Brazil's police investigate Bolsonaro's intelligence boss over alleged political spying

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s federal police are investigating the country's former intelligence chief as part of a wider probe into alleged spying on political opponents under former President Jair Bolsonaro, court records showed Thursday.

The former intelligence chief, Alexandre Ramagem, was among those targeted by the 21 search warrants that the Supreme Court authorized and that were carried out by police early Thursday morning.

Police are investigating an “organized crime” group that operated within the intelligence agency, known by its Portuguese acronym ABIN, during Ramagem’s tenure, according to a police statement.

The group essentially ran a “parallel structure” within ABIN, using the agency’s tools and services “for illicit actions, producing information for political and media use, to obtain personal benefits and interfere with police investigations,” it said.

Police suspect Ramagem used a software known as FirstMile, developed by Israeli company Cognyte, “to monitor targets and public authorities ... with the aim of creating false narratives," according to Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes' 38-page decision authorizing the warrants.

The document also detailed the group's purported modus operandi.

While some officers were allegedly tasked with merely monitoring targets and producing reports, others allegedly took steps to fabricate links between targets — such as lawmakers and Supreme Court Justices — and drug traffickers.

Police also said their investigations showed that the group allegedly sought to interfere in several police investigations, including some that targeted or involved two of Bolsonaro's sons, Jair Renan and Flávio, a sitting senator.

Ramagem denied having accessed, used or managed the system in question in an interview with television network GloboNews on Thursday.

He said he reviewed legal documents that led to the search, and that they contained “a salad of narratives, even old and resolved ones, put there to criminally accuse us without proof.”

The Globo television network reported in October that ABIN personnel employed the tracking software more than 30,000 times, of which 1,800 targeted politicians, journalists, lawyers and opponents of Bolsonaro’s government.

Bolsonaro appointed Ramagem to lead ABIN in May 2019. The right-wing leader had previously appointed him to be federal police chief, but quickly yielded to growing criticism around the nomination due to the fact that Ramagem was widely seen as too close to the president's family, and that he might give members preferential treatment.

In October, Brazil’s police arrested two people and carried out 25 search warrants related to the investigation.

De Moraes, the Supreme Court justice, on Jan. 22 authorized the search and seizure of documents, cell phones, computers, tablets and others electronic devices of 12 individuals, totaling 21 warrants. He also granted the federal police's request to prevent Ramagem and others from leaving capital Brasilia without previous authorization, or from accessing any federal police buildings without having been summoned.

De Moraes did not address a request that Ramagem, now a federal lawmaker, be suspended from his duties.

Ramagem is also a pre-candidate for mayor in Rio de Janeiro, with elections slated for October.

Local paper O Globo reported that Bolsonaro's son, Carlos, will coordinate Ramagem's social media during his campaign.