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Glenn Greenwald: "Rogue" Actions of U.S. in Snowden Row Yield Latin American Offers of Asylum

StoryJuly 08, 2013
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Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have opened the door to granting asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden in a standoff with the United States. The offers came after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria after France and Portugal barred it from their airspace over false suspicions that Snowden was on board. The United States has refused to confirm or deny whether it was responsible. We discuss the latest with Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA surveillance story based on Snowden’s leaks last month. In his latest scoop, Greenwald has revealed the NSA has systematically tapped into Brazil’s telecommunication network and indiscriminately intercepted, collected and stored the email and telephone records of millions of Brazilians for years. "The U.S. government has been its own worst enemy in this entire episode," Greenwald says. "The idea they would pressure their European allies to block the plane carrying a president of a sovereign state is a really radical and extreme act. It smacks of rogue nation status and the kind of imperialism and colonialism that Latin America has long chafed at. I think that’s the reason you’re seeing so much support for Snowden in Latin American governments and among the populations as well."

Watch Part 2 of Interview: Glenn Greenwald: Edward Snowden 'Satisfied' by Global Outrage over U.S. Surveillance Operations

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end our show by looking at the international saga unfolding around Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked documents about the U.S. secret domestic and global surveillance programs. Bolivia is the latest country to join Venezuela and Nicaragua in offering Snowden asylum. The decision came shortly after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria after France and Portugal barred it from their airspace over false suspicions Snowden was on board. Bolivia’s defense minister later blamed the White House for Morales’s forced landing in Austria, calling it an act of U.S. sabotage. On Saturday, Morales said Snowden is welcome in Bolivia.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] As a justified protest, I would like to tell you, my brothers and sisters, that we will now give him asylum if he asks for it. He is being persecuted by his compatriots. We are not afraid. I was being accused of transporting that agent, the former CIA agent, who discovered and informed how the United States government illegally controlled us. I only knew about the ex-CIA agent named Edward Snowden through the media. I want to tell you that, as a justified protest, if he legally requests it, we will give him asylum, so that we may get information on exactly how the United States government controlled us. Let the world know that the politically persecuted, to those who are persecuted for denouncing espionage carried out by the United States—I want the United States government and some European countries to know that we will give him asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, Nicaragua and Venezuela announced they were also willing to grant asylum to Snowden. President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua said, quote, "We have the sovereign right to help a person who felt remorse after finding out how the United States was using technology to spy on the whole world, and especially its European allies." President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela made the announcement during a ceremony to celebrate his Venezuela’s Independence Day.

PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] I announce to the governments of the friendly nations in the world that we have decided to offer the international humanitarian right to asylum to protect this young Snowden from the persecution that has been unleashed from the most powerful imperialist in the world against a young man who only spoke the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuban President Raúl Castro made his first public statements on Snowden, voicing support for countries that have offered the NSA leaker asylum. Castro did not clarify if Cuba would formally grant asylum to Snowden.

PRESIDENT RAÚL CASTRO: [translated] We back the sovereign right of the republic of Bolivia and Venezuela and all of the states of Latin America to give asylum to those persecuted for their ideals or struggles for democracy, according to our tradition.

AMY GOODMAN: Edward Snowden has asked for asylum in more than 20 countries, a number of which have already rejected his application.

While Snowden remains holed up at a Moscow airport, news outlets are continuing to report on Snowden’s leaks. Over the weekend, journalist Glenn Greenwald reported on how the NSA has systematically tapped into the Brazilian telecommunication network and indiscriminately intercepted, collected and stored the email and telephone records of millions of Brazilians for years. The story follows an article in Der Spiegel last week detailing the NSA’s mass and indiscriminate collection of the electronic communications of millions of Germans.

For more, we go to Brazil, where we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian who broke the NSA leaker story, to begin with.

Glenn, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t we start off by talking about the developments over the weekend—and then we’ll go to your latest revelations—about the countries that have offered Edward Snowden asylum? What happened to Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, whose plane was forced down in Austria because it was believed Snowden was on board?

