Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Brazilian intelligence scandal

Brazil's national intelligence service, ABIN, is accused of wiretapping the head of the Supreme Court and other officials. This is a problem across Latin America, where intelligence services often remain unreformed or poorly reformed after authoritarian governments left power.

All too often, the armed forces' role is too prominent and not accountable enough. From the article:

Low-ranking Brazilian police and security officials are known to tap the phones of politicians and others in attempts to mount extortion schemes, said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. But he said such schemes rarely reach someone as powerful as the head of the Supreme Court.

Intelligence is an area that is crying out for democratic reform.

18 comments:

boz 8:37 AM  

So we managed to post on the same issue, with almost the same title at the same time. Oops.

At least we made different points.

Greg Weeks 8:42 AM  

Because of research I've done in the past, I am more interested in how intelligence services undermine democracy regionally than how this particular scandal hits Lula.

boz 8:53 AM  

I understand that. At some level intelligence agencies must have a clear sense for their role and mandate. I feel like too many Latin American intelligence agencies are told to "go do intelligence" without being told what or why or how.

Even with a clear role, scandals will still pop up (Colombia's DAS has probably the most defined intelligence mandate in the region and certainly hasn't been scandal-free). However, the fact that most Brazilian politicians probably have no idea why Brazilian intelligence even exists is likely a core problem.

GS,  8:39 PM  

All too often, the armed forces' role is too prominent and not accountable enough.

Interesting statement. Can you expand on this?

Greg Weeks 9:37 PM  

Read this to get a sense.

GS,  10:12 PM  

Gotcha. Thanks for the link. So, the assumption then becomes that, should civilians have more control of intelligence, stuff wouldn't happen? That's the standard case made for military-reform types. Not so sure if it will work in the intelligence arena though.

Greg Weeks 6:13 AM  

I don't recall using the word "stuff" in the article. But more civilian control over secret military activities will curb abuses.

GS,  9:21 AM  

That sounds hopeful to me. I don't think it will work as well in the intelligence arena. Even the US has problems with civilian intelligence abuses...and stuff.

Greg Weeks 9:37 AM  

I don't claim any magic bullet, or anything beyond simply curbing military abuses. But I'd say that hopeful is better than resigned.

GS,  10:35 AM  

No, absolutely. Hopeful is better than resigned. I think, though, that we often misdiagnose the problem as being the “military.” Particularly in security and defense reform issues. In the case of intelligence reform, the military may have more culpability given the near monopoly it enjoys over intelligence services, but from my standpoint, we shortchange ourselves by focusing too much on the military aspect of the problem. The objective should be to curb intelligence abuses, not just military abuses of intelligence. The danger that I see in focusing on the military question is that we set a low bar for success. Systemic reform is needed, not just the military or civilian-military aspect of the problem.

Randinho 11:27 AM  

Given Latin America's history, I think that focus on the military aspect of intelligence is entirely appropriate.

GS,  1:41 PM  

If the measure of success is civilian control of intelligence, don’t expect to curb intelligence abuses.

Greg Weeks 2:19 PM  

This is a straw man argument. No one thinks addressing the military is a magic bullet, or that reform of all aspects of intelligence isn't necessary. The military's role in intelligence, however, is in my opinion a very pressing problem that should be addressed. Having civilian courts, elected officials, et al more deeply involved will help curb the problem of the military conducting secret domestic operations without oversight.

However, as long as the rule of law is weak, then there will be intelligence abuses, by officers or civilians.

GS,  2:58 PM  

Well, shit. I think your’s is a straw man too because I think we’re arguing the same thing. From what I can tell, we only diverge on how pressing the military aspect of the problem is. You think it’s “very pressing.” I think not so much compared to other systemic deficiencies surrounding intelligence, but I don’t disagree that the military is part of the problem. Like you said, it’s not a magic bullet--hence my concern with focusing exclusively on the military aspect if the goal is to stop abuses.

Randinho 10:30 PM  

Like you said, it’s not a magic bullet--hence my concern with focusing exclusively on the military aspect if the goal is to stop abuses.

Funny I don't remember Greg saying that.

What he did write and what I agree with is the following:

This is a problem across Latin America, where intelligence services often remain unreformed or poorly reformed after authoritarian governments left power.

With perhaps the sole exception of Alberto Fujimori, all of the authoritarian regimes that come to mind in Latin America were military ones. Where did Fujimori's intelligence chief, Vladimoro Montesinos learn about intelligence gathering? As a commissioned officer in the Peruvian military.

GS,  8:58 AM  

randinho,

What Greg said, and what I agree with and was referring to, was the magic bullet piece. He said: No one thinks addressing the military is a magic bullet, or that reform of all aspects of intelligence isn't necessary. All else in the quote you selected was my position.

I also agree that intelligence needs to be reformed. Isn't that understood in our conversations?

Randinho 9:33 PM  

gs,

Greg never said anything about focusing exclusively on the military.

Never.

That was my point.

GS,  8:39 AM  

randinho,

This is getting a bit ridiculous.

Greg's post had this line in the context of intelligence abuse:

All too often, the armed forces' role is too prominent and not accountable enough.

It is not an incorrect assertion and it is one that I agree with, but it led me to believe that Greg thought the military and civil-military relations were the primary problems. I asked for clarification and he provided a link to an article that was focused on the civil-military aspect of intelligence reform. This further increased my suspicion that Greg was overly focused on the military aspect and I wanted to comment on that.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP