Alessandro Moretti was sacked as deputy director (second in command) of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) in late January. [Source:]

BRAZIL—As if: questions shrouding the loyalty of Brazil’s armed forces toward the country’s federal government did not persist; the potential of being affected by a colonial-inspired conflict involving Venezuela and Guyana over the oil-rich region of Essequibo; and Operation Shield, a police offensive following the death of a military policeman in Guarujá, São Paulo, that left 28 people dead over a 40-day period were not sufficient, Brazil faces a new challenge.

In late January, Brazilian President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva sacked Alessandro Moretti as deputy director (second in command) of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN). Moretti’s removal came one week after Brazil’s federal police, acting on the behest of Supreme Court Justice Alexandre Moraes, launched Operation Close Vigilance, citing him as a suspect in their investigation into an illegal “counterintelligence” cell operating within ABIN. The spy ring, popularly known as the “Parallel ABIN” and formed during the previous federal government headed by President Jair Bolsonaro, is accused of spying on at least 30,000 people, including congressional and senatorial representatives, supreme court justices, journalists, lawyers, police officers and others.

Brazilian President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva [Source:]

Marco Cepik, the director of ABIN’s intelligence academy, has replaced Moretti as deputy director. “With maximum tranquility and enthusiasm, our administration seeks the complete clarification of what happened here,” he said during an interview. Cepik added that “the [investigative] process encounters no risk of obstruction” on the part of ABIN.

Main Entrance to the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN). [Source:]

According to preliminary investigations, Rodrigo Maia, the former president of the lower house of the National Congress, as well as Simone Sibilio, the former chief justice prosecutor for Rio de Janeiro, were victims of the Parallel ABIN. Sibilio formerly led the investigation, and served as special task force coordinator, into the 2018 assassination of Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Marielle Franco. To date, the mastermind(s) behind her death have yet to be detained by authorities.

Councilwoman Marielle Franco, assassinated on March 14, 2018. [Source:]

In that case, Sibilio complained not of the Parallel ABIN but big tech firm Google’s lack of cooperation in releasing their search engine results related to the hit on Marielle. “We have requested access [to the personal data],” she said; that access, however, was not forthcoming.

In 2020, the largest internet search engine in the world, was ordered by Brazil’s Supreme Court of Justice (STJ) to hand over its stored list of Internet users who conducted word combination searches related to Marielle during the week prior to her assassination. The tech giant appealed the decision to Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court (STF) to halt the sharing of details. “Today, our requests are the subject of injunctions under analysis by the Supreme Court,” Sibilio lamented.

Simone Sibilio is the former chief justice prosecutor for Rio de Janeiro. [Source: Agê]

Spy vs. Spy in Action

Days before Lula fired Moretti from his post, the federal police opened investigations into Congressman Alexandre Ramagem, former director of ABIN during Bolsonaro’s presidency. Accused by authorities of being a Parallel ABIN operator, the inquiry into his participation has opened a can of worms into an internal counterintelligence spy web functioning within Brazil’s main intelligence agency and against opponents of Bolsonaro and his closest political allies.

Congressman and former director of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) Alexandre Ramagem. [Source:]

Responding confidentially to the initial investigation into Ramagem, the federal police affirmed that Moretti said the case was “politically motivated and would blow over.” Moretti also served as director of intelligence for the federal police. His term came to an end in the final days of Bolsonaro’s presidency in December 2022.

Bolsonaros Under Investigation

One Bolsonaro son, Rio de Janeiro Senator Carlos Bolsonaro, was also named in Operation Close Vigilance. Carrying out a search warrant to obtain more details about the extent of Carlos’s involvement in the spy ring, federal agents seized 10 cell phones, three notebooks and an external hard-drive at a residence associated with Giancarlo Gomes Rodrigues in Salvador, Bahia. Rodrigues previously served in military battalions in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the Institutional Security Office (GSI). Searches were also conducted at Bolsonaro’s family home in Angra dos Reis in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s federal police are also investigating if the Parallel ABIN was used to favor Flávio and Renan, two other Bolsonaro sons, in which they were suspects in criminal investigations.

Carlos Bolsonaro [Source:]

Maintaining close relations with the Bolsonaro family is the right-wing media mogul and founder of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon. He has designated Carlos’s sibling and Rio de Janeiro congressman, Eduardo Bolsonaro, as representative of his conservative international movement in Brazil.

