Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian press has lately been replete with references to the leaked documents showing that NSA has been spying on Brazil, its leaders and its oil company. All this has potentially imperiled President Dilma’s visit in October to the White House, formerly “impending” but now merely “pending”. The Curmudgeon will make a few points.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil news
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

The first point the Curmudgeon will make is “Why is anyone surprised?” The U.S. has long had the most sophisticated surveillance systems in the world, spread around (and above) the globe. These systems were not designed to be museum pieces; they were designed to further American foreign policy. The idea that countries only spy on their “enemies”, not their “friends”, is simply naïve.

The second point the Curmudgeon will make is “You should be proud!” That’s not meant cynically. All countries prefer spying on important countries than on less important countries. Brazil has increased in world importance during the past twenty years because of its progress; now it’s “a player” – hence it’s more “spyable”.

The third point is about terrorism. Global surveillance began in earnest after 9/11 because the U.S. was attacked. Brazil has a city — Foz do Iguaçu — which has long been known to be an active money laundering center, and is often suspected of being a potential source of funding for Al Qaeda. This is not to say that Brazilians support Al Qaeda; but money launderers don’t do politics.

The fourth point concerns petroleum, more specifically Petrobras and pre-salt. The deep water fields discovered off Brazil’s coast are immense: early estimates indicate they may be greater than those of the North Sea, Mexico’s offshore, and Venezuela’s Maracaibo. Production in all those regions is now declining, so long range the U.S. will have to look towards other suppliers for its imports.

Brazil is the obvious prime candidate, as it’s “friendly”, not in OPEC, not freezing cold like the Arctic, not horrendous ecologically like Canada’s oil sands and fractured shale, and you don’t have to go through a canal or a pipeline to get Brazilian oil to the Eastern U.S. The pre-salt deepwater finds are crucial to the U.S. future energy use and policy. The Brazilian government has given Petrobras a near-monopoly on pre-salt exploration and production, making it an attractive target.

The fifth point is this. Spying on personal data of Presidents and ministers is not in the U.S. public interest. Spying to benefit U.S. oil companies is not in the U.S. public interest. The U.S. has denied that it does either of those things; however, given the past history of denials from the U.S. about NSA activities, those denials are suspect.

Should Dilma cancel her trip to the USA? Israel and the U.S. spy on each other 24/7 but their leaders still meet, because they have common interests. Brazil and the U.S. have numerous common interests. The point of Presidential visits is to enhance and encourage commonality, not divisions.

Cancellation of Dilma’s trip will not stop the U.S. from spying on Brazil nor will it promote any of Brazil’s other interests, such as a seat on the UN Security Council, or the removal of a visa requirement for tourists. So, the Curmudgeon thinks Dilma should go to DC and talk to Obama about what is possible in the future.


Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


  1. Very good opinion! Maybe Brasil is back on my radar, it will be a tough translation, but may very well be worth it in the long run.

  2. As a retired diplomat, representing another country with a sophisticated SigInt interception service (GCHQ), I entirely agree with all these points. In particular, if I were Dilma I’d have felt insulted if I had discovered that NSA wasn’t bothering to eavesdrop on me!


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