On Contact: Securing democracy with Glenn Greenwald
On the show this week, Chris Hedges talks to the US journalist Glenn Greenwald about how his reporting exposed the corruption that is rife among Brazil’s political, judicial, and economic elite.
Greenwald was able to show, through a trove of documents, how President Jair Bolsonaro and his crypto-fascist party manipulated the legal system with the connivance of federal anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, and were able to discredit and eliminate Bolsonaro’s political rival, former two-term president Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, the leader of the Workers’ Party.
These revelations, dubbed the Secret Brazil Archive, which were published just after Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2019, have led to repeated death threats against Greenwald and his family, and the prospect of criminal investigation and prosecution. His new book is ‘Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil’.
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CH: Welcome to On Contact. Today we discuss Glenn Greenwald's new book, "Securing Democracy."
GG: When a ruling class neglects the welfare of the majority of the population, at some point they're going to run into the arms of anybody, even if it's fraudulent, who successfully postures as an outsider willing to destroy the system. That's one big lesson. And the other is real journalism is about confronting power centers, not serving as stenographers for them or disseminating their propaganda, and oftentimes when you do that, you will be attacked. They tried to prosecute and imprison me for it. But ultimately it's the most important safeguard against in order to have a healthy democracy.
CH: Glenn Greenwald is one of our most fearless and important journalists starting with his initial reporting on the erosion of civil liberties informed by his training as a lawyer. He published the files leaked by Edward Snowden that revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the National Security Agency and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance which is comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Snowden documents also exposed the collusion of major telecommunications corporations and European governments in this wholesale spine on the public. Greenwald in June 2019 exposed again through massive files of leaked documents the endemic corruption among Brazil's political, judicial, and economic elite. He documented how current Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, and his crypto-fascist party manipulated the legal system with the connivance of federal, anti-corruption Judge, Sergio Moro, who served as Bolsonaro's Minister of Justice and Public Security from 2019 to--until 2020 to discredit and eliminate Bolsonaro's most potent political rival, former two-term President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the leader of the Workers Party. Greenwald's publication of the leaked documents turned him into the bete noire of the Brazilian president and the thugs and goons that surround him. Greenwald who has lived in Brazil since 2005 with his husband, David Miranda, who is in the Brazilian Congress, is forced to travel in armored vehicles and take extraordinary security precautions, especially after a close ally, the fiery leftist politician, Marielle Franco, an outspoken critic of police violence and extrajudicial killing was assassinated on March 14th, 2018 north of Rio de Janeiro after delivering a speech. Greenwald has, like all great investigative journalists, collected a long list of potent and powerful enemies including many in the establishment press who seek to defame and discredit his work, that he doggedly persists as a credit not only to his courage but his deep integrity. Joining me to discuss his latest book, "Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro's Brazil" is Glenn Greenwald. So, Glenn, let's begin, as you do in the book, to put this in context because I think it has to be this historical moment, is important in terms of understanding what's happening in Brazil, that's, "April 1964, right-wing factions of the Brazilian military backed up by, of course the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. They use physical force, intimidation, along with threats of violence to oust the democratically-elected center-left president, you end up with a 21-year regime of military dictatorship that used murder, torture, and harsh repression to rule the country." And on the next page or a couple pages later, you write "The Orwellian rhetorical framework used to depict the overthrow of democracy as a restoration of democracy is the template." Just before we get into what happened, lay that out because its legacy is with us, the President Bolsonaro refers back to this moment. He himself comes out of the military, of course.
GG: Absolutely, you know, that journalistic tactic is one that I actually first noticed when I started writing about politics in 2005. There had been a coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002 to oust Hugo Chavez who, whatever you think of him, was democratically elected and very popular, in the New York Times editorial eyes that it was a--an attempt to restore democracy. This US-backed coup by installing what they called a respected business leader and a step away from--an attempt to step away from dictatorship. And this is what the US media has been doing for decades calling US-supported coups where they overthrow democratically elected governments and install pro US dictators. They call it and herald it as a victory for democracy, and that's exactly what they did in 1964. They called it a revolution instituted by Brazilians who are tired of communist corruption and tyranny, and essentially for the next 21 years, depicted this extremely repressive and brutal military regime as a manifestation of liberty and freedom.
CH: You make a point also. You talk about illusory democracy or symbolic gestures toward political liberalization. I think this is key also as a tool used by the US to justify these repressive dictatorships, talk about what you--what you--what you mean by that.
