Secret Surveillance Targets Civil Society

Much of Canada's spying is done on behalf of corporations
December 1, 2013

I spy, you spy. . . In the world of big mining and big oil companies, it would seem that everybody spies.

Canadians were profoundly shocked to learn that the Canadian government had been spying on the Ministry of Mining and Energy in Brazil. Canada's usually low-profile spying agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), was dramatically outed by documents from Edward Snowden, the now famous whistleblower from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Brazil's Globo TV network revealed the Canadian spying story on its flagship investigative program, Fantastico, on October 6.

It wasn't only CSEC that carried out the spying. The UK Guardian, which has been publishing the Snowden documents, has also documented how CSEC then shared the data it collected with Canada's counterpart spying agencies in the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand – collectively known as the "Five Eyes."

The Fantastico exposure included slides from a power point presentation to a meeting of the Five Eyes last June in which CSEC outlined in detail how it had used a program called Olympia to break through the Brazilian Ministry's encryption. The information on Brazil was gleaned through building a detailed map of the Ministry's communications and carrying out a combination of monitoring emails and electronic communications, as well as eavesdropping on telephone conversations -- all part of the "metadata mining" approach now in vogue in the world of espionage.

Equally problematic were the revelations that this and other information gleaned from CSEC's spying activities over the years have been shared on a regular basis with private mining and energy companies in Canada. The heavily redacted documents that have been leaked include records of regular meetings involving Canadian government leaders, government agencies, and corporate representatives who were granted security clearances for the meetings.

The Guardian revealed that these meetings have been conducted twice annually since 2005, involving federal ministries, spy and police agencies such as CSIS, CSEC, and the RCMP, and representatives from scores of mining and oil companies.

In 2007, the then Minister of Natural Resources, Gary Lunn, mentioned at an industry gathering, "we have sponsored over 200 industry representatives in obtaining Secret Level II security clearance. This enables us to share information with industry and their associations so that the appropriate security enhancement measures can be adopted."

The story of Canadian government spying on Brazil has been well documented by major Canadian news agencies, including stories by much touted Globe and Mail reporter Stephanie Nolen, now based in Brazil. The September issue of CCPA Monitor reported on the NSA spying activities, and in its November issue, Asad Ismi wrote a lengthy analysis of Canadian government spying. It included not only the spying on Brazil, but also the overly intimate government-corporate links and the spying carried out on Canadian civil society activists concerned about mining, from rights and environmental activists to Aboriginals defending sovereignty.

In the world of extractive sector corporations and their megaprojects, however, governments are not the only spies. Corporations also spy, according to the startling revelations made recently by a whistleblower who had spent eight years spying for Brazil's mining giant, Vale. Canadian Vale employees and United Steel Workers (USW) union staff who are members of the International Network of People Affected by Vale, were shocked to find themselves named by the Vale whistleblower.

The tales of this whistleblower also need to be told in Canada.

Mining companies also spy

The Canadian government's spying on Brazil that has gained so much international attention is not, in fact, the only espionage scandal Brazilian President Dilma has on her plate. On March 18, André Almeida, a former employee in Vale's Department of Intelligence and Corporate Security, contacted the Federal Prosecutor's office in Rio de Janeiro and made a series of allegations about spying and infiltration by Vale in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais, Para, and Maranhao.

The allegations of spying on community leaders, social movements, journalists, and even company employees were backed up by more than 1,000 pages of material handed over, consisting of emails, spread-sheets, incident reports, photos, and receipts.

Almeida claimed that, during his employment at Vale, his department regularly paid fees to functionaries in the Federal Police and Justice Department in Sao Paulo as a way of getting information for Vale's "internal investigations." Vale accessed banking records through illegal means and used illicit channels to access information reserved for the use of Brazil's federal tax and security systems, Receita Federal and Infoseg.

Vale's spying also included telephone taps and building up records or dossiers on political figures and representatives of social movements who were in any way critical of Vale.

