Another US spying problem in Latin America: The DEA

Relations between the U.S. and Brazil have been in the doghouse since documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that Brazil was one of the biggest targets of NSA spying. The abuses included mass collection of millions of Brazilians’ email and phone records, spying on President Dilma Rousseff’s personal communications, and targeting the computer systems of Brazil's Petrobras – the latter with obvious commercial benefits for U.S. corporations.

Rousseff summed it all up rather succinctly in a blunt speech at the United Nations last September, denouncing “a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.”

But now, thanks to additional leaked documents described by Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras in The Intercept, we find there is another U.S. agency working with the NSA that poses similar threats: the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).  According to the documents, there is a “two-way information sharing relationship” between the DEA and NSA:  it’s not just the NSA helping the DEA catch drug traffickers, but also the DEA helping NSA with its non-drug-related spying programs.

From the Intercept: “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent …“Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”

Selander added that “countries let us in because they don’t view us, really, as a spy organization.”

This is potentially an even bigger breach of diplomatic trust than the NSA spying that Rousseff denounced at the U.N.  Governments allow the DEA access to military, police and intelligence resources – sometimes including phone-tapping -- as part of a collaborative effort with the United States to fight organized crime. They do not expect that by doing so they are unwittingly assisting the NSA and the enormous U.S. intelligence apparatus with unauthorized spying for political or commercial purposes.

Meanwhile in Brazil, although both Rousseff and former President da Silva have called for apologies from President Obama for the abuses, U.S. officials have made it clear that this will not happen (in the words of former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon, “you should not expect an unexpected gesture”). Nor has Washington given reasonable assurances that such abuses won’t occur in the future.

It seems that better relations will have to wait until after Brazil’s presidential elections in October. While Dilma’s detractors say that this is because she is playing to the electorate, it’s more likely that the electoral calculations are on the other side: Washington is hoping to see a president who is more subservient to U.S. foreign policy.  After all, the problem of U.S. disrespect for Latin American sovereignty is much deeper than just the spying scandals. Although it was George W. Bush who expressed it most plainly – countries are either “with us” or against us – this remains Washington’s guiding principle in the hemisphere.

Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (www.cepr.net ).  He is also president of Just Foreign Policy ( www.justforeignpolicy.org ).