The former Brazilian ambassador to Canada whose phone was singled out for attention by a Canadian spy agency has spoken for the first time about his reaction on learning he was the only public figure caught up in the dispute over Canadian spying in Brazil.
Paulo Cordeiro Andrade de Pinto told The Globe and Mail he was startled and disappointed – but, as a veteran diplomat, ultimately not all that surprised – to learn that the government of Canada was following his telecommunications trails.
Documents leaked by the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden reveal that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was mapping the phone calls of Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy. In a presentation to security analysts from other allied countries in 2012, a CSEC analyst showed off a program called “Olympia” that allows the user to map the phone traffic in and out of a target, in this case the mining ministry.
The phone number of Mr. Cordeiro, as he is known, was one that the Canadian intelligence agency had singled out for its attention, apparently because he had called or been called by the ministry.
The Globe and Mail has collaborated for this story with the Brazil-based American journalist Glenn Greenwald, based on information obtained from the Snowden documents.
Mr. Cordeiro has been posted to Ottawa three times, first in the early 1990s, and most recently as Brazil’s ambassador from 2008 to 2010.
He described seeing unmarked RCMP cars with antennae on the back idling outside embassies of former Soviet republics during his years in Ottawa – so he wasn’t naïve to the idea that this kind of surveillance went on. And, he added, it’s on page one of the diplomat’s handbook to assume someone is listening when you talk on the phone.
That said, “I obviously never expected that my telephone …” Mr. Cordeiro said, trailing off diplomatically in an interview this week.
CSEC declined to comment on the allegation that Mr. Cordeiro’s telephone activity was tracked.
Andy McLaughlin, CSEC director of public affairs and communications, said the agency cannot comment on its foreign-intelligence activities or capabilities.
“We have no additional comment,” he added.
Mr. Cordeiro said the phone number in question is the property of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is currently the ministry’s under-secretary for Africa and the Middle East.
He said that President Dilma Rousseff was genuinely taken aback by the spying allegations and was not simply presenting a bit of necessary political theatre when she demanded an explanation from Canada.
“The President is really, really shocked,” he said. “Really. She is. She’s a politician, she’s a person who fought against military dictatorship here and she’s shocked. [Personally] I don’t like it. But I studied these kinds of services for a long time so [I] know they exist and [I] know that there are possibilities. I might not agree with the way things are done but I know they exist.”
The ministry deals with mining, oil imports and hydroelectric projects “so it makes sense” that an intelligence agency from Canada, which has interests in all these areas, would see it as an appealing target, he said.
Yet Canada is, or was, seen as an ally here – an investor and a lucrative market for Brazil, Mr. Cordeiro said, and so it is discomfiting to be reminded that Brazil might be viewed in a more calculating fashion in Ottawa. “A country like Brazil makes a huge effort to develop. And when you see something like those slides – you feel slightly vulnerable.”
Mr. Cordeiro said he believes this kind of activity presents the key ethical challenge in this age of rapid technological progress.
“I understand that there is a big effort since 2001 of covering the whole world in the war on terror … you have an instrument that will allow you to see many others,” he said. “How can you resist that temptation … how do you create firewalls between something that would be considered legitimate and something such as economic activity that is also of interest to the state? … When you have big bids and countries looking for raw materials and a very wide plurilateral competition for economic assets, who is going to assure you that these instruments of entering, listening, mapping will not be used?”
Jean Daudelin, a professor of international development at Carleton University and an expert on Brazil, described Mr. Cordeiro as a diplomat with a genuine fondness for Canada who was ambassador at the start of the best period to date in Brazil-Canada relations.
“Where do you find goodwill when you need it if you burn bridges, when you act like this with those who are your best friends?” Prof. Daudelin asked.
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