Reports that the US spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras, if proven, would be tantamount to industrial espionage and have no security justification, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Monday.
Brazil’s Globo television network reported on Sunday that the US National Security Agency (NSA) hacked into the computer networks of Petrobras and other companies, including Google Inc, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The report came as Brazil is preparing to auction rights to tap some of the largest oil finds in the world in recent decades, deposits trapped under a salt layer off its Atlantic coast. State-run Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company and a source of national pride, made the discoveries in recent years and will be a mandatory partner in developing all of the new deep-sea fields.
The Globo report added tension to relations between Washington and Brasilia already strained by previous disclosures of NSA spying on Internet communications in Brazil, including e-mail messages and telephone calls of Rousseff herself.
An angry Rousseff has repeatedly demanded an explanation. At stake is a state visit by Rousseff to the White House on Oct. 23 to meet US President Barack Obama and discuss a possible US$4 billion jet fighter deal, cooperation on oil and biofuel technology, as well as other commercial agreements.
“If the facts reported by the press are confirmed, it will be evident that the motive for the spying attempts is not security or the war on terrorism, but strategic economic interests,” Rousseff said in a statement.
The US government has said the secret Internet surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden in June are aimed at monitoring suspected terrorist activity and do not look at the content of private messages or telephone calls.
“Clearly, Petrobras is not a threat to the security of any country,” Rousseff said, adding that the company is one of the world’s largest oil assets and belongs to the Brazilian people.
Brazil will take steps to protect itself, its government and its companies, Rousseff said, without elaborating. She said such espionage and interception of data were illegal and had no place in the relations between two democratic nations.
On Friday, Obama met with Rousseff during a summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies in St Petersburg, Russia, and pledged to look into the reports that the NSA had snooped on her personal communications and those of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto when he was still a candidate.
She said Obama had promised her a reply by today.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo is scheduled to meet in Washington on the same day with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Brazilian officials said.
Globo did not say when the alleged spying took place, what data might have been gathered or what exactly the NSA may have been seeking. The TV report showed slides from an NSA presentation, dated May last year, that it said was used to show new agents how to spy on private computer networks.
In addition to Google and Petrobras, the presentation suggested the NSA had tapped into systems operated by the French foreign ministry and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, an international bank cooperative known as Swift, through which many cross-border financial transactions take place.
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