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Edward Snowden's choice of Ecuador is riddled with problems

Uncovered documents show the South American country has major surveillance capabilities.

Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

FOR EDWARD SNOWDEN, finding shelter from the intelligence dragnet is going to take much more than asylum in Ecuador.

The BBC has reported that the country has received a request for asylum from the former US intelligence contractor.

The 30-year-old former Booz Allen contractor — currently on the run after leaking top secret documents of domestic spying conducted by the NSA — may be heading for a worse situation in South America.

Secret documents obtained by Rosie Gray at BuzzFeed indicate Ecuador has surveillance just as capable as the NSA’s — with spying on social media, targeting of political opponents and journalists, and innovation in facial recognition.

But the biggest find from the documents is the purchase of a “GSM Interceptor” by SENAIN, Ecuador’s intelligence service.

Gray writes:

In a letter to Pablo Romero last year in June, a Smart Solutions representative named Gabriel Guecelevich touted the capabilities of the GSM system, promising the ability to “copy SIM cards, identify phone calls, route phone calls to different places, intercept text messages, falsify and modify the text messages, keep messages in their system, disconnect calls, block phone calls, system should be able to intercept a minimum of 4 phone calls simultaneously.”

Guecelevich also specified that the GSM system, which has previously been mentioned in WikiLeaks files as a spy tool, can be used from a car that is 250 meters away and that it is portable. Guecelevich explained which tests Smart Solutions can run to prove that the system works. The first system, he wrote, is intercepting technology; the second is a passive system that can intercept GSM communication which Guecelevich promised can process 32 channels simultaneously, record conversations, among other capabilities.

It’s not only domestic spying problems, either. From CBS News:

It ranks 119th out of 179 countries on Reporter Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, and Human Rights Watch says “President Rafael Correa has undercut freedom of the press in Ecuador by subjecting journalists and media figures to public denunciation and retaliatory litigation.”

Before he can get there, he has other serious hurdles. He’s currently in Russia — likely having a chat with their intelligence agents — and without a valid US passport, his travel plans are temporarily halted.

But even given the ability to leave Russia for Ecuador — he faces stiff opposition from business leaders, who see a potential threat to the 40 percent of exports purchased by the United States.

With a trade deal expiring at the end of July, the US has serious leverage of $9 billion per year.

“What would we gain from giving political asylum to Snowden — confirming Ecuador’s international image as an anti-imperialist country?” the head of the Ecuadorian Business Committee, Roberto Aspiazu, told AFP. “I don’t think we need that.”

- Paul Szoldra

Putin won’t extradite Snowden who’s in the transit area at Moscow airport>

US whistleblower charged with espionage for leaking secret documents>

UK ‘tapped phones and emails’ of other countries at G20 summits>

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