The Cable

Dilma Blasts U.S. Spies as International Crooks

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivered a sizzling rebuke of America's expansive electronic spying operation on Tuesday, telling a gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly that American eavesdropping constitutes "a breach of international law and an affront to" Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian president's broadside came as President Barack Obama prepared in the wings to deliver his fifth address as president to the U.N's most representative body. Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in Brazil, charged the United States with "indiscriminately" scooping up the personal data of Brazilian citizens and businesses and targeting the communications of Brasilia's government.

Last week, Rousseff snubbed the U.S. president when she indefinitely postponed a state visit to the White House over revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had aggressively targeted Brazil as part of its intelligence-gathering practices. Her visit to Washington, scheduled for late October, was supposed to be a celebration of deepening cooperation between the Western Hemisphere's two largest economies.

"Given the proximity of the scheduled state visit to Washington and in the absence of a timely investigation" into the NSA snooping allegations, her office said in a statement, "there aren't conditions for this trip to be made."

The alleged U.S. spying program in Latin America first came to light because of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and was reported by the local Brazilian press in collaboration with Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who was among the first to break the NSA snooping story.

In addition to scooping up the private telephone calls, emails, and other communications between top Brazilian officials, the NSA allegedly targeted the country's largest oil company, Petrobras, through a program called Blackpearl. If proven, the Brazilian government has charged, the allegations would amount to economic espionage -- something American spies have long insisted that they never do.

"If the facts reported by the press are confirmed, it will be evident that the motive for the spying attempts is not security or the war on terrorism but strategic economic interests," Rousseff said in a statement last month. The NSA has denied that it engages in economic espionage "in any domain, including cyber."

Rousseff has since called for new regulations that would require foreign-based technology companies like Google and Facebook to set up data centers inside Brazil that are subject to local laws. It's a plan that would come at substantial economic cost to the tech companies -- and might actually make it more likely that their customers will be targeted by surveillance operations.

On Tuesday, the Brazilian president told the General Assembly that America's spying operation posed a threat to democracy throughout the world, and she proposed U.N. regulation of cyberspace to ensure the integrity of the Internet. "Without the right of privacy there is no real freedom of speech or freedom of opinion, and so there is no actual democracy," she said. And "without respect for [a nation's] sovereignty, there is no basis for proper relations among nations."

Rousseff said that her government has filed a formal protest against the United States, demanding an apology and a "guarantee that such acts will not be repeated.… Those who want a strategic partnership cannot possibly allow recurring and illegal action to go on as if they were an ordinary practice." Rousseff dismissed Washington's contention that the United States needed to monitor electronic communications as part of its global campaign to fight terrorism as "untenable. Brazil knows how to protect itself. Brazil … does not provide shelter to terrorist groups; we are democratic country."

The Cable

Accused War Criminal May Not Come to New York, After All

After stirring up a firestorm of controversy by announcing his intention to attend the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sudanese President and accused war criminal Omar al-Bashir may be getting cold feet. As recently as Sunday, Bashir confirmed his travel plans, claiming to have booked a flight through Morocco and even a hotel in New York. But senior U.N. diplomats are nonetheless beginning to wonder if the accused genocidaire will risk arrest and extradition to the International Criminal Court by setting foot in Manhattan.

"That's my assumption [that he's not coming], but we're planning on anything," a senior U.N. official told Foreign Policy. "Would he want to see the [General Assembly] hall clear out?"

As the host country for the United Nations, the United States is obligated to grant visas to foreign leaders and their representatives, regardless of the status of bilateral relations with the U.S. government (though it can deny diplomats entry on national security grounds). But Bashir, who has been twice indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the country's Darfur region, would be the first leader to attend the General Assembly with a warrant out for his arrest.

Bashir stands accused of orchestrating a massive genocidal campaign against non-Arab minorities in the Darfur region that has left roughly 300,000 people dead since 2003, according to the United Nations. The fighting, which had died down in recent years, has picked up again, with an estimated 300,000 people displaced since the beginning of 2013.   

The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and so would not be legally bound to extradite Bashir. Still, the State Department has said it is weighing the ICC's extradition request, and the U.S. government has transferred suspects to the court in the past. Privately, American officials are working to discourage Bashir from making the journey to New York, according to a U.N. diplomat who asked not to be named. "They're trying to explain to [Sudanese officials] how difficult this could be for [Bashir] and that it could create a situation that is not entirely in [American] control," said the diplomat. The message they are seeking to convey, the diplomat added, is that it's better for him not to come.

There is no word yet on whether the State Department will approve the Sudanese leader's visa request.

The United States has previously come under fire for delaying or denying the visa requests of U.N. officials. In 1988, it barred Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, from addressing the General Assembly, and in 2007, it denied a visa request by Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia. Other foreign parties have alleged that the State Department skirts its obligation to admit U.N. diplomats by granting visa requests at the last moment -- or even after the General Assembly has concluded.

In this case, the State Department may not need to rule one way or the other. Bashir, who has increasingly confined his travel to Africa and the Middle East, may decide that the trip to New York is not worth the risk.

"He's very much afraid. He's not a brave person who likes to take risks," said a third U.N. official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He has cancelled trips to countries where he has been less exposed to risk." 

Richard Dicker, the director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, agreed: "The fact that the U.S. to my knowledge has yet to issue a visa, and that the ICC has requested that the U.S. arrest him, creates the kind of uncertainty as to what could happen that could give [Bashir] some cause to ponder how much he wants to come to New York," he said.

In recent years, Bashir has canceled trips to Malaysia, Uganda, and Turkey at the last minute after human rights groups pressed for his arrest. In July, he was forced to leave Nigeria unexpectedly after human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit attempting to compel the Nigerian government to comply with the ICC extradition request. Sudanese officials denied that this was the reason for Bashir's hasty departure -- he left after less than 24 hours without delivering a scheduled address -- claiming that he had another engagement to attend instead.

"Ultimately, it's the president-slash-fugitive's decision whether or not he will come to New York," said Dicker. But "booking a hotel room is in no way determinative of whether or not he's coming."

Not everyone thinks the Sudanese strongman will stay away, however. "I'm not sure why he would do that," a European official told Foreign Policy when asked if Bashir might be amending his travel plans. "Now that there is no Ahmadinejad, no Qaddafi, no Chavez, no Mugabe, he could get a lot of attention here." The official also mentioned the potential for Bashir to ride the publicity wave into next month's African Union summit at which African officials will consider joining Kenya's bid to withdraw from the ICC.

"African states would not walk out on Bashir," said the official. "It would be the EU and Latin America."

Although his status as an international pariah has prevented him from traveling in much of the world, Bashir has managed to roam relatively freely in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Since 2009, when the ICC first indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sudanese strongman has traveled to half a dozen African countries, as well as China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, among others. He has even risked extradition by traveling to ICC signatories like Chad, Kenya, Djibouti, and Malawi.

Whether he's willing to put it all on the line to flout the international community in Turtle Bay remains an open question, but an increasing number of U.N. observers are ready to call his bluff.

"This decision was about sticking his finger in the eye of the international community as it gathers for the opening for the General Assembly and particularly the Security Council that mandated the ICC to investigate and prosecute the serious crimes in Darfur," said Dicker. Judging by the outpouring of anger at the proposed trip, Bashir has already achieved his objective.