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NSA Spied on Brazil Oil Company, Petrobras—What WikiLeaks Cables Reveal About Possible Motivation

Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petrobras

A Brazilian television program has revealed that the National Security Agency in the United States spied on the internal and private computer networks of the oil company, Petrobras, which is partly state-owned.

Globo TV’s “Fantastico” program reported top secret documents from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, which were provided to program by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, include a May 2012 presentation used to “train new agents step-by-step on how to access and spy upon private computer networks—the internal networks of companies, governments, financial institutions—networks designed to precisely to protect information.”

“The name of Petrobras—Brazil’s largest company—appears right at the beginning, under the title: ‘MANY TARGETS USE PRIVATE NETWORKS,’ Globo noted.

Several slides feature the name Petrobras, as the presentation explains how target companies can be monitored.

Globo additionally reported, “Individual folders are created for each target – and contain all the intercepted communications and IP addresses – the identification of each computer on the network – which should be immune to these attacks.”

An individual with a Ph.D in “information security,” Paulo Pagliusi, who analyzed the documents for “Fantastico,” concluded the documents were evidence of “systematic spying” and it “had been going on for a while.”

“You don’t obtain all of this in a single run. From what I see, this is a very consistent system that yields powerful results; it’s a very efficient form of spying,” he told the television program.

This expressly undermines a previous claim by the NSA that it does not spy for “economic purposes.” It disproves what an NSA spokesman told the Washington Post on August 30, which is that the agency, a part of the Defense Department, does not “engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber,” even though the department engages in computer network exploitation.

The motivation for being interested in the operations of Petrobras is, for the most part, clear. The United States Energy Information Agency (EIA) highlighted in a brief on the country dated February 28, 2012, how Brazil recently discovered “large offshore, pre-salt oil deposits” that “could transform Brazil into one of the largest oil producers in the world.”

It described “state-controlled Petrobras” as the “dominant participant in Brazil’s oil sector, holding important positions in up-, mid-, and downstream activities.” Petrobras held a “monopoly on oil-related activities in country until 1997, when the government opened the sector to competition,” which included Royal Dutch Shell, as the first foreign crude oil producer. Chevron, Repsol, BP, Anadarko, El Paso, Galp Energia, Repsol, Statoil, BG Group, Sinopec, ONGC and TNK-BO became foreign producers of crude oil as well. [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."