MOSCOW/HAVANA – New reports emerged Sunday of U.S. spying efforts around the world as fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden remained holed up in a Russian airport seeking an escape route to Latin America.
Snowden remained hidden in a Moscow airport transit zone for the 15th day on Sunday, but was back in the press with claims that the U.S. National Security Agency operated broad spying partnerships with other Western governments that are now complaining about its programs and intercepted millions of phone calls and emails in Brazil.
Snowden told Germany’s Der Spiegel that NSA spies were “in bed together with the Germans and most other Western states,” in an interview the newsweekly said was conducted before the 30-year-old former NSA contractor began his string of high-profile leaks last month.
In remarks published in German, Snowden said an NSA department known as the Foreign Affairs Directorate coordinated work with foreign secret services.
The partnerships are organized so that authorities in other countries can “insulate their political leaders from the backlash” if it becomes public “how grievously they’re violating global privacy,” he said.
Brazilian daily O Globo, meanwhile, said the NSA spied on Brazilian residents and companies as well as people traveling in Brazil, citing documents obtained from Snowden. “Exact figures are not available, but last January, Brazil was just behind the United States, where 2.3 billion phone calls and messages were spied on,” the newspaper said.
O Globo said the documents described a program called Fairview in which the NSA partnered with a major U.S. phone company to gain access to the systems of overseas companies with which the U.S. firm had relationships.
“The NSA used the Fairview program to directly access the Brazilian telecommunications system. That access allowed it to collect detailed records of phone calls and emails from millions of people, companies and institutions,” the paper said. Brazil considers the allegation “extremely serious,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tovar Nunes said.
The new reports came as Snowden faced the logistical nightmare of escaping Russia for a safe haven in Latin America after the leftist leaders of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua all offered him asylum.
One of Russia’s most senior lawmakers suggested Sunday that Snowden should accept an offer extended to him by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
“Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden,” said parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Alexei Pushkov.
“This may be his last chance to get asylum,” he tweeted.
But Snowden’s options are limited because the only flights to Latin America are routed through Cuba, and pass through European airspace, where there is no guarantee that a jet carrying Snowden would not be stopped and searched.
President Raul Castro threw his support behind other leftist Latin American governments willing to give asylum to Snowden, calling him a man persecuted for his ideals. Castro, however, made no reference as to whether Cuba itself would offer him refuge or safe passage.