Does Brazil's spying hypocrisy exculpate the NSA?
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. isn't the only nation that spies on its allies. What changes now that Brazil was caught protesting too much?
Lots of nations are upset over reports that the U.S. National Security Agency has been eavesdropping and collecting data on foreign leaders and citizens. Few have taken as much public umbrage as Brazil.
In September, when leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicated that the U.S. intelligence agency had spied on Brazil's government and state-run oil company Petrobras, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called off a planned trip to Washington and issued this biting statement:
The illegal act of intercepting communications and data of citizens, businesses, and members of the Brazilian government constitute a serious act which threatens national sovereignty and individual rights, and which is incompatible with democratic coexistence between friendly countries.
But on Monday, Brazil acknowledge that its top spy agency, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), had conducted its own surveillance on the U.S., Russia, Iran, and other nations. That put "Brazilian authorities in the uncomfortable position of defending their own surveillance practices after repeatedly criticizing American spying operations," says Simon Romero in The New York Times.
Brazil's admission follows a report in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo about how Abin agents had tailed and surreptitiously photographed diplomats from Iran and Russia and monitored commercial properties in Brasilia leased to the U.S. embassy.
"Brazilian intelligence officials insisted in their statement that Abin's operations were intended to defend 'national sovereignty,'" Romero notes. "Referring to the revelations in the newspaper report, they also said that the leaking of classified material was illegal and that those responsible for doing so would be held accountable under Brazilian law."
The spying referred to by Folha de São Paolo took place a decade ago, before Rousseff was in office, and the methods are much cruder than those allowed by the NSA's high-tech toolbox. But Brazil also has a "long history of spying on its own people, not to mention activist groups and journalists," says Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter. This new report is just confirmation that every nation spies — a truth "conveniently ignored by outrage-pornographers like Glenn Greenwald."
Adding another layer to this hypocrisy sandwich, Greenwald — perhaps Snowden's biggest defender — has made his home in Brazil, says Cesca.
With each of these stories, it becomes increasingly clear that certain reporters, including and especially Glenn Greenwald (who has become a minor hero in Brazil, by the way) are seeking to unilaterally cripple the U.S.'s ability to operate on the world stage — to make sure the U.S. as well as the U.K. are unable to do what most other industrialized nations are doing. [Daily Banter]
Brazil getting caught in its own hypocrisy "is kind of amusing," says Reihan Salam at National Review. But with Rousseff facing re-election next year amid a poor economy, she probably had little choice but to "punch the U.S. in the nose" over the spying revelations. And there's no downside for her: Brazil calling out the U.S. on its hypocrisy — the dominant world power professes to promote international law, then spies on its allies — hurts the U.S. more than Brazil's hypocrisy damages it.
In a real sense, Brazil's accusations "are a kind of asymmetrical weapon designed to blunt America's edge in resources," Salam adds. "Talk is cheap; cutting-edge signals intelligence is not."
But in the end, Brazil's surveillance of U.S. diplomats isn't surprising, or even all that offensive, says John Aravosis at AmericaBlog. "It's a generally accepted fact that even friendly countries keep an eye on each other." And if Brazil's spying isn't "as technically sophisticated as ours," it's not for lack of trying. "None of this," Aravosis says, "is to suggest that the revelations about the NSA tapping into Google's and Yahoo's overseas servers, for example, don’t deserve a few raised eyebrows." But perspective is needed.
What's bothered me from day one of the Snowden leaks has been an almost "there's gambling in this establishment!" reaction by many, here and abroad, to the fact that the U.S. spies at all.... Just because someone else does it doesn't make it right.... But the fact that someone else does it does mean that we no longer have to listen to those governments when they criticize us for doing what they're doing, simply because we're doing it better. [AmericaBlog]