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Brazil says it will ask Russian government for permission to speak with Edward Snowden.Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitra/The Associated Press

Brazil will ask the Russian government for permission to speak with Edward Snowden to learn more about U.S. and Canadian espionage activities in this country, the deputy chair of a parliamentary inquiry into the spying told The Globe and Mail.

"Next week, we will visit the Russian ambassador to obtain authorization and see if we can do a teleconference and question Snowden directly, since he is the primary source," Brazilian Senator Ricardo Ferraco said.

Mr. Snowden is the former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor whose leak of a giant stash of classified documents has unleashed a series of scandals about the activities by national intelligence organizations.

Wanted by U.S. authorities on espionage charges, Mr. Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia in August after he fled Hawaii for Hong Kong and then spent weeks in legal limbo in the transit area of the Moscow airport.

This past week, Glenn Greenwald, an American Rio-based journalist who has been working with Mr. Snowden, and the Brazilian investigative program Fantastico, used some of those documents to reveal that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) targeted Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy for surveillance.

That espionage is now the subject of the parliamentary inquiry, along with spying by the NSA on Brazil's government and the national energy company Petrobras, revealed last month by Mr. Greenwald and Fantastico.

"This action is the opposite to what you expect from a country that claims to be an economic and political partner of Brazil," said Senator Vanessa Grazziotin, who chairs the inquiry. "The information that has been disclosed shows that interest is economic.There is no way to justify the action spy in the Brazilian government with the argument 'combatting terrorism.'"

Ms. Grazziotin said the Brazilian government would use "international fora" to "pursue a response to this illegal action" by Canada.

So far, said Mr. Ferraco, Canada's response has been lacking. "Up to now we are extremely frustrated with the insufficient responses offered by Canada … There is nothing concrete or substantial [in their response] … It's like they were running away from the subject, from their behaviour."

He added: "If it isn't about terrorism, maybe it is about mining, about the dispute between Bombardier and Embraer …" He said he had seen no evidence that Canadian firms had been assisted by information they received through the surveillance. "There is no allegation from any Brazilian company about that. We'd need someone to report it.There are no elements that bring us to that conclusion now. I think the information is still too superficial."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week he was "very concerned" by the reports of industrial espionage in Brazil.

Asked to address Brazilian officials' frustration with the government's response, a spokesman from the Prime Minister's Office pointed to Mr. Harper's remarks and said Canadian officials have "reached out" to their counterparts in Brazil. "Beyond that we won't comment on matters related to Canada's national security organizations," Carl Vallée wrote in an e-mail.

The parliamentary inquiry is made up of senators who are allied with the government of President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers' Party, and so are unlikely to probe too far into questions that would embarrass the government. However, both senators stressed that the inquiry wants answers about how Brazil's electronic security could be so widely violated.

Mr. Ferraco said that staff at the Ministry of Mines and Energy had assured the inquiry that "no strategic information was violated, relevant to mining," and that all critical information is held in a secured "vault room" that was not violated.

With a report from Kim Mackrael

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