GG: Sure. So, you know, in other countries where the US installed brutal dictators like in Iran where the Shah of Iran ruled for decades or in Egypt where they propped up Hosni Mubarak for decades. And even in places like in Latin America, like in Chile with Pinochet, the Brazilian model was different. They would kind of pass leadership from one faceless bureaucratic military general to another none of them really ever served for more than two or three years. So they kind of became the face--they--there was no one person that became the face of Brazilian repression and what they also did was they kept the Congress running and the Congress would ratify these changes of leadership, so they would say, "Oh, look, there's a democratic component to it, the Congress, the representatives of the people are ratifying it," but in reality any member of Congress who, in any way, showed any kind of resistance or dissidents was summarily removed from Congress. It was just kind of a show trial. And they even allowed an opposition party where they would have, you know, a party that was allowed to stay within certain lines and was called the opposition party, but of course never was allowed to contest the presidency in an election, and so when the US was pressed on its support for Brazil, they would say, "Oh, look, they're making strides towards democracy. They have a worked in Congress. They're changing leadership frequently." It's something that even in Egypt, for example, when General Sisi overthrew the first ever elected president of Egypt. And John Kerry went to praise the Egyptian dictator who overthrew him and that's exactly what he said, he said [INDISTINCT] step towards democracy [INDISTINCT] democracy is implementing this day he rules Egypt with an iron fist that he tried doing that with the Saudi Prince with Mohammed bin Salman three or four years ago when David Ignatius and Tom Friedman began heralding the reforms that he was ushering in. It's a long-standing US trick to try and pretend that these brutal tyrannies that they're supporting and implementing and propping up are somehow moving toward democracy, and that was the playbook they used for the military regime that ruled Brazil until 1985.
CH: I just--before we go on to current events, you said, "Within two years of the 1964 coup, roughly half of Brazil's major industries were owned by foreign interests." Clearly, you know, this was a coup that was orchestrated on behalf of the American business elites. Let's begin with corruption, corruption becomes endemic in any closed society, Brazil in--by '64 becomes a closed society. And then you have the rise of this anti-corruption judge and he begins to go after corrupt figures in the ruling elite. And then, of course, becomes a political monster himself, reminds me of Giuliani because Giuliani began also his political career as an anti-corruption crusader. But talk about that moment and how that anti-corruption campaign then became a--became a tool in the hands of Moro and the elites to destroy democratic opening.
GG: Yes, you know, I think the lesson from this is that when you end democracy in a country where it's flourishing like it was in Brazil and impose dictatorship for two decades, you don't just end all of the poison that infects the--every sector of society, the residue remains. And even when Brazil re-democratized in 1989, systemic corruption continued to be how the country ran. Members of Congress routinely took bribes, ministers would take, you know, had millions of dollars stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. It was kind of just the way Brazil worked, everyone knew it and kind of even accepted it. And so in 2014 when Lula had already been term-limited out of office after serving two consecutive terms, he left office with an 87% approval rating, Brazil was growing rapidly, the poor--millions of people are being taken out of poverty. His handpicked successor, Dilma, started experiencing a lot of trouble in part because of the 2008 financial crisis that started causing problems in Brazil. There was a collapse in commodity prices. And they seized on this opportunity, this 2014 corruption probe that began in this small midsized town called Curitiba and basically they--the first person they caught was somebody who was laundering money through a carwash, which is how it became known as Operation Car Wash. And when they arrested him, this money launderer, he went before Judge Moro, he said "I can turn over to you every powerful politician and businessman in Brazil with whom I've been involved criminally and have dirt on," and they began prosecuting some the most powerful politicians and businesspeople in Brazil. And it was actually, like you said, Giuliani began prosecuting people in the mafia. It began with some noble motives, you know, these were young prosecutors, a young judge, Sergio Moro. They had been seeped in the values of Brazilian democracy, not Brazilian dictatorship. And they got turned into national heroes. This judge who was, you know, saying that he was apolitical became the most popular figure in Brazil. There were murals of him on the sides of buildings. They would have political protests and he would be dressed literally as Superman. And after a short period of time, that power that he wielded, this power that everyone was afraid to challenge him on because he had this huge popular support, began becoming clearly politicized. And the goal began to become Destroy the Workers' Party, that they had been unable to defeat at the ballot box since 2002 when Lula was elected, then re-elected through Dilma and her re-election. And they first targeted Dilma and incited so much public hatred against her that she was impeached in 2016 on completely frivolous grounds, installing the center-right austerity imposing president. And then in 2017, they got their big prize which was Lula himself at a time when he was clearly planning to run for president again in 2018, all polls showed him leading by 20 points including over Bolsonaro. And they were petrified that after doing all that work to finally destroy PT, Lula was going to waltz back into the presidency, and so Judge Moro quickly found him guilty of multiple felonies on very dubious charges, sentenced him to a decade in prison. He--an appellate court quickly affirmed it so it made Lula ineligible to run in 2018. And then Bolsonaro, with his primary obstacle removed, which was Lula, waltzed to victory and won by 12 points.
