continued as documents disclosed Thursday showed the Obama administration gathered U.S. citizens' Internet data until 2011, continuing a spying program started under President George W. Bush that revealed whom Americans exchanged emails with and the Internet Protocol address of their computer.

The National Security Agency ended the program that collected email logs and timing, but not content, in 2011 because it decided it didn't effectively stop terrorist plots, according to the NSA's director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command. He said all data was purged in 2011.

Britain's Guardian newspaper on Thursday released documents detailing the collection, though the program was also described earlier this month by The Washington Post.

The U.S. administration was expected to decide by Monday what export privileges to grant Ecuador under the Generalized System of Preferences, a program meant to spur development and growth in poorer countries.

Although the deadline was set long before the Snowden affair, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Thursday that Ecuador's application to add a handful of products such as artichokes and cut flowers — the latter a major industry here — would not be decided immediately but would remain pending. That gives the U.S. additional leverage over Ecuador while Snowden's fate remains uncertain.

More broadly, a larger trade pact allowing reduced tariffs on more than $5 billion in annual exports to the U.S. is up for congressional renewal before July 21. While approval of the Andean Trade Preference Act has long been seen as doubtful in Washington, Ecuador has been lobbying strongly for its renewal.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged to lead an effort to block extension of U.S. tariff benefits if Ecuador grants asylum to Snowden, who turned 30 last week. Nearly half of Ecuador's billions a year in foreign trade depends on the United States.

The Obama administration said Thursday that accepting Snowden would damage the overall relationship between the two countries and analysts said it was almost certain that granting the leaker asylum would lead the U.S. to cut roughly $30 million a year in military and law enforcement assistance.

Granting asylum to Snowden would cause "great difficulties in our bilateral relationship," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "If they take that step, that would have very negative repercussions."

Alvarado, the communications minister, said his country rejects economic "blackmail" in the form of threats against the trade measures.

"The preferences were authorized for Andean countries as compensation for the fight against drugs, but soon became a new instrument of pressure," he said. "As a result, Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferences."

Alvarado did not explicitly mention the separate effort to win trade benefits under the presidential order.

He did suggest, however, how the U.S. could use the money saved from Ecuadorean tariffs to train government employees to respect citizens' rights.

"Ecuador offers the United States $23 million a year in economic aid, an amount similar to what we were receiving under the tariff benefits, with the purpose of providing human rights training that will contribute to avoid violations of people's privacy, that degrade humanity," he said.

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