As part of the effort to start cleaning house of untrustworthy military authorities operating within Brazil’s executive branch following the January 8th (2022) attacks in Brasilia, several GSI soldiers, responsible for the security of the president, vice president, and their official workplace and residence, were relieved of their duties. Included among this group was Marcelo Ustra da Silva Soares, a relative of Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, an ex-colonel considered to be one of the main torturers during Brazil’s military dictatorship when he was head of the Department of Information Operations—Center for Internal Defense Operation in São Paulo. Serving in office from 1970 to 1974, Ustra was accused of the disappearances and deaths of at least 60 people. In 2008, he became the sole military official who was accused by Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office of having committed torture during the dictatorship.

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, while serving as a congressman, shows off Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra’s book titled The Truth Suppressed: History the Left Doesn’t Want Brazil to Know. [Source:]

Spying Technology from Israel

A key high-tech resource used to spy on Bolsonaro’s political opponents was the program called First Mile. Developed by the Israeli software firm Cognyte (formerly Verint), the application was acquired by the Brazilian government in 2018, at the end of Michel Temer’s interim presidency.

Capable of monitoring up to 10,000 cell phones over a period of a year, First Mile, according to federal authorities, spied on at least 30,000 people across Brazil.

ABIN: A Brief Background

The Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) was established in 1999, during the presidency of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Its founding came in the wake of the dissolution of the National Information Service, the intelligence agency and instrument of persecution and repression established by Brazil’s military dictatorship. Founded during the same period was Brazil’s military police, which exists to this day.

Included in its responsibilities as a federal intelligence agency, ABIN is tasked with providing strategic information concerning sensitive matters such as: threats against democracy and Brazil’s national borders; safe and secure government communications; and producing intelligence on issues related to foreign policy and possible terrorist threats. However, according to the federal police, ABIN was “instrumentalized” during Bolsonaro’s presidency to attend to private political interests.

During the previous government, ABIN functioned under the direction of the GSI, which was headed at the time by a close Bolsonaro ally, General Augusto Heleno. With the domino track quickly extending, Heleno has been summoned by the federal police to testify in the Parallel ABIN investigation.

General Augusto Heleno [Source:]

In March 2023, just two months after being sworn in for his third term as president, Lula placed ABIN under the Chief of Staff of the Presidency.

Answers Wanted Post-Whistleblowing

The existence and inner workings of the Parallel ABIN have been mentioned previously by former allies of Bolsonaro. During a televised discussion on March 2, 2020, Gustavo Bebianno, a former presidential campaign organizer for Bolsonaro and ex-general secretary of the presidency, stated that Carlos Bolsonaro had proposed the creation of a “Parallel ABIN because he doesn’t trust ABIN.” He added that, “if we continue on the path that we’re going, it won’t end well.” Less than two weeks later, after publicly stating that he felt threatened, Bebianno suddenly died of a reported heart attack. He was 56 years old.

Gustavo Bebianno was the first person to publicly reveal the existence of a Parallel ABIN back in 2020. [Source:]

Bebianno was sacked from his post by Bolsonaro in 2019. “I reiterate my unconditional commitment to my country, ethics, the fight against corruption, and the truth above all things,” he said.

Another whistleblower, former Congresswoman Joice Hasselmann, also cited the counterintelligence spy ring operating within ABIN.

Former Congresswoman Joice Hasselmann [Source:]

In late 2020, former federal prosecutor Augusto Aras initiated a fact-finding order concerning reports of a Parallel ABIN. This measure amounted to only a preliminary verification process to ascertain if certain information related to the Parallel ABIN warranted an investigation. Nothing came of the fact-finding order.

The president of Brazil’s National Congress, Rodrigo Pacheco, has solicited the Supreme Court to reveal the names of all parliamentarians who may have been “monitored clandestinely by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency.” Similarly, the Prerogative Group, a collective of progressive jurists and other officials, has officially petitioned the Supreme Court to release the full list of names of those illegally monitored by the Parallel ABIN.


To what extent Lula’s administration is able to clean house, at least in terms of ABIN’s purpose and function, remains to be seen. Despite Moretti’s ouster and multiple investigations under way, it has been noted that political adversaries continue to infiltrate the intelligence agency.

While Operation Close Vigilance is a good first step, internal and external spy tentacles—as well as lawfare and all of its sidekick media apparatus—continue to operate and cause havoc in Brazil.

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