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Reports of Brazilian Spying Do Not Make NSA Surveillance on Brazil Unobjectionable

Brazil president Dilma Rousseff at the UN General Assembly in September condemning US surveillance (Creative Commons-licensed photo by Blog do Planalto)

A confidential source provided Brazilian intelligence service documents to a newspaper in Brazil that showed prior examples of Brazilian spying operations on Russian and Iranian diplomats and an office space in the country that had been rented by the United States embassy. This resulted in the Brazilian government confirming the spying and making statements to justify the operations.

Since Brazil was outraged over NSA surveillance earlier this year, the country is being cast as hypocritical for condemning the US for spying when it, too, engages in spying. However, what was revealed on Brazil spying operations is not even remotely similar or equivalent to NSA operations.

NSA’s operations, which were exposed, were offensive spying operations. Brazil’s spying operations, as revealed by Folha de São Paulo, are defensive spying operations.

What The New York Times reported in their story that some agents from the Brazilian intelligence agency known as Abin “followed some diplomats from Russia and Iran on foot and by car, photographing their movements.” Intelligence agents from Albin also “monitored” a “commercial property leased by the United States Embassy in Brasília, the capital.”

The Associated Press additionally reported:

According to daily, Brazil’s intelligence service monitored office space rented by the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, suspecting it of harboring spy equipment. The report said Abin had concluded that the offices held “communications equipment.”

“Functioning daily with the doors closed and the lights turned off, and with nobody in the locale,” is how the Abin report described the rented U.S. property, according to Folha. “The office is sporadically visited by someone from the embassy.”

AP also noted that diplomats from Russian, Iranian and Iraqi embassies had been targeted. They were “followed and photographed as they came and went from embassies and official residences.”

As included in the report, a statement from Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet, “which oversees the Abin intelligence service,” claimed the surveillance had followed Brazilian law and was “for the protection of national interests.” The statement further claimed that these “intelligence activities” were “for the defense” of Brazil and protecting its “national sovereignty,” in “strict observance of constitutional principles and the laws that guarantee individual rights.”

Whether it is appropriate for governments to photograph and monitor diplomats from other countries when they are operating in their country is worthy of debate, however, what is clear is that these revealed spying operations by Brazil are all happening on Brazilian soil. These are not operations in embassies they have in other countries, where they setup listening posts to spy on government officials of those countries. These are not operations designed to tap the cell phones of world leaders so they can specifically know “leadership intentions” and have an edge in diplomatic meetings. These are no operations where information is being accessed through hacking into communications networks.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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