RIO DE JANEIRO – Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency now living temporarily in Russia, said in comments published Tuesday that he was prepared to assist Brazilian investigations into U.S. spying in Brazil. But he said he could not speak freely until a country granted him permanent political asylum, which he requested from Brazil months ago.
Snowden, whose disclosures of NSA surveillance practices have shaken Washington’s relations with an array of countries, made his comments in an “open letter” published in a Brazilian newspaper, Folha de So Paulo, in which he described the agency’s activities as potentially “the greatest human rights challenge of our time.”
Brazil, a leading target of the NSA’s activities, has already reacted angrily over the spying, which included surveillance of President Dilma Rousseff, her inner circle of senior advisers and Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company.
Rousseff called off a state visit to Washington in October after the revelations of the NSA’s operations in Brazil. She’s also pushing the United Nations to give citizens more protections against spying.
Since the revelations, Brazilian legislators have pressed ahead with inquiries into spying by the United States, relying to a large degree on news reports and testimony by Glenn Greenwald, the U.S. journalist to whom Snowden leaked NSA documents.
David Miranda, the domestic partner of Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, has helped lead an effort to obtain asylum in Brazil for Snowden, who is now in Russia on a one-year visa.
“He deserves thanks for what he’s done, not a life in prison,” Miranda said, referring to the legal challenges Snowden faces.
Miranda has recently been working with Avaaz, a global human-rights group, to get signatures in support of Snowden’s asylum request in Brazil.
In his letter, Snowden referred to the spying on Rousseff, who as president decides on granting asylum to foreigners, and to NSA surveillance of ordinary Brazilians who may be having extramarital affairs or viewing pornography, activities that could then be used to hurt their reputations.
“American senators tell us that Brazil should not worry,” Snowden wrote. “They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong.”
Snowden continued: “These programs were never about terrorism: They’re about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
A spokeswoman for Rousseff declined to comment on Snowden’s letter and his request for asylum in Brazil, which he had sought in July, when he also requested asylum in other countries.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry press office said that it was monitoring the reaction to Snowden’s letter but that it was “not suitable for the Brazilian government nor the Foreign Ministry to respond.”
Another spokesman said that Snowden had not yet made an official asylum request, as his original request was made in a faxed letter without a signature.
Venezuela and Bolivia have offered asylum to Snowden, but it is unclear whether their offers meet his conditions. In his letter, he referred to the refusal in July by several European nations to allow the plane of Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, into their airspace amid suspicions that Snowden was on board.
In Brazil, a Senate committee investigating the NSA’s activities convened on Tuesday, with prominent senators expressing support for giving asylum to Snowden.
Sen. Vanessa Grazziotin, who heads the Senate panel investigating U.S. espionage in Brazil, said Snowden’s letter shows that “he wants to cooperate, but without imposing any conditions.”
“His help would be more than helpful, but it all must be done in such a way so as not to jeopardize our relationship with the United States,” she said in a phone interview. “I personally defend the idea that Brazil should grant Snowden political asylum for humanitarian reasons only, not in exchange for information.”