Is Bolsonaro launching his own private intelligence agency?

. Aug 01, 2020
Is Bolsonaro launching his own private intelligence agency? President Jair Bolsonaro during the inauguration of Alexandre Ramagem as chief of Brazil's Intelligence Agency. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

In the now-infamous April 22 cabinet meeting — which was recorded and later made public — President Jair Bolsonaro complained about the reliability of his official intelligence services, suggesting that he has his own private system in place. “Information systems: my own one works,” said the president on tape. “Those that exist officially misinform.” Now, the president is apparently aiming to expand the reach of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), according to a new decree published in a late edition of the Federal Gazette on July 31.

This is Mr. Bolsonaro’s first change to the agency’s inner workings — the main intelligence body in the country. And the alterations will give extra powers to Abin, extending its existing mandate and scope for operations. These include the creation of a new unit, the National Intelligence Center, staffed by 17 full-time agents.

</p> <p>The decree also tweaks the agency&#8217;s jurisdiction in three points — changing the previous regulations dating back to 2016. And they are sufficiently broad enough to be dangerous if wielded by the wrong hands, especially if the president, to whom it reports to, has his own private agenda. They are:</p> <ul><li>To &#8220;plan&#8221; and &#8220;execute&#8221; intelligence activities — including confidential ones — to &#8220;tackle threats to the safety and stability of the state and society;&#8221;</li><li>To assist government bodies in public safety actions and policies — and identify &#8220;threats from criminal activities;&#8221;</li><li>And to plan, coordinate, and implement &#8220;current intelligence production and structured data collection.&#8221;&nbsp;</li></ul> <p>The decree also changes the Intelligence School, which provides training for agents, and the Intelligence Department, which will &#8220;evaluate opportunities and threats to national economic security in the areas of energy, infrastructure, commerce, finance, and economic policy.&#8221;</p> <h2>Why the changes to the intelligence agency are worrying</h2> <p>The changes to the inner workings of Abin come only days after investigative reporter Rubens Valente revealed a&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">secret operation</a>&nbsp;launched by the Bolsonaro administration to monitor hundreds of civil servants and law enforcement agents considered opponents of the president. A group of 579 people who declared themselves &#8220;anti-fascists&#8221; were mapped in a secret dossier — including their photos and social media profiles. The list also includes significant public figures such as one former Public Security Secretary and Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chairman of the United Nations&#8217; International Commission of Inquiry for Syria.</p> <p>This document was sent out to law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as to the office of the president&#8217;s Chief of Staff.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">VIDEO: Brazil&#8217;s Justice Ministry has secretly investigated 579 civil servants who oppose the government, as part of a push to monitor Antifa groups, which have protested against Bolsonaro. Targets include law enforcement agents and teachers who self-identified as &#8220;anti-fascist.&#8221; <a href=""></a></p>— The Brazilian Report (@BrazilianReport) <a href="">July 31, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Anti-fascist groups staged several&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">demonstrations against Jair Bolsonaro</a>&nbsp;late in May. The president responded days later, calling protesters &#8220;terrorist potheads.&#8221; In São Paulo, a&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">state lawmaker compiled a 999-page list</a>&nbsp;of around 1,000 supposed &#8220;anti-fascist activists,&#8221; including names, addresses, social security numbers, and other private data. The lawmaker is under investigation for this textbook case of doxing.</p> <p>One stringer for&nbsp;<strong>The Brazilian Report&nbsp;</strong>even had his name included in the report.</p> <p>Moreover, Abin is now led by Alexandre Ramagem, a Federal Police officer who is a close friend of&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">President Bolsonaro&#8217;s politician sons</a>. It was the trigger for the break up between Mr. Bolsonaro and his former&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">Justice Minister</a>, Sergio Moro.&nbsp;</p> <p>In April, Mr. Moro resigned, accusing the president of trying to meddle with federal probes and appoint &#8220;friendly&#8221; detectives to oversee important areas of the force, including Mr. Ramagem as the new Federal Police Chief. Mr. Ramagem&#8217;s initial appointment, however, was blocked by the Supreme Court due to his proximity to the Bolsonaro family — especially Carlos Bolsonaro, the president&#8217;s second-eldest son, who is at the center of a federal probe about an underground (and illegal) fake news apparatus.</p> <p>This move harkens back to the most repressive years of Brazil&#8217;s military dictatorship, when a new intelligence service was created, with expanded powers, to target and persecute the regime&#8217;s enemies. A similar move in 2020, by an embattled president who frequently threatens his political enemies with violence and has made no secret of his admiration for the country&#8217;s authoritarian past, is something to be more than concerned about.&nbsp;

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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