Mission impossible in Moscow

Paulo Sotero – O Estado de S. Paulo, 09/18/2013

If successful, the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee’s decision to send a delegation to Russia to speak to Edward Snowden about the espionage activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Brazil, approved unanimously last week, will place the legislative branch in Brazil at the center of a very heavy game of foreign affairs. Having representatives of the people directly involved in this game is inevitable and even desirable, to the extent that the country moves forward in achieving its secular ambition of occupying the space it deserves among the “big players”. The recent participation of parliamentarians in the complicated issues with Bolivia points in this direction. In this case in point, however, it is advised that lawmakers enter the field with their eyes open and with low expectations.

They must assume, for starters, that their desire to meet with Snowden is well liked by the U.S. intelligence services because, if carried through, it will provide them with the unique opportunity to discover the whereabouts of the young former Booz Allen employee and possibly develop an operation to bring him back the U.S.  With this in mind, lawmakers should not rule out the possibility of becoming unwilling participants in scenes worthy of spy thrillers – before, during, and after the meeting in Russia. Members of the parliamentary delegation also need to be realistic as to the agreements they will need to make with Russian diplomats in order to schedule a meeting with Snowden.

Russians, as we know, are used to spying on others and being spied upon. Hence, they must be curious about the perplexity with which Brazils parliamentarians reacted in light of NSA spying activities in Brazil.  A country with a tradition of spying on its citizens and leaking confidential information, Brazil is the only nation of its size and status that does not have a sophisticated counterintelligence system or intelligence technology that allows for spying beyond its borders. The national attitude on this subject is so relaxed and nonchalant that, as admitted by the Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo, sensitive information is exchanged between government officials not through secure intranet networks, but via Gmail and other internet providers that are vulnerable not exclusively to the espionage activities of more advanced countries, but also to any hacker.

Paulo Sotero is the Director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Read full original article in Portuguese here.

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