Furious Venezuela demands US name 'spies'

A Venezuelan default could trigger a global rush to seize assets owned by the government and state oil company PDVSA, one of whose oil wells is seen in Morichal in 2011 (AFP Photo/RAMON SAHMKOW)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela on Thursday demanded that Washington identify the agents involved in an alleged case of "outrageous" US spying against the state-run oil giant PDVSA.

The request and a formal diplomatic protest note came a day after the Telesur TV network published documents leaked by former US analyst Edward Snowden stating that the National Security Agency spied on the electronic data at Petroleos de Venezuela, including personnel files and the email of Rafael Ramirez, who headed the oil giant from 2004 to 2014.

Ties between Washington and the leftist government in Caracas have been tense for years, and Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

Deputy Foreign Minister Alejandro Fleming delivered the protest note to Lee McClenny, the charge d'affaires at the US embassy.

Caracas demands to know "the identity of the agents involved in this outrageous and unacceptable act," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It suggested that some US diplomats may have abused their privileges and "committed or cooperated with these criminal acts."

The ministry also expressed its "energetic protest" for the "espionage activities" attributed to personnel at the US embassy in Caracas against PDVSA.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that US officials "will respond through diplomatic channels."

"As a general rule, we don’t comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity," he said, adding that "there's no intent to use electronic surveillance to benefit commercial gain."

Kirby also emphasized that Washington has "no interest or intent to destabilize the Venezuelan government."

President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday said that the documents leaked by Snowden show that "the United States, its intelligence agencies and the US embassy in Carcas over 10 years were spying on the private lives of 10,000 PDVSA oil workers."

Maduro ordered a "full review" of Venezuela's ties with the United States after Washington criticized Caracas for sentencing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to 14 years' prison in September.

No concrete measures from that review have been announced.