VENEZUELA WILL CONDUCT a “comprehensive review of relations with the United States” and submitted a formal protest over new evidence that the National Security Agency spied on state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, the country’s president announced.
President Nicolas Maduro spoke about the latest spying revelations at an event late Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, The Intercept and teleSUR jointly published reports, based on a top-secret document provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, detailing how the intelligence agency gained large-scale access to PDVSA’s internal computer network and successfully targeted top executives for electronic surveillance.
One named NSA target was Rafael Ramírez, PDVSA’s president from 2004 to 2014, now serving as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations. Last month the Wall Street Journal reported that Ramírez has been the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation for alleged corruption during his time at the oil company.
Maduro called the U.S. espionage, conducted in part from its embassy in Caracas, “vulgar” and an “illegal action in light of international law.”
On Thursday, U.S. charge d’affaires in Caracas, Lee McClenny, was summoned to receive an official letter of protest from Alejandro Fleming, Venezuela’s deputy foreign minister.
In a press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby declined to address the allegations directly, saying the State Department would instead “respond through diplomatic channels to the Venezuelan government.”
Kirby added, “There’s no intent to use electronic surveillance to benefit commercial gain. That’s not changed,” echoing previous statements from President Barack Obama and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
After Brazilian network TV Globo revealed NSA spying on Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobrás in 2013, Clapper issued a statement affirming that the U.S. “collects information about economic and financial matters,” but does not use its “foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”
PDVSA is a major economic force in a nation that boasts the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world. Petroleum exports account for approximately 96 percent of all foreign revenue. The company and the economy have struggled in recent years as oil prices have hit multi-year lows.
Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela have risen in the weeks leading up to legislative elections on December 6.
In an interview with Venezuelan public television station VTV, Maduro said, “U.S. imperialism, for a long time, has wanted to sabotage our petroleum industry and defeat the Bolivarian government in order to take over Venezuela’s petroleum.”
Kirby, the State Department spokesperson, indirectly refuted such claims, stating, “We have no interest or intent to destabilize the Venezuelan government.”