CH: This process saw Moro begin to use illegal measures, for instance preemptive jailing of people who weren't charged, holding them for long periods of time, forcing them to make confessions against people higher up. And also I want to talk about the press. Maybe we'll do that after the break because the press essentially becomes his propaganda machine and this creates tremendous problems when you begin to leak material or published leaked material that show that corruption, but we're going to cover all that after the break. We'll return with Glenn Greenwald about the Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Brazil and outside of Brazil. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation about press freedom and justice with the journalist, Glenn Greenwald. So, before the break, so Moro is essentially lionized, he is going after, initially, these corrupt figures within the ruling elite, and he begins to use tactics that are clearly illegal, and because he is deified within the press, nobody questions. And this creates tremendous problems, which we'll talk about. But just lay out what those tactics were, and how uncritical the press was at the time.
GG: Yeah. I mean, there's no question that Sergio Moro and the Car Wash Operation was the creature of the oligarch called Brazilian Press. The Brazilian media is notoriously concentrated in the hands of three or four extremely rich families, led by the Globo Empire, which probably dominates the country like no other media outlet anywhere in the world. It's long been a major problem in Brazil, and it was they who turned Sergio Moro into this kind of superhero, this high priest of ethics because they saw that he was a cruise missile aimed at their long-standing enemy, which was the Workers' Party. And Lula, you just walk by any street corner on any given day, and there was magazine covers with Sergio Moro on the cover depicting and heralding him as the savior of Brazil. On top of that, what they began doing with that power was violating constitutional rights of every defendant to ensure convictions. You know, Brazil is a country where there's a lot of celebrities guaranteed their constitution was enacted in 1988, very recently. And yet he went roughshod over them. He would put people in prison, as you said, before any trial, hold them there for months, if not years, and tell them the only way they would get out is if they signed what turned out to be false confessions. He would constantly leak to the press, to the subservient press, accusations that were unproven to destroy the reputations of anybody that he wanted or who got in his way. Everyone in the country was petrified of him, even the Supreme Court, Superior Courts were afraid to overrule him. The Congress was completely petrified because he had the power to destroy anyone's reputation, and every event, political event in Brazil from 2015, until essentially we began the reporting in 2019, really, was driven by this unelected, low-level judge, Sergio Moro, who clearly had sympathies for the center-right parties that he protected, and hatred for the left wing parties that he persecuted.
CH: So you are leaked this material, you begin to publish it, and you run into that press itself, and you make an alliance with establishment media, much as Julian Assange did, because, as you write in the book, if you didn't make that kind of alliance, they would--they would come for you, along with Bolsonaro and the ruling elite itself. And I think that that's an important window for journalists to remember, that it's always the alternative press, which is not beholden to commercial interest that exposes this kind of material and often shames the traditional press into doing its job. But you can explain that perhaps better than I, and why that alliance becomes crucial for a journalist such as yourself.
GG: Well, as you mentioned, it's interesting, WikiLeaks, despite Julian Assange's contempt for good reasons, for the establishment press, I remember him telling me the story that he learned very early on, which is when WikiLeaks would get documents, they would put them on the internet. They wanted the entire public to be made aware of them. And they would then contact journalists at the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, BBC, and the would say we have this incredibly explosive document sitting here on the internet that we published, and no one was interested in that because they didn't think it was exclusive. So, they were more interested in having their own scoops in career-building stories than they were in informing the public. And that was why WikiLeaks began partnering with the media. In the Snowden case, when Edward Snowden came to us, he came to myself [INDISTINCT] precisely because we weren't part of the establishment press, but we realized very early on that if we didn't partner with long--large media outlets, it would be very easy for the US government to demonize and stigmatize us as something other than journalists. They would say we were hackers, we were activists, they--and so we did, we--I partnered into the story with The Guardian [INDISTINCT] did her mostly with The Washington Post, some with Der Spiegel, and even The New York Times, and it gave a measure of protection. So, when I got this material in Brazil, and remember, this is four months after Bolsonaro got inaugurated, this huge right wing movement took over the entire country. He was at the peak of his power. We didn't know what he was capable of doing in terms of press freedom. He had sworn over and over that he would usher in dictatorship era repression, and I knew we needed the buy-in of the large Brazil media, or we would easily be depicted not as journalists, but as criminals, especially since I'm not a Brazilian citizen despite living in this country for 15 years. And so, Globo wanted no part of this because they weren't really willing to report negatively on their golden boy, but we were able to partner with Folha of Sao Paulo, which is essentially The New York Times of Brazil, the largest newspaper in the country, as well as the center-right magazine, Veja, which played a huge role in turning Sergio Moro into a hero. In fact, when they published their first story with us, they, along with it, published an apology to the public, admitting that they hadn't done their job as journalists, that they had turned Sergio Moro into a hero, had never fully investigated or scrutinized what he was doing, and for that reason, was now willing to do the reporting with us. So the fact that we had Folha and Veja, and numerous other large Brazilian media outlets gave us a measure of protection that I think was absolutely critical strategically, both for the reporting to be taken seriously, and for us not to have been immediately imprisoned.
