Brazil: documents expose US industrial espionage

On Sept. 8 the "Fantástico" news program on Brazil's Rede Globo television network presented documents indicating that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on Brazil's giant semi-public energy company, Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.). The allegations came one week after the same program presented evidence that the NSA had spied on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. As in the earlier news program, the spying claims were based on documents given to Glenn Greenwald, a US blogger and columnist for the UK daily The Guardian who lives in Brazil, by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden.

The "Fantástico" program showed a top-secret NSA presentation, dated May 2012, that the agency used to train new agents in accessing private computer networks. The name of Petrobras appears at the beginning of the document, under the title: "MANY TARGETS USE PRIVATE NETWORKS." Other targets listed include the internet company Google, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs' private network, and the SWIFT network, a cooperative linking over 10,000 banks in 212 countries. Greenwald and Globo reporter Sonia Bridi had blacked out the name of other targets on the grounds that these groups might be linked to terrorism and that revealing their names could compromise genuine US counterterrorism operations.

The US continues to insist that its spying is directed at preventing terrorist attacks. On the evening of Sept. 8, after the program aired, US director of national intelligence James Clapper issued a statement denying that the US is engaged in industrial espionage: "What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of—or give intelligence we collect to—US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line." 

Brazilian energy experts are skeptical. Infrastructure specialist Adriano Pires says the US could be interested in ocean-floor exploration technology, especially in the geological formations known as pre-salt layers. "Petrobras is the world's number one in drilling for oil at sea," he told Globo reporters on the Sept. 8 program. "Pre-salt layers exist all around the world—there's a pre-salt in Africa, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the North Sea. If I have this technology, I can drill for oil anywhere I want." Former Petrobras director Roberto Villa suggested that the spying could affect an auction to be held in October for exploration of Brazil's Libra Field in the Bay of Santos. Only Petrobras is supposed to know which are the field's richest lots. "If this information was leaked and someone else has obtained it, he would be in a privileged position at the auction," Villa said. "He'll know where to invest and where not to. It's a handy little secret." (O Globo, Brazil, Sept. 8, English, O Globo, Sept. 8, Portuguese; The Guardian, UK, Sept. 9)

On Sept. 17 Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington, DC, scheduled for Oct. 23. A statement from Rousseff's office cited the US government's "lack of…explanations and commitment to cease interceptive activities… The illegal interception of communications data belonging to citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government [is] a grave matter, an assault on national sovereignty and individual rights, and [is] incompatible with relations between friendly nations." (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 17)

In other news, late on Sept. 19 a court in Pará state sentenced rancher Vitalmiro Bastos Moura to 30 years in prison for ordering the 2005 murder of US nun and environmentalist Dorothy Stang. Bastos had been convicted before but was later released; this was his fourth trial in the case. Another rancher, Regivaldo Galvão, has also been found guilty of ordering Stang's murder; the Supreme Court authorized his conditional release in 2012 when he appealed his 2010 conviction. One of the men who carried out the killing was freed in July of this year after serving just six years of a 27-year sentence. (Reuters, Sept. 20)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 22.