Secrets… secrets are no fun. Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, postponed a state visit to the United States after reprimanding the Obama administration over revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spearheaded massive communications data monitoring in Brazil.
Though the eruption of media coverage over Syria deflated the declaration somewhat, the cancellation unloaded a tide of diplomatic tensions and opened the stage for political theatre. Marking the second presidential visit to be discarded due to diplomatic resentment related to Snowden, the first in Moscow, with Obama’s cancellation in lieu of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s provisional refuge to Snowden, and now in the United States, with Brazil’s recent declaration. The state visit would have begun on October 23, representing the first by a Brazilian president since 1995.
Behind the masks of both administrations lie their bare selves made ever so present in their responses to the leakage: the incapacity of the United States to handle contrition, and Brazil’s fight for domestic popularity. The supposed prying into the Brazilian inner circle of top aides is nothing short of major, though the Obama administration latched on to unsatisfactory explanations to appease. First, Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Brasília was publicly slated for providing nothing but mounds of weightless reasoning to officials. Then, Susan E. Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, banally noted that the reports about the NSA’s activities raised “legitimate questions”—a statement failing to hush Brazilian umbrage. Efforts by the United States appear soft yet arrogant—shielding out dramatic language with a tameness that almost irks its counterparts.
The White House does not consider a sole bilateral setback to be the end of the “broad relationship” between the two countries, no matter how slight or steep the damage. It is more about the posture of American intelligence, its upholding, and its refinement. Grasping the full internal dynamics of Brazil after the scandal has been a struggle for the Obama administration. Whether or not the office can afford to be arrogant in its dealings can only be determined with time—time that surely cannot be given back.
While Obama “understands and regrets” the concerns, Rousseff more harshly addresses the “illegal interception of communications data belonging to citizens” as an injustice between friendly nations. The lack of commitment in stopping interceptive activities could be seen as an assault on national sovereignty and individual rights, though Rousseff’s domestic agenda should not be forgotten with elections approaching. Rousseff’s four-year term concludes in January 2015, but is widely expected to run for reelection come October of 2014. After sinking in popularity after last June’s nationwide street protests, the cancellation surfaced at a sweetly convenient time.
It may be true, then, that it is better to hate the game rather than the player. On the egotistic stage of political theatre, caricatures arise: Rousseff backhanding the big, bad North in order to generate more hype back home; or of the 21st century warfare waged by the NSA.
Yet is should be noted that Rousseff had invested more energy than any of her forerunners in reconstructing bonds with Washington. Rocky relations rippled through her predecessor’s term, in which Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva negotiated a deal with Turkey on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The halt in Rousseff’s trip is massive, as she would have been the only world leader granted the honor of a US state visit this year. Rejecting that offer, though warranted, is surely a diplomatic slap in the face.
Rousseff is now promoting legislation demanding Google, Facebook and other technology companies to store data collected in Brazil on Brazilians soil, and therefore in the realms of Brazilian law. The symbolic cancellation of the state visit seems to be the first of many repercussions. Brazil is working to employ local use of the internet that is independent of US-based services, and is eager to create a 21,000-mile internet cable for data to bypass the United States by the end of 2015.
Brazil’s telecom firm Telebras is also launching the nation’s first communications satellite in 2016. Mistrust of American facilities has led to a successful European construction bid. US telecommunications corporations did not get awarded projects that deal with the transmission of internet traffic. Long-term consequences also involve a turn to China for transactions.
James R. Clapper, the Obama administration’s director of national intelligence, expressed that the United States government collected intelligence about financial matters of other nations. An interception into the economic policies of one of the fastest growing global players seems reasonable; however, Kerry’s defense of the NSA’s actions as necessary to combat terrorism in an ally nation is too far gone in justification.
Brazil: an emerging energy powerhouse. After discoveries over the last decade of large offshore oil reserves, Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, has ravenously benefitted. Unlike major oil-producing nations such as Mexico and Saudi Arabia, where state-monitored oil companies run monopolies on production, Brazil permits operations by foreign oil companies. This made easier the alleged NSA hacking of millions of Brazilian emails and calls, as well as the inner-dealings of Petrobras.
With ambitions to take over a bigger world stage in its role as one of the BRICs, Brazil could have posed threats to our own economic security. It very well may be argued that corporate spying was not of interest, as Petrobras remains a state-owned company, stained by inefficiency and bundled with corruptive practices. Whatever its downfalls, it nonetheless perches heavily upon South America as a giant firm with heavy influence. A weak Petrobras can mean a weak Brazil and a weak Latin America. One state’s insecurity is another state’s security. Why shouldn’t that attract the NSA? Still, there is more to be gained by shared collaboration than mistrust.