In all probability, Vale has records on file of some of the USW representatives who participated in the first International Meeting of People Affected by Vale which took place in Rio in 2010. The material handed over to the Brazilian government included an incident report on an action in front of the stunning condo on Ipanema Beach belonging to Vale's former president, Roger Agnelli.

A few of us who had spent the preceding week in one of the caravans making visits to Vale operations in Minas Gerais and the north of Brazil had come up with the idea of a mini-demo. The Canadians included trade union leaders from Vale's Canadian nickel mines (formerly INCO) who were in the midst of a long and bitter strike against Vale. They had banners with strike slogans from Canada with them. We now presume one member of the group – the one who wrote the report and took the photo submitted to Vale's security department that appeared in the whistleblower's documents – must have been an infiltrator.

Vale's "enemy list"

Almeida was fired in March 2012, after eight years of service in what he defined as the hub of Vale's spying activities. He confirmed that the targets for the spying carried out by Vale included leaders from the Justice on the Rails network, leaders from the Landless People's Movement (MST), and journalists Lúcio Flávio Pinto from Jornal Pessoal, and Vera Durão who at the time was working for Valor Econômico, a prominent business journal.

According to Almeida, any person or organization in a position to hold the company to account and criticize it for its constant violations of rights was put on Vale's "enemy" list and could become a likely target for spying.
Almeida also revealed the existence of dossiers on social leaders, almost like police records. Those with dossiers include the lawyer Danilo Chammas and Father Dario Bossi, from "Justice on the Rails," a network that acts in defence of communities along Vale's 890-km Carajas railway in the north of Brazil. This railway line carries as many as 26 trains daily of unprocessed iron ore from Vale's gigantic Carajas iron mine to the port complex in Maranhao for export to Asian markets. It runs roughshod through indigenous, ex-slave and poor communities.

Others with records as "enemies of Vale" include award-winning journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto, a combative critic of the company's operations in Para; Raimundo Gomes Cruz Neto, sociologist and agronomist at Cepasp, a grassroots education and research center in Maraba; Charles Trocate, Landless People's Movement leader; and even President Dilma Rousseff herself when she was Minister of Mines and Energy.
According to Almeida, some of the information about President Dilma was obtained from public data, newspaper articles and social networks, but other data were gleaned through plain and simple espionage, including undercover agents.

Brazil urged to probe Vale

In May, two months after the revelations about Vale spying, I joined representatives from social organizations in Brasilia to spend a day lobbying for a full investigation into the allegations. The group was headed by MST and Justice on the Rails network, the two organizations alleged to have been infiltrated by Vale spies.

We had prepared a packet of documents, including an open letter urgently requesting the Brazilian government to delve into these matters. The letter had international signatures, including sign-ons from USW, Mining Watch, and Halifax Initiative. The packet was presented to the President's office, the Federal Prosecutor, the Minister of Justice, and the Secretariat of Human Rights and Participatory Government, among other government departments. The packet was also handed over to Abin, Brazil's national intelligence agency. Former Abin agents were regularly employed by Vale and seemingly brought their tradecraft with them, giving Vale access to classified information, both on its employees and those on its "enemy" list.

At the end of the afternoon, we got to meet with Senator Ana Rita, current president of the Human Rights Commission. She said she was surprised to hear the charges. She also expressed concern about the optics of these tales of Vale's spying outside of Brazil, raising for some of us alarm bells about how close the Brazilian government itself might prove to be to its high-flying transnationals like Vale, now that Vale has attained global player status in the world of the BRICS.

Be that as it may, the Senate Commission on Human Rights and Participatory Government did take follow-up action by convening an Interactive Public Hearing on the spying allegations against Vale on October 24. The official Senate invitation to participate characterized the subject of the hearing as "spying and infiltration of Vale S.A., threatening social movements, defenders of human rights, journalists, trade unionists, and NGOs."

The participants in the public hearing included André Almeida (the actual whistleblower); Gabriel Strautman from Global Justice, who spoke on behalf of the Affected by Vale network; Javier Mujica, lawyer from the International Federation of Human Rights; Dom Guilherme Werlang, president of the Commission of Justice and Peace; the National Council of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB); Igor Martini, national co-ordinator of the Program to Protect Defenders of Human Rights; the National Secretariat of Human Rights; and Nayana Fadul, attorney from the Federal Public Prosecutor in Para state. Invitations were also extended to Marcelo Veiga, from the Ministry of Justice, a representative of Abin, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, and Vale itself. Vale chose not to participate.

