NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seeks “permanent political asylum” in Brazil

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden today published an open letter seeking “permanent political asylum” in Brazil.  

Snowden, whose disclosures about NSA’s wide-reaching phone and Internet surveillance programs in the U.S. and abroad have sparked intense public debates about what’s the proper balance between protecting national security and privacy, offered to assist the Brazilian government in investigating the NSA’s spying of communications between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top aides.

“Many Brazilian senators…have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens,” wrote Snowden in the letter published in Folha de S.Paulo. “I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful.”

Snowden, who remains in Russia where he has been granted temporary asylum after his U.S. passport was revoked, argued that NSA’s mass surveillance programs have little to do with detecting terrorist threats.

“They’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power,” he wrote. “There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement –where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion – and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever.”

Snowden has also revealed NSA’s interception of communications of foreign leaders, many of whom are U.S. allies, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. These revelations have hurt U.S. diplomatic relations with Brazil, Germany, Mexico, and other allies.

Read more: Documents released by Edward Snowden reveal NSA surveillance on Germany & European allies

In her speech before the U.N. General Assembly in September, Rousseff angrily denounced NSA’s surveillance of Brazilian officials, citizens, and corporations.

“Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations,” said Rousseff. “A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.”

Rousseff proposed the establishment of a new global legal system governing the use of the Internet, overseen by the U.N., that would ensure “freedom of expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights”.

In a sign of how damaging Snowden’s disclosures have been for the NSA, a long-time agency official told CBS’s 60 Minutes news program that it’s worth considering granting Snowden asylum in exchange for the safe return of the 1.7 million classified documents to prevent more leaks.

“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about. I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part,” said Rick Ledgett, 25-year veteran of the NSA who is leading the agency’s task force on assessing the damage of the Snowden disclosures.

However, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander, who considers Snowden a “traitor”, is opposed to making a deal with the former systems administrator.

“This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, ‘If you give me full amnesty I’ll let the other 40 go.’ What do you do?,” Alexander told CBS News. “I think people have to be held accountable for their actions.”

The White House said the U.S. will not consider granting asylum for Snowden despite more embarrassing disclosures and growing pressure from lawmakers and industry groups to reform U.S. government surveillance.

“Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information, and he faces felony charges here in the United States.  He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protections in our system.  So that’s our position and it has not changed,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

According to Reuters, the Brazilian government won’t consider granting Snowden asylum until it has received a formal request from him.

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