Operation “Approximate Surveillance”, by the Federal Police (PF), investigates alleged espionage of political opponents by the government of former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL), using human and technological resources from the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin). The attack indicates common aspects between the plot to be confirmed and the emblematic Watergate scandal, which, half a century ago, culminated in the resignation of the then president of the United States, Richard Nixon, from the Republican party, in August 1974. But experts consulted by People’s Gazette see different points in the two episodes.
The investigation led by Minister Alexandre de Moraes, of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), points to the existence of a criminal organization, despite still gathering fragile evidence and using Judiciary actions considered controversial by the defense of those investigated, including federal police officers and incumbent parliamentarians. The aspect that is most distant from Watergate, however, is the fact that Bolsonaro, the theoretical beneficiary of espionage, is no longer in power and has already been rendered ineligible.
The Watergate scandal, revealed in June 1972, and one of the biggest in US political history, has become synonymous with corruption. It began with the arrest of five men who were trying to break into the Democratic Party headquarters to install wiretaps. Newspaper investigation The Washington Post, aided by an informant from the FBI intelligence agency, revealed that Nixon was aware of the spying. Evidence of his attempt to obstruct the investigation led to the risk of impeachment.
The “Approximate Surveillance” operation was launched on the 25th, with the main target being deputy Alexandre Ramagem (PL-RJ), former general director of Abin in the last government, and continued with investigations on the 29th, this time with emphasis on for Carlos Bolsonaro (Republicans), Rio councilor and son of the former president. The actions, added to others involving allies of Jair Bolsonaro, were repudiated by the opposition in Congress.
Senator Flávio Bolsonaro (PL-RJ) denounced the existence of what he called the “Parallel PF” dedicated to persecuting opponents of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT). The accusation, not proven for now, is a response to the narrative of the existence of a “Parallel Abin”, spread by sectors of the press, government and its allies and by the Judiciary itself, which, as mentioned, points out the alleged illegal use of resources and Abin servers during the previous management.
Use of state apparatus is the biggest difference between the two episodes
Natália Fingermann, professor of International Relations at Ibmec-SP, sees an obvious parallel between Watergate and the so-called “Abin Paralela”, as both cases deal with “hijacking the State apparatus to serve private interests”. “I believe the main difference is the fact that the investigation only took place here after Bolsonaro left power,” she said. She does not believe that the current government is committed to incriminating the former president. But the fact that the Justice investigation only occurs after the change in the political scenario may suggest that Brazil has greater institutional fragility than the USA, with the president on duty exerting more influence over less politically independent institutions.
Political scientist Márcio Coimbra, president of the Democracy Monitor Institute, points out similarities and differences between the emblematic case of US politics and the suspicions cast against Brazil’s past government. “Both episodes converge on the topic of spying on political opponents, but there is a relevant divergence regarding each person’s approach to the use of state apparatus,” he highlighted. He recalled that the scandal that removed former President Richard Nixon from the White House employed a group of five spies outside the State, including former intelligence agents, but none with direct or formal ties to the powerful FBI and CIA agencies.
In his opinion, the episodes involved two sitting presidents concerned about the movement of rivals, but the complaints investigated in Brazil also go beyond the simple partisan fight and electoral game, as they suggest spying on authorities, including heads of other powers. “Watergate and “Abin Paralela” are, therefore, similar in motivations, but different in targets and methods”, he added.
Espionage is a universal rule of the political game, says expert
Adriano Gianturco, coordinator of the International Relations course at Ibmec-MG, also sees converging and diverging points in both cases, remembering that Watergate was the most dramatic moment in the duel between the biggest parties in America, directly reaching the figure of the Chief Executive of the USA, to the point of causing his resignation from his position. “In the so-called” Abin Paralela “, the issue is yet to be investigated and it is not yet known what its political and judicial consequences will be”, he compared.
The expert highlighted that espionage and politics go hand in hand around the world and throughout history, both in the domestic and international context, as revealed in this century by leaks carried out by the Australian Julian Assange on the WikiLeaks website and by the former Security Agency consultant United States National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden involving multiple intelligence targets, including allies. “The practice of espionage is widespread, especially among powerful people,” he said.
For Gianturco, the essential issue is not the intelligence activities themselves, but their legality and their advancement beyond the partisan arena, reaching ordinary citizens. “Politics is threat, force, betrayal and exchange of favors. Therefore, the act of spying on opponents is part of the game and will never end. As information is power, everyone spies on everyone to gain advantages over opponents, anticipate movements and act strategically. Only what is supported by law and judicial authorization is not espionage, but investigation”, he summarized.
At this point, the professor emphasizes that the breach of confidentiality requested by the Court may also result in a violation of rights if it is motivated by partisan persecution. “Infringing privacy without there being valid suspicion, for example, simply because someone follows a politician on social media, creates serious insecurity regarding the legitimacy of investigations, which already causes distrust among the population,” he added.