Brazil’s intelligence agency under Bolsonaro spied on judiciary and lawmakers, police say

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — An investigation by federal police has led to allegations that Brazil’s intelligence agency spied on members of the judiciary, lawmakers and journalists during the administration of former President Jair Bolsonaro, court records showed Thursday.

Among those targeted were Chamber Speaker Arthur Lira, Supreme Justice Alexandre de Moraes, the former governor of Sao Paulo João Dória and members of the environmental agency Ibama, according to a Supreme Court document signed by Moraes himself.

Also targeted were three senators who led a parliamentary enquiry into Bolsonaro's actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to well known journalists Mônica Bergamo of Folha de S.Paulo newspaper and Vera Magalhães of O Globo newspaper.

Police on Thursday carried out five preventive arrest warrants to dismantle a “criminal organization” that allegedly illegally monitored public authorities and produced fake news using systems from Brazil’s intelligence agency, known by its Portuguese acronym ABIN.

The group essentially ran a “parallel structure”, the court document said. “The criminal organization also illegally accessed computers, telephone devices and telecommunications infrastructure to monitor people and public officials,” police said.

Arrest warrants were issued for former member of the Secretariat of Social Communication Mateus de Carvalho Sposito, businessman Richards Dyer Pozzer, influencer Rogério Beraldo de Almeida, federal police officer Marcelo Araújo Bormevet and military officer Giancarlo Gomes Rodrigues.

Bolsonaro’s name appears five times in the Supreme Court’s decision authorizing the arrest warrants carried out Thursday, in which it is mentioned that one of the suspects said he had a “direct line” to Bolsonaro.

An attorney for Bolsonaro did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The former president is not formally accused of ordering any espionage. But the police’s investigation found “that ABIN had been instrumentalized, with a clear institutional deviation from clandestine actions, to monitor people related to investigations involving family members” of Bolsonaro, the court document said.

Asked whether Bolsonaro faces legal risk in the case, law professor Rodrigo Sánchez Rios from the Pontifical Catholic University in Parana said yes.

“It is widely accepted that Bolsonaro had knowledge about the illegal espionage scheme at the intelligence agency. The authorities who were monitored had a political future that was politically important to Bolsonaro,” Sánchez Rios said.

“If that connection is proven, he could be held responsible for several crimes, no matter if related to his neglect or his action,” Sánchez Rios added

Police also said their investigations showed that the group allegedly sought to interfere in several police probes, including some that targeted or involved two of Bolsonaro’s sons, Jair Renan and Flávio, a sitting senator.

Those targeted by the arrest warrants are suspected of committing the crimes of criminal organization, attempted abolition of the democratic rule of law, clandestine interception of communications and invasion of another person’s computer device, police said.

Police say that under the watch of former intelligence chief, Alexandre Ramagem, the group used a software called FirstMile, developed by the Israeli company Cognyte.

The 187-page police report included screenshots from exchanges between targets of the police operation on Thursday.

In a conversation on WhatsApp held in August 2021 about investigations under Moraes’ responsibility, one of them says “this bald guy deserves something more”, referring to Moraes. Another replies: “Just a 7.62”, appearing to reference a type of rifle. The interlocutor replies in English “head shot”.

In its opinion on the case, the Attorney General’s Office said the evidence points to the existence of a wider criminal organization.

“The structure infiltrated in the Brazilian Intelligence Agency represented only one cell of a broader criminal organization, focused on attacking opponents, institutions and Republican systems,” the Attorney General’s Office said.

This is just one judicial case among many linking Bolsonaro, who led the country between 2019 and 2022, to wrongdoings.

The far-right leader was indicted last week under suspicion of embezzlement, asset laundering and criminal association in connection with luxury jewelry from Saudi Arabia, deepening his legal woes.

In June last year, Brazil's top electoral court declared Bolsonaro ineligible to run in any elections until 2030 for casting unfounded doubts on the country’s electronic voting system.

Victims of the alleged illegal spying responded with outrage to Thursday's reports. Senator Alessandro Vieira, wrote on X that the “criminal espionage and online attacks" were “typical of dictatorial governments.”

For Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, the vice president of the committee that looked into Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic during which more than 700,000 people in Brazil died, Thursday’s reports bring “a tragic aspect to the scene”, according to a notice from the Senate’s press office.

“While Brazilians were dying, the previous government, instead of worrying about buying vaccines, was concerned with persecuting and monitoring political opponents,” he said.


Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese contributed from Sao Paulo.