BRASILIA (Reuters) - The U.S. National Security Agency has targeted most Latin American countries in its spying programs, with Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico ranking among those of highest priority for the U.S. intelligence agency, a leading Brazilian newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former American intelligence contractor, O Globo newspaper said the NSA programs went beyond military affairs to what it termed "commercial secrets."
These included petroleum in Venezuela and energy in Mexico, according to a graphic which O Globo identified as being from the NSA and dated February of this year.
Also swept up in what O Globo termed as U.S. spying were Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Peru and El Salvador, the story said.
While the purported spying on these countries was "constant," the most intense surveillance was directed at Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico, the newspaper said.
The Globo article was written by Glenn Greenwald, Roberto Kaz and José Casado. Greenwald, an American citizen who works for Britain's Guardian newspaper and lives in Rio de Janeiro, was the journalist who first revealed classified documents provided by Snowden, outlining the extent of U.S. communications monitoring activity at home and abroad.
Greenwald said on Sunday in a Twitter message that he had worked with O Globo on the reports to more quickly relay the scope and reach of the alleged surveillance. The bulk of Greenwald's stories thus far have appeared in the Guardian.
O Globo cited documents saying that from January to March this year, NSA agents carried out "spying actions" via "Boundless Informant" which it said catalogued telephone calls and access to the Internet. Also used was Prism from February 2 to 8 this year, O Globo said.
As disclosed by Snowden to the Guardian, the NSA's Prism program collated mail, Internet chat and files directly from the servers of companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.
A main NSA surveillance target was Colombia, the United States' top military ally in the region, where drug trafficking and movements by the FARC guerrilla group were monitored, O Globo said.
In Venezuela the NSA spied on military procurement and the oil industry, and in Mexico the agency gathered information on the drug trade, the energy sector and political affairs using Prism.
The newspaper reported on Sunday that the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency had gathered telephone and email data in Brazil, based on documents Snowden provided to Greenwald.
Brazil's telecommunications agency said on Monday that it would investigate whether local operators had violated customer privacy rules in alleged surveillance of Brazilian telecommunications data by the U.S. spy agencies.
The decision came as U.S. officials, including the American ambassador in Brasilia, sought to reassure Brazil that O Globo reports on Sunday and Monday about NSA surveillance of Brazilian communications were incorrect.
According to O Globo, access to Brazilian communications was obtained through American companies that were partners with Brazilian telecommunications companies. The report did not identify any of the companies but said an NSA program called Silverzephyr was used to access phone calls, faxes and emails.
O Globo also reported this week that the CIA and the NSA jointly ran monitoring stations to gather information from foreign satellites in 65 countries, including five in Latin America, citing documents dating from 2002 leaked by Snowden.
The so-called Special Collection Service operated from the capitals of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. The newspaper said it was not known whether the alleged satellite espionage continued after 2002.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle Editing by W Simon)