The Sabu/Jeremy Hammond case, or the FBI’s 2012 collaboration with Anonymous hackers in operations against Brazil (and other countries) was overshadowed by the trove of NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013. For Brazil the story was no less significant. As something calling itself “Anonymous” re-emerges after years of inactivity, Brazilians have every reason to be wary.
“No one can say for certain how this change will end. But I do know that change is not something we should fear.” then United States President Barack Obama told Rio de Janeiro’s Teatro Municipal in March 2011, “Brazil – a country that shows how a call for change that starts in the streets, can transform a city, transform a country, transform a world.” the President concluded, presciently.
Around this time, an Anonymous U.S. hacker named Hector Xavier Monsegur, aka Sabu, was already working “around the clock… at the direction of law enforcement” to provide information on “targets of national and international interest”.
Having earlier been arrested, he had turned FBI informant, which eventually leading to the arrest of fellow hacker Jeremy Hammond, one year later.
A Rolling Stone profile of Hammond by Janet Reitman explained “Even before the arrest broadcast his name worldwide, Hammond was well-known in extreme-left circles. An early champion of “cyber-liberation,” he had been described by Chicago magazine at the age of 22 as an “electronic Robin Hood” after he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for hacking a conservative website and making off with 5,000 credit-card numbers, intending to charge donations to progressive causes.”
“I have always made it clear that I am an anarchist-communist – as in I believe we need to abolish capitalism and the state in its entirety to realize a free, egalitarian society,” he had earlier written..
However, Hammond, who was an alleged source for Wikileaks, had been duped by social-engineer Monsegur into carrying out hacks on a list of foreign targets supplied by the FBI, attacks which were motivated by a very different view of the world to his.
While Hammond was entrapped, and the core of what was Anonymous – which had been hitting US targets – was taken out, the US authorities were also being delivered a trove of information on foreign powers. For the FBI it was win/win.
At his court hearing, Hammond specifically mentioned Brazil, Iran and Turkey as countries he had been instructed to pursue by Monsegur, before being forced to stop his testimony by Judge Loretta Preska, who ruled that names of countries targeted should be redacted for the purposes of secrecy.
In January and February 2012, Monsegur, collaborators such as Hammond, and local hackers, began targeting Brazilian sites in earnest. Although the Brazilian groups were from across the political spectrum, Monsegur’s AntiSec crew were facilitating an anti-corruption campaign principally directed against the Federal Government.
Operation Brasília, as they called it, defaced more than 100 commercial and government sites to leave protest messages about corruption, and steal confidential information from servers. Such nebulous, generic “corruption” would be the principal propaganda weapon of Brazil’s coup to come. What was done with the stolen information is unknown.
It was a massive campaign of hacks against Brazilian Government’s online infrastructure, all under the control of the FBI and a U.S. Agent in the form of Anonymous’s Monsegur, yet the story would go on to be overshadowed by later espionage revelations, and ultimately forgotten. As was typical of evidence of U.S. meddling in Brazil, the story’s importance was downplayed by American journalists in the country. Given that the FBI and Department of Justice were already collaborating on what would evolve into Operation Lava Jato, this is more historically significant now than it seemed.
In his own statement, Hammond wrote: “In one instance, Sabu and I provided access information to hackers who went on to deface and destroy many government websites in XXXXXX (redacted). I don’t know how other information I provided to him may have been used, but I think the government’s collection and use of this data needs to be investigated.”
He explained that, for example “The FBI took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems, undoubtedly supplying useful intelligence to the military and their buildup for war.”
Amongst targets Hammond recalls being given were the Internal Affairs Division of the Military Police of Brazil and the Globo Television Network.
In his statement following his trial, Hammond, now serving a ten year prison sentence, explained that he was drawn to Anonymous because it “was involved in operations in support of the Arab Spring uprisings…” and that it “was also involved in the early stages of Occupy Wall Street…” – both of which Brazil’s June 2013 protests would be later compared to.
The growth of these protests followed shortly after NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden were released, which showed Brazil, and President Dilma Rousseff herself, to be surveilled by the United States as if adversary, not ally.
Semiotic attacks on Brazil’s image, conducted through the greatest social media saturation in the developing world, helped foment the unrest. This distorted the visible themes of demonstrations towards anti-corruption and other rightwing tropes, and these protests ultimately evolved into the opening act of a regime change process in Brazil – whatever the objectives of their original protagonists.
A year later in June 2014, Anonymous launched Operation World Cup on the eve of the international football tournament. Beyond FIFA websites and Brazil’s Football Confederation, the Department of Justice and Consumer Citizenship, the Military Police of São Paulo, the Bank of Brazil, São Paulo’s subway system, and the websites of the municipalities of Igarapé do Meio, Nova Luzitânia, and Indaial were all attacked.
The attack also brought down the Brazilian Intelligence System, ABIN.
Anonymous announced in a statement that it was “pursuing the government of Brazil because of their corruption and actions against the people.”
“Anonymous demands that the Government of Brazil put an immediate end to corruption and stop the use of force and violence against peaceful demonstrators. We cannot stand idly while these injustices are being done. Know that we stand together and united to fight against this oppression.” it announced.
The language of corruption and violence sat perfectly within the intensifying propaganda war against Rousseff’s government which ultimately culminated in the US-endorsed coup to remove her, two years later. Rousseff had already warned that such protests were orchestrated by political opponents of the Workers Party: “There is a systematic campaign against the World Cup – or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us,” she remarked.
In addition, the aesthetics of Anonymous, such as the V for Vendetta mask, became synonymous with the Brazilian protests’ rightward shift and strategies associated with it were further adopted by the far-right. These now live on in the so called “Hate Office” of the Presidential Palace; which operates as a control centre for fake news and digital militias, run by Jair Bolsonaro’s son Carlos and advisor Felipe Martins. Martins, who is credited with introducing Bolsonaro to Steve Bannon, previously worked as an advisor the US embassy for the coup period between November 2014 following election and May 2016, when Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment was all but sealed. More recently, FBI director in Brazil, David Brassanini met Martins, who is a follower of U.S.-based far-right “guru” Olavo de Carvalho, accompanied by William Popp, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy.
In 2020, eight years after the FBI/Anonymous attacks on “corruption” in Brazil, it is suffering in chaos, under a corrupt and violent extreme-right government, which is completely subservient to the United States. It came to power through lawfare – selective use of the law, specifically regarding corruption, to eliminate political adversaries, with the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice working hand in hand for years, and in secret, with Brazilian collaborators.
Hector Xavier Monsegur was released in 2014 after only seven months of a twenty-six year sentence, on account of his cooperation with the FBI.
Jeremy Hammond is still held at Grady County Jail, Oklahoma, with six years of ten year sentence served. Find out more about his case at the Jeremy Hammond Support Network.