The Bolsonaro Government’s Aggressive Response Shows Why Our Reporting on the Secret Brazil Archive Is So Vital

Justice Minister Moro and his defenders are trying to distract attention away from their own misconduct by fixating on the actions of those who revealed it.

Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept

When news emerged this week that the Federal Police had arrested four people accused of hacking the Telegram accounts of various Brazilian officials and providing some of that content to The Intercept, many of our readers asked: What effect will this have on the reporting that we have done and are continuing to do on this secret archive?

The answer, in one word: None.

The public interest in reporting this material has been obvious from the start. These documents revealed serious, systematic, and sustained improprieties and possible illegality by Brazil’s current Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro while he was a judge, as well as by the chief prosecutor of the Car Wash investigation, Deltan Dallagnol, and other members of that investigative task force. It was the Car Wash task force, which Moro presided over as a judge, that was responsible for prosecuting ex-President Lula da Silva and removing him from the 2018 election, paving the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to become president. The corruption exposed by our reporting was so serious, and so consequential, that even many of Moro’s most loyal supporters abandoned him and called for his resignation within a week of the publication of our initial stories.

As the revelations of corruption by Moro and Dallagnol grew — reported both by us and our journalistic partners in Brazil — those officials resorted to the tactics used by government officials everywhere when their improprieties are revealed in the press: They tried to distract attention away from their own misconduct by fixating on the actions of the source as well as the journalists who revealed their wrongdoing.

That is what Sergio Moro, exploiting his position as Bolsonaro’s minister of justice and public security, has been attempting to do for weeks. He and his defenders in Bolsonaro’s party constantly speak about the alleged crimes committed by our source and imply that the reporters and editors at The Intercept and other media outlets working with us are criminals and “accomplices” for the role we have played in exposing their corruption. Moro consistently refers to The Intercept’s reporters as “the allies of the hackers.”

And on July 27, Bolsonaro directly weighed in, with the scurrilous charge that Glenn Greenwald got married and adopted children in order to avoid deportation (his marriage occurred 14 years ago), and threatened Greenwald with imprisonment with the line, “He may take a cane here in Brazil.”

But despite their aggressive efforts, Moro and his defenders have been unable to obtain any evidence to support their insinuations that The Intercept did anything in this matter other than exercise our right to practice journalism, which is guaranteed and protected by the Brazilian Constitution.

At the end of last week, after Brazil’s Federal Police had announced the arrests, they released what they called the “confession” of the person they claim is the principal hacker who provided us with this material, Walter Delgatti Neto. After being interrogated for hours and allegedly “confessing” to the hacking, Delgatti Neto said in his official police statement that:

  • he never spoke to any Intercept reporter until he had already completed his hacking;
  • he never requested or received any payment from The Intercept (or any other party) for providing the documents;
  • he only spoke to The Intercept anonymously;
  • he never altered any of the chats he provided to us and does not believe that it would be technically possible to have altered the chats given how he downloaded them from Telegram; and
  • his claimed motive for obtaining and leaking these documents was inspired by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: to improve his country by exposing hidden corruption that the public had the right to know.

Because we have not only the right but the duty — under both the Constitution in Brazil and the code of ethics that governs our profession — to protect our sources, we have not and will not comment on the individuals accused by the Federal Police of having hacked into Telegram accounts and then providing information to our journalists.

But what we can confirm is that, as we have said emphatically from the beginning, the work we have done is classic public interest journalism: receiving authentic information that reveals serious wrongdoing by the country’s most powerful officials and then carefully and responsibly reporting it. Even the Federal Police’s account of what their suspect says aligns with what we have said from the start about our role.

When we published our first series of exposes on June 9, we included an editorial explaining the journalistic principles that guided our reporting of the archive and what our role was in obtaining it. We wrote:

Until now, the Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have carried out their work largely in secret, preventing the public from evaluating the validity of the accusations against them and the truth of their denials. That’s what makes this new archive so journalistically valuable: For the first time, the public will learn what these judges and prosecutors were saying and doing when they thought nobody was listening. …

The Intercept’s only role in obtaining these materials was to receive them from our source, who contacted us many weeks ago (long before the recently alleged hacking of Moro’s telephone) and informed us that they had already obtained the full set of materials and was eager to provide them to journalists.

