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Brazil to U.S.: Help us move past NSA controversy

An undated aerial handout photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout
An undated aerial handout photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout

By Brian Winter

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff is eager to end a diplomatic crisis with Washington over revelations the National Security Agency spied on her and other Brazilians, but first she wants protection against additional leaks that could embarrass her government, a senior Brazilian official told Reuters.

A steady stream of news reports since July, based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have detailed how the United States spied on a wide range of commercial and governmental targets in Brazil.

While many countries have been named as targets in the Snowden documents, the revelations have been especially sensitive here because Rousseff, a moderate leftist, is due on October 23 to make the first formal state visit to the White House by a Brazilian leader in nearly two decades.

The visit, the only event of its kind planned in Washington this year, was intended to highlight warming ties between the two largest economies in the Americas. It was also meant to serve as a platform for a range of deals in biofuels, oil, and a potential Brazilian purchase of fighter jets from Chicago-based Boeing Co.

Despite angrily condemning the U.S. espionage as recently as Monday, Rousseff hopes to "end this mess" as soon as possible and go ahead with the visit to Washington, the official said on condition of anonymity.

However, she also fears further revelations in coming weeks that could increase criticism at home, especially from the left wing of her own party, that she is not taking a hard enough stance against Washington, the official said.

Therefore, she wants President Barack Obama's administration to immediately make a full and public disclosure regarding the extent of U.S. spying in Brazil, the official added.

"We can't be held hostage by these reports that are coming out every week from Snowden," the official said. "The only solution is for them to say how far (the spying) went, and explain why they did it."

Rousseff met with Obama on the sidelines of an international summit in Russia for about 45 minutes last week, and she said afterward that Obama had agreed to provide a full account of the NSA spying by Wednesday.

"I want to know everything," Rousseff told reporters before returning to Brazil on Friday.

Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo was scheduled to meet in Washington on Wednesday with Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, to receive the U.S. response.

It is unclear whether the Obama administration will be willing, or able, to provide a wide-ranging enough response to please Rousseff, said João Augusto de Castro Neves, a Washington-based analyst for the Eurasia Group think tank.

"I'm not even sure (the White House) knows the amount of information they have on Brazil," he said. "Rousseff obviously wishes this would all blow over in time for her to come to Washington, but I don't know if she'll get what she wants."

Obama has not apologized for NSA spying on Brazil or other U.S. allies, but he did acknowledge Friday that Washington needed to "step back and review what it is that we're doing."

ROUSSEFF'S POPULARITY TUMBLES

Revelations of NSA spying have now rocked Brazil on two consecutive Sunday nights.

The vehicle has been the Globo TV news program "Fantastico," with collaboration from U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro and has published several reports based on Snowden's files.

The latest "Fantastico" report said the NSA spied on Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff issued a sharp statement on Monday calling such espionage "manifestly illegitimate" because it did not fall under the umbrella of terrorism or U.S. national security concerns.

Many pundits and politicians from Brazil's left, which has traditionally distrusted Washington, have slammed Rousseff for not canceling the trip.

"Afraid of reacting in a heavy-handed way, (Rousseff) is humiliating herself," Mario Magalhães, a popular blogger for website UOL, wrote on Monday.

"It could be worse: Let's imagine, on the day of her arrival in Washington, yet another scoop from Glenn Greenwald, showing new aspects of NSA abuse. The unwritten message would be: Do what you want with Brazil, because we were born with submissive DNA," Magalhães wrote.

The criticism was especially stinging in the wake of anti-government street protests that swept Brazil in June. Rousseff's popularity tumbled after the demonstrations, and she will likely face strong challenges in her expected re-election bid next year.

However, some officials in both Brasilia and Washington privately expressed relief the latest report wasn't more damaging. Petrobras was one of several companies or organizations named as an espionage target in an NSA document, and "Fantastico" did not say precisely what data was gleaned or what it was used for.

Castro Neves said that if the most embarrassing revelations have already been aired out, then Rousseff "will probably be able to go to Washington."

(Editing by Todd Benson and Doina Chiacu)

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