The Network of People Affected by Vale was well represented with activists from Rio and Minas Gerais, as well as the Justice on the Rails coalition from the north. Labour representatives from Metabase Congonhas and Sindiquimica Parana were present, as well as Danilo Chammas, lawyer for Justice on the Rails, and Father Dario Bossi, a prominent activist, both of whom were specifically targeted, according to the documents handed over.

Chammas had this to say: "President Dilma did not hide from anyone her profound indignation in response to the spying carried out by the U.S. and Canada on Brazil. She took various measures with a view to denouncing and combating these practices, which she herself characterized as violations of human rights. We hope she will adopt the same posture in the face of these repulsive practices of spying carried out by Vale. A government must employ the same weights and measures in all situations."

The lobbying to pressure the Brazilian government to carry out a full investigation into Vale's spying was not the only thing that brought civil society mining activists together. In fact, the days in Brasilia pointed to the impressive capacity of Brazilian civil society to organize and develop joint strategies at local, provincial (or state), national and international levels. Several Canadian organizations including USW, Mining Watch, Halifax Initiative, and Friends of the Earth, have already been involved in the activities of the International Network of People Affected by Vale launched in 2010.

This very broad coalition with a focus concentrated on Vale has opened up new possibilities. It is a coalition that goes beyond just labour or just environmentalists to encompass all those affected by a mining megaproject, and thus offers multiple levers for action. Since the mining companies themselves operate globally, a network to challenge them that builds capacity to function globally, across language and cultural and geographic barriers, is also of strategic importance. One of the network's accomplishments was to tarnish Vale's global image by having it ranked "Worst Company in the World" during the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2012. The icing on the cake was the presentation of this dubious "award" by former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz, who had strong words about the inordinate power of transnational companies.

Those of us from the Affected by Vale network spent some time in Brasilia in internal discussions, probing the tantalizing hints from André Almeida of equivalent actions of spying and espionage in Vale's international operations. There have been incidents of intimidation, disinformation, rigged elections, and dirty tricks that we all assume to have been orchestrated by Vale but have no proof.

When Brazilian trade unionists come to Mozambique to participate in worker exchanges, Vale has been known to call the local trade union office to tell them they have a "dangerous man from Brazil" in their midst. In October of this year, there was an attempt to intimidate a Mozambican activist organizing a visit by Father Dario to Tete, where Vale leads the mining boom for Mozambique's rich coal reserves. The activist got a middle of the night visit ten days before Father Dario's arrival, threatening harm to his family if he did not stop the visit. The visit went ahead. Another Mozambique activist who was to provide the transport during the visit had his car trashed.

Having proof of what the company is prepared to do in Brazil to its critics and the communities of poor and indigenous people that get in the way of its expansion just adds to the conviction that Vale -- in Canada or in Mozambique or in Indonesia — probably has mounted a "corporate security" department with the same objectives.

A new Mineral Code

The days in Brasilia included participation in other meetings that revealed the impressive level of organization among mining activists in Brazil. I participated in the launch of a National Committee on the new Brazilian Mineral Code. The Brazilian government had confined public participation in debates on the new Code to the corporate sector. An ad hoc committee of civil society organizations, including two labour centrals, CUT and CSP/Conlutas, has already made a formal complaint and a strong request for participation.