When we received the archive, we asked ourselves two questions, the same two key questions journalists around the world ask when embarking on a story: 1) Can we determine that this material is authentic? and 2) Is it in the public interest to report it?

If the answer to those two questions is “yes” — as it was in this case — then we have not only the right but the duty to inform the public about it. That is what we have been doing since June 9 and will continue to do until all of the material in the public interest is reported. This is also why we opened our newsroom and archive to Brazilian journalistic partners, including the major newspaper Folha, the news magazine Veja, and others. 

We were able to authenticate this material using the same methods that at least six other journalistic outlets used to authenticate it, many of which were the same methods used to authenticate the Snowden archive before reporting on it. They include comparing the contents to nonpublic material to determine that it was genuine; consulting with sources whose nonpublic knowledge aligned with its contents; and confirming with legal specialists that the highly intricate, nonpublic legal material could have been created only by someone with in-depth, inside knowledge of the Car Wash investigations. We were also able to see in the chats the prosecutors’ past conversations with our own reporters, and we found that they were authentic. The other journalists who had access to the material did the same check and came to the same conclusion: The chats are real.

If history is any indication, the attempt by Moro and his defenders to encourage the public to fixate on the actions of the alleged source rather than the content of our journalistic revelations about his misconduct will fail spectacularly. Much of the most important journalism of the last several decades was made possible by sources who illegally obtained vital information and furnished it to journalists. What history remembers is what the reporting revealed, not the actions of the sources who helped reveal it.

In 1971, a former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg stole tens of thousands of pages of top-secret documents proving that the U.S. government was lying to the American people about the Vietnam War. He gave those stolen documents to the New York Times and then to the Washington Post, both of which reported them. What people remember are the lies revealed by those stolen documents. To the extent Ellsberg is discussed, he is widely regarded as a hero for enabling this official deceit to be exposed by journalists.

Throughout the war on terror waged by the U.S. and its allies since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the largest media outlets in the West — the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC News, BBC, the Guardian — repeatedly received vital information from sources who risked prosecution to expose grave wrongdoing, such as torture, CIA black sites, and illegal domestic NSA spying. While a few authoritarian voices called for the imprisonment of the journalists who revealed those secrets, most regarded the reporting as vital and necessary, and all of those exposes received the top prizes of journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize.

The same was true of the reporting in 2013 and 2014 about the secret mass spying on the internet and entire populations around the world by the U.S. government and its allies — reporting that was enabled by documents unlawfully disseminated by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Dozens of media outlets around the world, including Globo in Brazil, were eager to use those illegally obtained documents to report on the secret spying by government officials because journalists understand that what matters is not the acts or motives of the source but the content of what the journalism reveals to the public.

And, of course, what history remembers most about that reporting are not the moral judgments by the U.S. government and its defenders about Edward Snowden’s actions. What matters — what history has recorded — is what the reporting revealed about the mass and indiscriminate invasions of privacy carried out in secret by security state agencies.

We have no doubt that Moro, Dallagnol, and their allies will continue to use the same tactics pioneered by Richard Nixon and his top aides against Daniel Ellsberg and other sources during the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandals: namely, to focus public attention on the acts of those who revealed their corruption rather than on the corruption they themselves committed.

But we also have no doubt that these tactics will be no more successful in this case than they were in all these prior cases of crucial journalism over the last several decades. What matters to the public is what their most powerful leaders have done in secret. And that’s why a free press is so vital, so indispensable, to a healthy democracy: because only journalism that is independent of the government and unconstrained by corrupt officials can ensure that the public remains informed and aware of what their leaders are doing and that those officials are prevented from carrying out corrupt acts in secret.

Those are the principles on which The Intercept was founded in 2013. Those are the principles that have driven the reporting we have done from the inception of our news organization. And those are the principles that — with your help and support — will continue to drive our ongoing reporting of the Secret Brazil Archive.

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