FBI, Soros, And Secret Police In Vast Censorship Conspiracy In Brazil
Months-long investigation reveals global effort to counter populism in violation of the Latin American nation's constitution
The U.S. government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), George Soros, and the Supreme Court of Brazil claim to be defenders of free speech and democracy. The mission of the FBI is to uphold the U.S. Constitution, whose First Amendment prohibits government limits on freedom of speech. Soros, and his son Alex, who runs his philanthropic foundation, claim to want “open societies,” where people are free to express their views. And the Supreme Court of Brazil claims to uphold the Brazilian Constitution’s commitment to freedom of expression.
But now, a months-long investigation reveals that: the FBI has helped Brazil censor its citizens; the Soroses’ “Open Society Foundation” is spending heavily to promote censorship in Brazil; and Brazil has a secret judicial police force that exists specifically to spy upon and censor people deemed to be spreading false information. Together, the FBI, the Soroses, and the Supreme Court of Brazil are engaged in a direct assault on the free speech protections of both the Brazilian and U.S. Constitutions.
The FBI, Soros Foundations, and the Brazilian government all declined to be interviewed for this piece. And there are key elements of the Brazilian government’s censorship efforts that we do not understand.
But nobody doubts that the Brazilian government is engaged in mass censorship. Indeed, the censorship by Brazil’s Supreme Court is so extreme that even newspapers like the New York Times, which promotes US government censorship, have expressed outrage at the Supreme Court’s willingness to imprison journalists and podcasts, including “the Joe Rogan of Brazil.”
And now, our research makes clear that there is indeed a Brazilian Censorship-Industrial Complex, one which the U.S. government has advised and which the Open Society Foundations, along with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, are financing. This Censorship Industrial Complex even includes an NGO similar to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), which pressures corporate advertisers not to advertise on social media networks unless they censor more.
At the heart of the Complex is Brazil’s High Electoral Court, known as the “TSE,” which is part of the nation’s Supreme Court. The TSE has created a censorship police force that conducts secret investigations. The court has prosecuted individuals and corporations for what George Orwell famously called “wrongthink.” And it has forced journalists into exile.
As in North America and Europe, the Soros and Omidyar-funded NGO sector, along with the mainstream news media, provide legitimacy and justification for the censorship and persecution of journalists in violation of Brazil’s constitution.
And the FBI has been intimately involved in censorship in Brazil. That’s particularly disturbing given the FBI’s other recent abuses of power, including its secrecy around the Covid lab leak, its role in suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story, and its ongoing cover-up January 6 "Pipe Bomb" plot.
Brazil’s corporate news media have not only failed to investigate Brazil’s Censorship Industrial Complex, but they have also actively promoted censorship. Why is that? And why has Brazil’s illegal, constitution-violating Censorship Industrial Complex remained a secret until now?
Inside Brazil’s Censorship Industrial Complex
In the US, executive branch government agencies like the Department of Defense (DoD), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) demand censorship and work with NGOs to demand censorship.
In Brazil, the judiciary branch, including the High Electoral Court, which oversees elections in Brazil, is the main driver of censorship. This High Electoral Court, the TSE, met with the FBI and a US Embassy Representative on March 5, 2018, to talk about censorship of “fake news.”
The push for censorship was thus eerily similar to the push for censorship in the US, Canada, the UK, and other nations around the world. The main difference is that in Brazil, the power is more in the hands of the judiciary, particularly the TSE, than the executive branch.
The TSE has been around for 90 years but its demand for censorship came in reaction to the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald J. Trump in the US in 2016. About a half year later, in mid-2017, the TSE judges expressed concern over the impact of “fake news” in Brazil. Interviews and documents show that the main concern was to avoid a "repeat of 2016," i.e., Trump's election and the alleged Russian Collusion.
In December 2017, TSE convened a public forum to discuss how to censor “fake news,” “disinformation,” and “bots.” The TSE created a special council to “conduct research” and “formulate strategies” to censor information it objected to.
Brazilian government censorship kicked into overdrive following the election of populist presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Government agencies, NGOs, and the news media claimed Bolsonaro had won through “disinformation,” just as they had claimed about Trump in 2020. In Brazil, they claimed the disinformation that elected Bolsonaro had traveled on WhatsApp, Facebook’s direct messaging app. This narrative served as a pretext for the initiation of the Brazilian Congress’ 2019 Fake News investigation.
In 2018, Brazil’s equivalent of the FBI, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, or ABIN, and the intelligence sector of the Brazilian Army, worked with TSE to plan a censorship effort, according to minutes from the meeting.
FBI agents and US Justice Department officials participated in the TSE sessions. FBI’s Cyber Operations supervisor at the time and a Department of Justice agent specializing in counterespionage to thwart foreign interference attended. They shared insights into the efforts of the United States Department of Justice and the FBI in the battle against "fake news" Deji Okediji, a representative from the U.S. Embassy, was also in attendance.
On April 24, 2019, the TSE conducted an “International Seminar on Fake News and Elections,” which TSE ministers, including then-Justice Minister Sergio Moro, and representatives from the FBI all attended. Rogério Galloro, a former member of the Interpol Executive Committee, who now oversees various intelligence divisions within the TSE, also attended.