This meeting brought together about 30 organizations of researchers and activists involved in mining questions with the idea of formulating a common platform. The groups that gathered see mining not just as a sector of the economy, but also as an activity with profound implications in relations to ecosystems, local communities affected, national sovereignty, resource stewardship, and indigenous rights. They were finalizing a document that identified seven challenges in the construction of a new Mineral Code. The preamble speaks of the code as an opportunity to adopt the highest social, economic, and environmental standards, and also an opportunity to change the current system where companies get the gains and communities and the environment get the damages. The seven challenges identified were:

  • Guarantee democracy and transparency in the formulation and application of the Brazilian mineral policy.
  • Guarantee the right to consultation, consent and veto for local communities affected by mining activities.
  • Respect rates and rhythm of exploration, avoiding mining in a hurry with megaprojects and intensive mining.
  • Delimit mining and create areas free from mining with their limits respected.
  • Control of environmental damages and guarantee of mine closure plans, with adequate financing guaranteed from the outset.
  • Respect and protect of workers' rights, with special attention to health and safety, fatalities, and workplace diseases, many of which are caused by the frenetic pace of work and the bullying atmosphere that prevails in the workplace.
  • Guarantee that mining on Indigenous land respect ILO Convention 169 and is carried out under the terms of the Indigenous Peoples' Statute.

Those affected by mining

My final day in Brasilia coincided with another national meeting toward the formation of a new social movement focused on mining, provisionally named the Movement of Those Affected by Mining. The meeting brought together delegations from the 16 states in Brazil with significant mining activity. Each delegation had a different mix of organizations. They included NGOs like PACS or IBASE, social movements like the MST, trade unions, faith groups, environmentalists, human rights activists, and researchers. The aim was to take a further step in creating a National Movement of People Affected by Mining.

They had had a first organizational meeting in Para in northern Brazil in April 2012, at which they adopted a ten-point program of action on which they would try to work collectively. The ten points included building a strong defence of people impacted by predatory mining activities, especially forced resettlement.

I was able to participate only in the first day of discussions, a day rich in the best traditions of Brazilian activism. The Landless People's Movement is prominent in the initiative, and the day began with a typically MST opening, what is called a "mistica." This means some kind of collective activity using theatre or poetry or music that galvanizes the emotions.

For the gathering of mining activists, the theme was courage, with repeated choruses of phrases like "I need courage, I need to conquer fear, Don't mess with me, I am not walking alone as I speak these truths." My thoughts back to the two Mozambican trade unionists who had come to a USW mining conference in June 2012, followed by a trip to Sudbury with other international delegates. The discussions in Sudbury started by going around the circle, which each delegate naming the biggest problem being faced in their country. Some said "contracting out." Others said "foreign guest workers." When it came to the first Mozambican's turn, his answer was "fear... and courage."

For trade unionists employed by Vale or Rio Tinto to speak out in Mozambique, they must take on not just the company, but their government, and often the national leaders of their unions, which are now closely allied with both government and companies.

At the service of capital

Next on the agenda was veteran MST leader Joao Pedro Stedile, giving a very thoughtful set of reflections on the question of why mining has become so prominent in driving the capitalist agenda. He saw Brazil as captured by a world of speculation in commodities, effectively being de-industrialized, losing its sovereign control over its resources, with the dominant class totally subordinated to capital. He saw not just the government, but the state itself, at the service of capital, from the BNDES (the National Bank for Socio-Economic Development) to the army.

The BNDES, when created, had been an important policy tool for import substitution and national and regional industrial strategies. Today it has adopted "making Brazil competitive in the global economy" as its main aim. Generous loans to private Brazilian companies like Vale and Odebrecht for expanding their global operations are the order of the day. Stedile spent time looking at the contradictions in the prevailing models and the opportunities for action.

The quality of analysis from social movement leaders like Stedile and from various committed researchers who were part of the state delegations was noteworthy, as was the package of background documents distributed to each delegate. The movement has depth, with serious critiques and serious proposals of alternatives. At the same time, it has equally serious commitments to direct action, to stopping the ore trains or occupying territory needed for those made landless by the megaprojects. Canadian mining activists would have lots to learn and lots to share with them.

Resource firms predominate

In these early years of the 21st century, transnational corporations in the extractive sector have become the predominant forces driving corporate globalization and the prevailing neoliberal world order. They are formidable players, with financial power that eclipses that of many governments, and a proclivity to act as if the companies themselves are entitled to govern. They wield power in multiple ways, ready to use both legal and illegal means. They have been driving forces behind the free trade agreements in the north and structural adjustment programs in the south, with their mantras of privatization and deregulation, thereby ending the long era of strong state mining, oil and gas companies, serving as bulwarks for national industrial strategies.