CH: And you immediately become a victim of fake news, forged documents, and I remember reading in a book that you initially dismissed it, it was just so patently absurd and it was so clearly false. And yet, you were wrong to dismiss it. Can you talk about the very well-orchestrated and vicious campaign that was directed at you personally and your husband?
GG: Right. So, you know, we saw this during the 2018 presidential campaign, that this very well-financed and coordinated fake news machine had formed around Bolsonaro, which had the capability to attack and destroy the reputations of anyone who opposed him. And within about a week after we started publishing these documents, and by now, Sergio Moro is Bolsonaro's Justice Minister, Minister of Justice and Public Security, so he's extremely important to the Bolsonaro government, it was very destabilizing to them. And so within a week, I would wake up every day, and there would be, on the top of Twitter's trending hashtag, some kind of phrase calling for my arrest or deportation, there were constant leaks from generals saying that I was going to be prosecuted under dictatorship-era national security laws. The fact that my husband is a member of the Congress with the Socialist Party, that we're a gay couple with two children, in a culture where Bolsonaro has essentially made anti-gay animus, one of his central prongs of his political movement, meant that we had all kinds of extreme animus directed at us. And as you say, one of the most effective turned out to be that they forged documents, purporting to show that I had paid Russian hackers in bitcoin almost a million dollars in order to obtain these documents, and as you say, I dismissed it because it was such an obviously--it was such an obvious fraud, it was such obviously fake news, and yet Bolsonaro's son, who was in the senate, brought it to the senate when Sergio Moro was testifying, and asked him about it, and ended up being put on the cover of a major weekly magazine this theory that I was connected to the Russians, and had been able to access these documents that way. And it was really like a never-ending, for about nine months', coordinated attack using the internet, using WhatsApp, using telephones, really vicious fake news about my husband, about myself, and our family. At one point, Bolsonaro even said that my husband and mine's marriage was a fraud, and that we had adopted children just to provide a shield against deportation. So, he was purposely stoking this against us all the time and it was one of the things we had to navigate as we did the reporting.
CH: Just in the last couple minutes, I think there's a lot of lessons that go beyond Brazil, about what it takes--what happens when you challenge entrenched power, and you write quite a bit on the media landscape in the United States, and the way the establishment press here, as in Brazil, is used as a kind of attack dog against independent journalism. But just in the last couple minutes, what are the lessons we take away from this experience for those of us who are here or in Europe, or anywhere else?
GG: Well, I think one of the last things is to ask how it is that a country like Brazil that four consecutive elections, voted for a center-left party headed by a former labor leader, and a guerilla Marxist, which was Dilma, ended up voting for a far right figure. They didn't change their ideology overnight, it was very similar to how the US twice voted for Obama, and then millions of people who did that turned around and voted for Trump, or how people in the UK voted for Brexit, which is when a ruling class neglects the welfare of the majority of the population, at some point, they're going to run into the arms of anybody, even if it's fraudulent, who successful postures as an outsider willing to destroy the system. That's one big lesson. And the other is, real journalism is about confronting power centers, not serving as stenographers for them, or disseminating their propaganda, and oftentimes, when you do that, you will be attacked. They tried to prosecute and imprisoned me for it. But ultimately, it's the most important safeguard against--in order to have a healthy democracy.
CH: Well, one of the things you've written about is the way, recently, establishment media organizations are calling for the censorship and deplatforming of independent journalists.
GG: Yeah. I mean, I think it's one of the most disturbing trends, is the--these corporate media outlets know they're losing their stranglehold on the discourse, the public no longer trust them, their economic model is failing, independent journalists are finding increasingly larger audiences that enable dissent and [INDISTINCT] to thrive, and their tactic, instead of what they should be doing, which is engaging in self-critique, asking why it is we're failing, is to instead become sensors to pressure tech monopolies like Facebook, and Google, and Amazon, and Apple, and Twitter, to just remove people from the internet, to silence journalists, to try and shut people down who are questioning and challenging their pieties that's of incredibly repressive and authoritarian mindset that has taken over journalism, but it's a reflection of the fact that they're failing, and they don't know what else to do.
CH: Great. That was journalist Glenn Greenwald on his latest book, "Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro's Brazil." Thanks.