The U.S. vs. Brazil: From Espionage to Destabilization

September 21, 2013
The U.S. vs. Brazil: From Espionage to Destabilization
The espionage scandal which broke out after NSA employee Edward Snowden's disclosures and which has strained relations between Brazil and the United States is gaining momentum. More and more new details are coming to light about routine electronic spying by U.S. intelligence on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and those surrounding her, including relatives and the leadership of the foreign ministry, the ministry of defense, and intelligence agencies. Rousseff was especially indignant that the NSA and CIA tapped all her telephones in the presidential office and in her residence. The fact that the NSA illegally infiltrated the computer databases of the Brazilian oil company Petrobras and monitored the business and personal correspondence of its personnel round the clock also came to light.

In order to make a well-considered decision on the espionage scandal, Rousseff sent Minister of External Relations Luiz Alberto Figueiredo to the U.S., where he held a series of meetings with Obama administration officials, including U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. This problem had been discussed previously when Rousseff met with Obama personally in St. Petersburg at the G20 forum. The U.S. president promised to see into the matter and give Brazil a thorough explanation. However, Figueiredo returned from Washington empty-handed. The Americans once again turned to their favorite scheme: stalling, procrastinating, and promising to explain everything in a day or two. Obama used the same tactics when he called Dilma Rousseff to persuade her not to cancel her state visit, again confining himself to indistinct promises. The just demands of the Brazilian president not to delay the explanation and to deliver them in written form are being ignored by the White House… Obama does not want to leave behind compromising evidence which his opponents in Congress and journalists could interpret as "weakness" in regulating a conflict with a "third world" country.

Attempts by the Obama administration to get the Brazilians to agree to discuss the conflict behind closed doors through diplomatic or other channels, as has been done many times with other countries, did not meet with success. The situation was further intensified by the approach of the date of Dilma Rousseff's visit to Washington – October 23. The Brazilian leadership held its line to the end: Rousseff announced the cancellation of her visit to Washington and explained the reasons for this step herself.

Brazil is prepared for an uncompromising public explanation of all the circumstances related to the espionage conducted by the United States. The first results of this conflict have already appeared; after U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon was called twice to the Brazilian Ministry of External Affairs to provide an explanation, the State Department hastened his departure from the country. Brazil is very displeased with the fact that explanations from its North American partners remain unspecific, superficial and, in essence, mocking. The empty promises of Obama, Kerry and other high-ranking officials in the U.S. administration to "look into the matter" and "normalize" the activities of the intelligence agencies had the opposite effect this time. Dilma Rousseff quite decisively demonstrated to Washington that she is capable of standing up for the interests of her country, especially in such an area as state security…

Among the actions under consideration by the Brazilian authorities with regard to U.S. intelligence operating on the territory of Brazil is a tightening of control over identified American intelligence personnel with the aim of documenting illegal aspects of their activities and subsequently deporting them from Brazil. The Brazilian authorities are increasingly concerned about signals that the CIA, U.S. military intelligence, and DEA operatives are involved in the creation of "youth protest groups" which have already been used and could be used in the future to intensify the crisis situation in the country.

The problem of U.S. electronic espionage was discussed at the first meeting of Mercosur leaders and experts on the problem of maintaining computer and telecommunications security. Representatives of Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay suggested urgent measures for stopping "the Empire's espionage and strengthening the technological independence and sovereignty of the bloc's participant countries." Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua supported Brazil in all items on the agenda. A decision to create a workgroup for developing a unified strategy for counteracting "imperialist interference" and "U.S. spy operations which cause damage to governments, enterprises and citizens" was approved. A meeting of the ministers of defense of Brazil and Argentina was held at which the ministers signed an agreement on the creation of a bilateral group with the aim of "attaining an optimal level of development of cyberprotection and minimizing vulnerability to cyberattacks".

In an interview with the Argentinian newspaper Pagina 12, Brazilian Minister of Defense Celso Amorim told about the increasing operative capabilities of the Center for Cybernetic Protection. The minister only touched on the topic of the electronic spying on President Rousseff and her entourage in passing, but he particularly emphasized that all the facts at their disposal indicate the necessity of developing Brazil's defensive capabilities. Celso Amorim spoke with frankness unusual for the head of a military agency of the medium-term plans for strengthening Brazil’s armed forces. These included the construction of a nuclear submarine for patrolling in territorial waters and protecting oil fields on the shelf, the development of the aerospace industry, and starting production of the KC-390 heavy cargo aircraft, which in the future could replace the U.S.-made Hercules in the Brazilian air force.

According to data from independent sources, the scandal around the total espionage of U.S. intelligence in Brazil could result in the Brazil’s refusal to close a deal for the purchase of 36 F-18 Hornet fighter planes. "We cannot," say Brazilian analysts, "sign such large-scale contracts with a country we do not trust".

Brazil intends to follow the example of Russia and China in creating its own Internet system, which to a significant degree will guarantee the security of its users and hinder the illegal connection of NSA "specialists". Among Brazil's plans is the laying of its own communications cables to Europe and Africa. The existing communications channels, which pass through U.S. territory, are totally monitored by the NSA.

A delegation of Brazilian parliament members is preparing a trip to Russia to meet with Edward Snowden and obtain additional information on the true scale of U.S. electronic espionage in Brazil, including the use of spy satellites. A modernized audio interception base, which was not closed down in 2002, as the media assured everyone, is functioning at full capacity at the U.S. embassy. It is now obvious to the Brazilian leadership that the argument used by the U.S. administration about the war on terrorism is only a cover for conducting operations of another kind altogether. In the Western hemisphere, this is the infiltration of databases and computer networks of Latin American countries, first of all those which are trying to conduct independent policy and focusing on integration through Unasur, ALBA, Petrocaribe, etc.

It is believed that the acquisition of advance information about the trips, routes, and places of residence of Latin American leaders "unfriendly" to Washington - Nestor Kirchner, Inacio Lula da Silva, Hugo Chavez and others - helped in conducting special operations against them, some of which, as is well known, were fatal.

This year the celebration of Independence Day on September 7 in the Brazilian capital, as well as in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and Porto Alegre, were accompanied by well-organized mass disturbances. The instigators pronounced anti-government slogans and shouted accusations against Dilma Rousseff, calling her a "traitor to national interests". Several dozen people were injured, and over 300 protesters were detained. The police are investigating the hidden relations between the detainees and "non-profit organizations" funded from the U.S. Some Brazilian bloggers have interpreted these disturbances as U.S. intelligence's "warning shot" at Dilma Rousseff.

U.S. intelligence personnel in Brazil may have to operate in much more complex conditions in the foreseeable future. The Brazilian intelligence agency (Abin) is now trying to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the president and the public. The leaders of Abin, who were unable to detect a leak of strategically important information to the U.S. in time, causing huge political and material losses for the country, have received new instructions on the parameters for further collaboration with partners from the U.S. As they say, one good turn deserves another.