In Brazil, as in the US and Europe, the government is censoring populist politicians and their supporters. And just as DHS interfered in the 2020 elections, Brazil’s TSE interfered in the 2022 elections. The chief TSE judge, Alexandre de Moraes, formed a secret police specifically for the 2022 elections.
The Brazilian government funded the creation of censorship tools through the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), one of Brazil’s leading universities and think tanks. Like the Stanford Internet Observatory, FGV sought to create a tool aimed at monitoring social media for “suspicious patterns” and “potential disinformation” during elections.
TSE sought a full range of censorship actions that mirror those used in the US and Europe. TSE endorsed FGV’s plan to create a blacklist, which it euphemistically referred to as a “registry of non-compliant sites.” TSE sought help from “Safernet,” an NGO, and “First Draft,” to create fake news blacklists. And just as Omidyar Network proposed ways for social media users to report other users to authorities, the TSE sought ways for users to report their fellow citizens to the TSE.
In October 2022, in the lead-up to the second round of the elections, the lawyer to President Lula claimed to have documented a "disinformation ecosystem" of Bolsonaro supporters. The TSE agreed and implemented mass censorship measures against Bolsonaro supporters.
In office, Lula has proposed a sweeping crackdown on speech. The government has proposed a special government speech regulator. Last November, it promoted censorship with the European Union. In December, the TSE announced its censorship plan, which will cover “hate speech” and anything that supposedly undermines democracy.
There are many other similarities between the crackdown in Brazil and other nations in the Western world. Just as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) demand advertiser boycotts of social media companies so that they will censor more, Brazil has an NGO called “Sleeping Giants Brazil” (SBGR), inspired by a less prominent American group. It also lobbies for more censorship.
While Sleeping Giants portrays itself as a non-partisan movement against hate speech and fake news, all its targets are groups and personalities identified with the right, just like ADL and CCDH. Sleeping Giants Brazil received $700,000 from the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundation (OSF) in 2022 and 2023. It receives additional support and infrastructure from organizations sponsored by Soros and Omidyar.
Some NGOs and journalists raised the alarm. Jonas Valente, an NGO leader, expressed concern over the involvement of the Brazilian Army at one of the TSE forums. But mostly, the NGOs, heavily funded by Soros and Omidyar, went along with the censorship planning.
Pedro Abramovay, a Brazilian who serves as Director for Latin America at the Open Society Foundations, is an outspoken advocate of the Fake News Bill and a vehement critic of Bolsonaro. Abramovay champions the idea of amplifying the TSE's powers, specifically to address the issue of "disinformation" more effectively.
Soros is the largest sponsor of pro-censorship organizations in Brazil. In 2020, Open Society distributed around US$22 million to Brazilian organizations, many of whom have demanded censorship by social media platforms. Many of the organizations funded by Soros in Brazil support censorship, including the Fundação Getulio Vargas and First Look Institute.
Why has the scope, strategy, and funding of Brazil’s Censorship Industrial Complex largely been a secret until now? Part of the reason is that many documents were confidential until recently. Another part is that it has existed in plain sight under the name of “fighting misinformation,” which has constituted the public relations and “limited hangout” of information from the government. But another part of it is that the mainstream news media has supported its existence.
Brazil’s news media have promoted and defended censorship for several reasons. They view social media and independent journalism as an economic competitor. They are culturally and institutionally aligned with the government’s counterpopulism. They may be directly funded by the U.S. government, which has secretly funded foreign journalists for decades, including through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and which supported Brazil’s 1964 military coup.
Unfortunately, all the trends are going in the wrong direction. At this moment, the TSE is seeking more power. It wants to broaden its influence in future elections to target not just fake news but also "hate speech,” a completely subjective measurement. And TSE is seeking greater “international cooperation.” The United Nations, World Economic Forum, and other global bodies have prioritized “fighting misinformation” in 2024.
If there is hope for countering the Brazilian government’s censorship, it comes in exposing it. The TSE meetings in 2018 were intended to be confidential until 2023 but were disclosed in 2019 following public protests of censorship.
We need to understand the nexus between government and tech corporations. For example, at the 2018 TSE meeting, the FBI delegation was led by Howard Marshall, who was then director of the FBI's Cybercrimes Division. In July 2018, Howard Marshall transitioned to the private sector, joining Accenture as Director of Intelligence. Accenture is the largest Facebook partner for content moderation, with contracts worth US$500 million per year. Marshall did not respond to our request for comment.
And where Public has found evidence of ADL’s relationship with the FBI dating back at least 40 years, we did not find evidence of FBI ties to Sleeping Giants.
There is much to do in the short and long term. In the short term, we must defeat the “Fake News” censorship bill, end the government’s social media surveillance, and demand the declassification of government investigations. In the long-term, Brazil needs its own equivalent of a First Amendment to provide the free speech protections the creators of our constitution intended.
Most of all we need to change our view of the FBI, Brazil’s Supreme Court, and Soros. They’re not defending free speech, democracy, and “open societies.” They’re undermining them.