US Intelligence Penetration of Brazil: an Interview with Bob Fernandes

On July 4, 2015, Brazil learned, through Edward Snowden, that President Dilma Rousseff and 29 members of her government were being spied on by the NSA. At that time, FBI agents were already working inside the Lava Jato investigation.

by Brian Mier

Bob Fernandes is a veteran journalist from Bahia. During his 43 year career he has worked at some of the most important newspapers and magazines in Brazil, including Folha de Sao Paulo and Istoe, covering issues such as the election of Bill Clinton and wars in Angola and Somalia. In 1994 he helped found the weekly news magazine Carta Capital and served as its Editor in Chief until 2004. During this period, he wrote over 100 cover stories, including an award-winning series of 8 investigative reports about CIA, FBI, and DEA operations in Brazil and another cover story which led to the resignation of Brazilian Federal Police Director Vicente Chelotti. For the last 15 years he worked extensively in TV as a news anchor for GNT and TV Cultura. Currently he hosts a show on Bahia State Public Television and maintains a youtube channel which has over 200,000 subscribers. In September, 2020, I interviewed him briefly about FBI and DOJ involvement in the Lava Jato investigation for the Redfish Documentary, Dismantling Brazil: Bolsonaro’s Neoliberal Agenda. The following is the full interview transcript.

How did the US get involved in the coup against Dilma Rousseff and the election season political imprisonment of Lula?

On July 4, 2015, Brazil learned, through Edward Snowden, that President Dilma Rousseff and 29 members of her government were being spied on by the NSA. At that time, FBI agents were already working inside the Lava Jato investigation. They were working far beyond the agreement that exists. There was a legal agreement, but their involvement went far beyond that. There were 18 agents, apparently, including the FBI Anti-corruption director for Latin America, Leslie Backschies – just to give you an idea of the size of this. So at the same time that Brazil learned about the NSA espionage that was being done on Petrobras, the president of the republic and 29 members of her government, 18 FBI agents were regularly meeting with the Lava Jato task force and carrying out activities far beyond what was authorized in the partnership agreement. There is a leaked conversation between Prosecutor Vlademir Aras from the Federal Public Prosecutors Office with Deltan Dallagnol, who was the Lava Jato task force leader, in which he says, “look, we have to respect the agreement, we can’t go beyond it”. And Dallagnol says, “no, let’s go ahead because it will take so long – the government can’t know about this, the Executive can’t know what we are doing.” It is impossible to be any more clear than this. This information was leaked by the Intercept during its so-called Vaza Jato investigation. It leaked all the documentation that shows this. More recently, the investigative journalism site Apublica also published information about the presence and the amplification of the of the FBI in Brazil. In 2017 there was a meeting in São Paulo that Leslie was in, along with other FBI agents and Brazilian businessmen, with Brazilian government representatives to discuss corruption in Brazil and the press were barred from attending. Imagine if this had happened in the United States or in Germany or anywhere else. So this is the current scenario, remembering that in 2014 there was already US wire tapping in Brazil and that Leslie Backschies started working in Brazil in 2012.

How long has the FBI been active in Brazil? Can you talk a bit about your investigative work in the 1990s for Carta Capital?

During the end of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, during the last few years of his government until the time Lula took power, the Brazilian Federal Police did not have enough funding to properly operate. At this time, we published and leaked documents that proved that the DEA, the American anti-drug agency, paid for individual Federal Police agents to conduct drug trafficking investigations through direct deposits into their personal bank accounts. We published documents proving this – legal receipts. I also published articles, with backing documentation, that showed that the CIA was working out of the main Federal Police station’s anti-terrorism unit. In order to work in this unit for the Federal Police at the time, you had to go to Washington and take lie detector tests in hotels -not in Langley – during which they would ask things like, ‘are you corrupt? Are you a homosexual?”

At the time we published the names of many of the agents who went there and years later we published an internal document from the Federal Police that proved all of this. So for you to act inside the main interception base of the Federal Police, you had to take a lie detector test administered by the CIA. It was part of a shared information partnership between the Federal Police and the CIA. This unit was built inside the Federal Police during the Sarney government with money from the US State Department, and its first 20 automobiles came from the CIA in Paraguay. This was all published and nobody ever denied it there is documentation proving it. So this story about US collaboration didn’t start with Lava Jato – it goes back decades. What we have now is a deepening, a widening, it’s a free for all now. Now, with Brazil delivering the Alcantara rocket launching base to the United States, with Embraer sold off and then given back by the Americans, it is now something that is much more in the open. Unfortunately, as Brazil is continental in size and focused in on itself, there is no habit of looking at the outside world, not even at its neighbors. Brazilians don’t think this is important, they don’t pay attention to or understand the meaning of this. Brazilians, in their great majority, do not care or understand what this means. They don’t understand what it means for the Federal Police to have an operation… Brazil had 15 Federal Police bases which operated within the shared information regime with the CIA. Imagine this in any other country.. But here, nobody gave it a second thought.


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.