Brazil's state companies, like its oil company Petrobras, are more the exception than the rule, and even the state companies often include joint ventures or servicing contracts with multinational partners which bring with them private sector practices. More importantly, even companies designated as state companies are today driven less by goals of national or regional industrial strategies and more by positioning themselves to be competitive within global supply chains.

Governments have also relinquished their regulatory role over these companies, whether in terms of ensuring operational safety and environmental protection, or defending labour, community, and Indigenous rights. "National competitiveness" is the new watchword, providing justification for a multiplicity of government subsidies and pro-active services to private sector firms. Support through loans and lines of credit is publicly known. Less visible are government-to-government arrangements such as northern governments "mentoring" governments in Africa or Latin America as they adopt new extractive sector codes to woo transnational investors, most of which turn out to be more investor-friendly than those they replaced.

There is ever closer collaboration between mining companies and "their" governments, although adoption of national identities by these corporations often amounts to little more than hoisting a flag of convenience. The dictates of the stock exchange and global markets are clearly the more determinative reference points. Information sharing, curiously, has emerged as a place where this flag of convenience is hoisted high.

Enter the world of espionage. Canada spies on Brazil and shares the information with mining and oil companies in Canada. Vale spies on its resisters and critics, and seemingly has no trouble mobilizing public employees in the police and security apparatus to collaborate in its investigations.

Spying the new normal

How has spying become normalized? Part of the problem may be a lack of appropriate oversight mechanisms from other branches of government. The bigger problem, however, is the prevailing logic of the neo-liberal world order. Paul Decary, the outgoing CSEC oversight commissioner in Canada, expresses satisfaction with CSEC's performance record, worries about the privacy of Canadian citizens who might have had their communications intercepted inadvertently while CSEC was targeting foreign entities, and is quite comfortable with the idea that CSEC spying is legitimate because it works to defend Canadian interests.

The Toronto Star's national affairs writer, Tim Harper, captures the prevailing logic in his October 9 column: "Intelligence gleaned from Brazil's energy ministry would be considered of national importance for this government if it thought Brazilian exports threatened its national priority of getting Alberta tar sands to market."

The normalization of spying works only for those who make no distinction between Canada's national interests and those of private firms like Enbridge or Kinross or Barrick. For Canadians who question megaprojects in mining and energy, who recognize the enormity of the tar sands' contribution to global warming, who worry about coastal oil spills and the glib promises of the oil companies that there is nothing to fear from piping dirty, heavy oil through aging pipelines through dense urban neighbourhoods all across the country, the spying on Brazil as a way to protect the tar sands project is just one more proof of how our government has been captured by big business and lost all sight of what constitutes the public good.

There is utter disregard for the fact that the tar sands development is highly contested. The many Canadians who would argue that the tar sands are not only not in Canada's national interest but are also devastating for the well-being of the planet, are effectively "disappeared."

As I write, there are new revelations about the government of Brazil's own spying operations on the embassies of the Russia, Iran, and Iraq about a decade ago. While small and unsophisticated compared to the operations of NSA and CSEC today, they did take place. The state intelligence agency, Abin, immediately defended them as "following Brazilian law for the protection of national interests."

In Brazil as in Canada, who gets to define what is in the national interest is the key question. For the new mining code discussions in Brazil invited only corporations to the table. We learn that CESC gives security clearance to Canadian mining and oil company executives for cozy gatherings to share information gleaned by spying. Company names were blanked out, but we know that Enbridge supplied the lunch.

The clamour of civil society groups in both Brazil and Canada to look at extractive industries with a more critical eye and explore better and feasible alternatives continues to be ignored. Perhaps the mining activists in the two countries need to find each other and develop more ways to make common cause. At a minimum, they could share experiences about how best to occupy and how to stop the ore trains.

(Dr. Judith Marshall is an Associate Fellow with the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean at York University in Toronto.)