Brazil admits spying on US diplomats. Oops.

The government of Brazil, which recently canceled a state visit to Washington over Edward Snowden’s revelations that the US government spied on Brazil’s president and oil company Petrobras, admitted today that Brazil spies on the US too.

Et tu, Brazil?

Adding to the fun, the Brazilian authorities are now complaining about the leak of their clandestine activities, and are threatening to prosecute any and all responsible for it.

The news came today in Brazil’s Folha de São newspaper. The paper revealed that Brazil spied on US diplomats in several rooms that the Americans had rented in the Brazilian capital, ostensibly, the Brazilians claim, to house communications equipment, radios and computers for counterintelligence actions.

At the time of the Snowden revelations, the Brazilian president’s office had this to say about American spying on Brazilian government officials:

“The illegal interception of communications data belonging to citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government are a grave matter, an assault on national sovereignty and individual rights, and are incompatible with relations between friendly nations,” the statement said.

But once it was revealed that Brazil also spies on “members of government,” and on the “national sovereignty” of “friendly nations,” Brazil’s presidency suddenly defended such practices as necessary for “protecting the national interest.”

Oh is that what the kids are calling it now?

Look, none of this is surprising.  Countries spy, and it’s a generally accepted fact that even friendly countries keep an eye on each other.  And I’ve been saying for a while now that some of the countries putting up the biggest stink about US spying probably do a lot of spying on their own, though perhaps not as technically sophisticated as ours (though not for lack of trying).

None of this 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 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 US spies at all.

Snowden’s release of documents showing that the US spied on then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev comes to mind.  Such a revelation wasn’t shocking, but its release was nonetheless intended to shock.  And that suggests an overall abhorrence to spying, period.  Not just spying against civilians, not just spying against your own people, but even spying against known “bad guys” like the Russians, or good guys like the Brazilians or the Germans, is now verboten.  And I don’t buy it.

I got into a little Twitter tussle the other day with someone who responded to this reasoning by saying something to the effect of, just because someone else does it doesn’t make it right.  And that’s true.  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.

It also means that the entire notion of spying being per se evil deserves a tad more nuance than it’s gotten of late.  I very much doubt that any country has clean hands when it comes to espionage.  And the relative extent to which we all spy on each other is probably less a factor of our consciences, than our respective technical prowess.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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23 Responses to “Brazil admits spying on US diplomats. Oops.”

  1. Cameron says:

    I agree with Badgerite, however there may be a small chance that she did not know and in that case someone very close to her will have.

  2. Cameron says:

    If the leader is traveling into the U.S. then they do not actually have much choice about using cell phone towers there if they plan on or want to use their own phones.

  3. Cameron says:

    Brazil was spying on foreign diplomats in its own country and thats all we really know, whats not to say they are doing basically the same as the NSA but we just dont know about it yet?

  4. ThyGeekGoddess says:

    It’s the same circle jerk they had going on since….ever since the smoke signal!

    If NSA was half as kewl as Holywood speculates…. it’d still look like “Get Smart”.
    I’ll bet they got the funniest memes in the cubies with,
    “What they think we do….”
    “What we REALLY do…..”

  5. NoBigGovDuh says:

    I’m pretty sure that spying on foreign diplomats inside your own country is in the realm of expected behavior.

    Tapping into the entire communications infrastructure of a foreign country and getting inside info on oil reserves, not ok.

    Spying on UN diplomats also not ok, and it sets a bad example. We should set the standard and not for how low can we go.

  6. Butch1 says:

    Not everyone speaks your language. If you would kindly give us a translation it would be helpful.
    Thank you.

  7. karmanot says:

    Say what?

  8. Zuu says:

    Really? I cannot understand where is the hypocrisy. What Brazil did was to monitor FOREIGNERS THAT WERE ACTING AS SPIES INSIDE BRAZIL’S TERRITORY. It was only protecting itself against others countries’ intelligence inside its own territory. I did not see any country complaining about US spying on their spies. What bothers Brazil, German, Russia, etc is the fact that US illegally tapped phones of allies’ leaders (tapping Merkel and Rousseff is waaay different that tapping diplomats/covered spies) around the globe and spied on civilians for no apparent reason…

  9. maria says:

    Captain Renault rides again!

  10. natan says:

    Na verdade, segundo o relatório: […]A Abin (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência) monitorou um conjunto de salas alugadas pela embaixada dos Estados Unidos em Brasília por suspeitar que eram usadas como estações de espionagem. [..] “Funcionando diariamente, com as portas fechadas e com as luzes apagadas, e sem ninguém trabalhando no local”, diz o relatório. “Esporadicamente a sala é visitada por alguém da embaixada.” [..]

    source (the same link):

  11. cleos_mom says:

    Is someone actually suggesting that outside the US, everyone’s offal doesn’t smell like the finest dark chocolate? That nation-states routinely spy on each other?

    Well, slap my ass and call me Fanny.

  12. perljammer says:

    Oh, please. Brazil’s been engaged in this activity for over 10 years. They’ve admitted to spying on diplomats from the US, Russia, and Iran. If you think their program is limited to placing bugs in hotel rooms, you’re being naive.

  13. Drew2u says:

    Question, with the knowledge that the NSA is collecting EVERYTHING done by U.S. citizens, why would any world leader use the internet or cell phone towers in the U.S. ?

  14. ronbo says:

    John is doing the Republican mamba – which is odd. You know their little dance, they lie and lie and lie and lie, then say “Look, Obama said “you won’t have to change your insurance.” Everyone lies, so nothing to see here. Keep on moving”

    False equivalency. We have a trillion dollar system, and they have a glass to the wall and now John is repeating the 1% mantra – “it’s OK, everyone does it.”

  15. Max_1 says:

    Brazil placed bugs in hotel rooms in Brazil to catch conversations of American Diplomats in Brazil…
    … Just like how Obama bugged The UN’s phones, including Bon Ki-moon’s in NewYork City?

    However, keep in mind that the USA taps phones around the globe while Brazil puts bugs under hotel tables just in their hotel rooms. There is a vast difference here…

  16. Max_1 says:

    Look at the amounts and the budgets spent per country…
    … Then ask yourself, how proportional is it?

    Does anyone think Brazil is recording your location like Dianne Feinstein thinks we should be doing.
    Does Brazil tap Google and Yahoo like the USA does?
    Does Brazil tap Obama’s phone?

  17. Badgerite says:

    I suppose she did. She’s shocked, SHOCKED to know there is spying going on.
    “Madam President, here is your latest intel summary” .
    “Oh, thank you so much.”

  18. Naja pallida says:

    Do you suppose the President of Brazil knew what her intelligence agencies were doing?

  19. Indigo says:

    I see it as Neo-Victorian faux-rage. Unaware Steam Punk, if you will.

  20. Bill_Perdue says:

    Good for them. Turn about for 200 years of foul play by the US is ok.

  21. NMRon says:

    What a coincidence! If only I believed in coincidence. Looks like the cloak and dagger gang are getting their story straight.

  22. Dave of the Jungle says:

    Yep, it’s simply a function of technical facility. Faux outrage looks so namby pamby these days.

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