RIO DE JANEIRO — Edward J. Snowden, the former US government contractor now living in Russia, said in comments published Tuesday that he was prepared to assist Brazilian investigations of US spying in Brazil. But he said he could not speak freely until a country grants him asylum, which he requested from Brazil months ago.
Snowden made his comments in an open letter published in a prominent Brazilian newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, in which he described the activities of the National Security Agency as potentially “the greatest human rights challenge of our time.”
His disclosures of NSA surveillance practices have shaken Washington’s relations with an array of countries
Brazil, a leading target of the NSA activities, has reacted angrily over the spying, which included surveillance of President Dilma Rousseff, her inner circle of senior advisers, and Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company. Rousseff called off a state visit to Washington in October after the revelations of the NSA’s operations in Brazil.
Since then, Brazilian legislators have pressed ahead with inquiries into spying by the United States, relying to a large degree on news reports and testimony by Glenn Greenwald, the US journalist to whom Snowden leaked NSA documents.
David Miranda, the domestic partner of Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, has helped lead an effort to obtain asylum in Brazil for Snowden.
“He deserves thanks for what he’s done, not a life in prison,” Miranda said, referring to the legal challenges Snowden faces in the United States.
Miranda has been working with Avaaz, an international advocacy group, to get signatures in support of Snowden’s asylum request in Brazil.
Snowden ‘‘can’t participate in the debate that’s happening now because Russia doesn’t allow him to take part,’’ Miranda told the Associated Press. ‘‘But if he were to be given permanent asylum, particularly here in Brazil . . . I think he can help the entire world and Brazil understand the situation.’’
Snowden’s letter was published a day after a US district judge in Washington ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records probably violates the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches. The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court for a final decision.
In his letter, Snowden referred to the spying on Rousseff, who as president decides on granting asylum to foreigners, and on NSA surveillance of ordinary Brazilians who may be having extramarital affairs or viewing pornography, activities that could then be used to hurt their reputations.
“American senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not ‘surveillance,’ it’s ‘data collection,’ ” Snowden wrote. “They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong.”
Snowden continued: “These programs were never about terrorism: They’re about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
A spokeswoman for Rousseff declined to comment on Snowden’s letter and his request for asylum in Brazil, which he had sought in July, when he also requested asylum in other countries. Authorities in Brazil did not accept his request at the time.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry press office said that it was monitoring the reaction to Snowden’s letter but that it was “not suitable for the Brazilian government nor the Foreign Ministry to respond.”
Venezuela and Bolivia have offered asylum to Snowden, but it is unclear whether their offers meet his conditions.