GLENN GREENWALD: I think that the United States government has been its own worst enemy in this entire episode. The idea that they would pressure their European allies to block the plane carrying a president of a sovereign state from flying over their countries and force it to land, rather dangerously, in a country it had no intention of landing in, simply because they wanted to deny Edward Snowden the international well-established right to seek asylum, is a really radical and extreme act. It just smacks of rogue nation status and of the kind of imperialism and colonialism that Latin America has long chafed at. And I think that’s the reason you’re seeing so much support for Snowden in Latin American governments and among the populations, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And what you have revealed, as you continue to reveal information that you got from Edward Snowden when you met with him in Hong Kong and, of course, before the documents that he’s released?

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So I partnered with the Brazilian daily newspaper, O Globo, one of the largest in Brazil, the largest in Rio de Janeiro, to report that the NSA is systematically tapping into the telecommunication systems of Brazil and intercepting, storing and monitoring millions upon millions of telephone calls and emails of ordinary Brazilians, the kind of bulk discriminatory—nondiscriminatory collection of communications that we reported was taking place in the United States, as well. The largest Brazilian television show last night, Fantástico, did a long segment on this, as well. It’s become really quite a political controversy in this country. The Brazilian government is indignant. That was the word they used to describe the president of Brazil’s reaction, Dilma Rousseff. And they’re now demanding responses from the United States government. And there are several more stories to come, both today and tomorrow, about NSA spying in Brazil and, more broadly, in Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the significance of these continued revelations. And what surprised you most, Glenn—you’re an American citizen; you live in Brazil—about these latest revelations around Brazil? Of course, before that, the revelations around the spying on the European Union and the community, that has angered so many in the EU?

GLENN GREENWALD: I think this is really the critical point that has to be understood. The reason that Edward Snowden came forward, the reason that we’re reporting on this so aggressively, is because—and this is not hyperbole in any way; it’s a purely accurate description—the NSA is in the process, in total secrecy, with no accountability, of constructing a global, ubiquitous surveillance system that has as its goal the elimination of privacy worldwide, so that there can be no electronic communications—by telephone, Internet, email, chat—that is beyond the reach of the United States government. They are attempting to collect and store and monitor all of it, and that they can invade it at any time they want, no matter who you are or where you are on the planet. This has very profound implications for the kind of world in which we live, for the kind of relationship the United States has to the rest of the world, the way in which individuals feel free to communicate with one another, use the Internet. And that, I think, is why the story is resonating as much as it is.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the Latin American countries being the only ones so far to offer asylum? I was just speaking to the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, who was saying, "Here is the EU outraged by the information that’s come out on spying on these intergovernmental bodies and countries, and yet which European country is offering asylum to Edward Snowden?" You just mentioned that you’ll be revealing information more broadly about spying on Latin America. Can you give us a preview?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, the EU leaders have been completely disgraceful, pretending to be angry and then blocking the planes at the behest of the U.S. government, the government spying on them, to prevent the person who revealed this all from getting asylum. But as I said, this is a worldwide, ubiquitous, global surveillance net. They are sweeping up all electronic communications that they can, not just in Brazil, but in Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico. Pretty much every country in Latin America is targeted by this bulk, indiscriminate collection, so that people in those countries have virtually no privacy. And I think the indignation in Latin America, unlike on the part of the European leaders, is very real and will have genuine and serious repercussions.

AMY GOODMAN: Times reporting, "In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say." Your response to that revelation this weekend in The New York Times?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it shows what a complete joke the argument has been from NSA defenders in the Democratic Party that there is robust oversight on this surveillance. What you actually have is a completely warped and undemocratic institution, this court that meets in complete secrecy, where only the government is allowed to attend. And unlike previously, when it really was confined to just issuing individual warrants about particular targets of terrorism, it is now issuing sweeping, broad opinions defining the contours of our constitutional liberties, of the Fourth Amendment, of the government’s power to spy on us—and it’s all being done in secret. What kind of a country has a court that defines the Constitution in total secrecy and forces us to live under truly secret law in which the government can do all sorts of things to us that we’re not even aware of, that it’s claiming the right to do and being given the power to do it? So I think the New York Times article highlighted what has long been known about the joke called the FISA court, but it’s good to see The New York Times doing some reporting on these stories and hopefully bringing some more attention to this.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, I want to ask you a few more questions just after we wrap this broadcast. We’ll link to it at, part two, Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian newspaper.

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