Brazil spied on French agents during Lula's first term

Folha de São Paulo reports that Abin kept tabs at launch base of Alcântara

Juan Arias
Río de Janeiro -
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.EVARISTO SA (AFP)

Brazil’s espionage activities also targeted French spies, besides diplomats from Russia, Iran, Iraq and the United States, the daily Folha de São Paulo reports.

During the first administration of Lula Da Silva, in 2003, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin) kept tabs on agents of the French secret services at the satellite launch base of Alcântara, in Maranhão.

The newspaper, which had access to some of Abin’s secret documents, reported on Tuesday that Brazil’s espionage agency at one point suspected that the 2003 explosion that killed 21 people, including engineers and technicians of the General Command of Air and Space Technology (CTA), may in fact have been an act of sabotage by French secret agents.

The suspicion ultimately proved false, as the accident was caused by an electrical malfunction that burned two rocket boosters ahead of time. But Abin conducted at least three counterespionage operations against French secret services, as well as their Brazilian and foreign contacts.

A former official from the GSI (International Security Cabinet) has confirmed that the Brazilian government knew about the international espionage going on at Alcântara. The location of the space base has always been considered strategic, as its proximity to the equator makes it one of the best places in the world for the launch of rockets carrying commercial satellites. Launches from Alcântara can reportedly save up to 30 percent in fuel.

The Brazilian base, which is currently being rebuilt, could become the only one able to compete with the Kourou Space Center, in French Guinea, a territory bordering with Brazil but belonging to France. That is why, beginning in 2002, Abin spied on the movements of French agents, whom it photographed.

On Tuesday, deputies and senators were scheduled to discuss the possibility of calling in the government officials involved in the espionage against foreign countries, including Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo and Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, as well as Abin director Wilson Trezza. Members of parties that support President Dilma Rousseff, as well as opposition members, want to clear up whether those activities were authorized acts of counter-espionage or whether they were borderline illegal.

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