The Brazilian Intelligence Agency ( Agência Brasileira de Inteligência; ABIN) is the successor organization to the Serviço Nacional de Informações (SNI) or National Information Service formed during the government of Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco in the mid-1960s.
In an attempt to bring intelligence agencies under the control of the civilian-led government as part of the process of democratization that began in Brazil in 1985, President Fernando Collor de Mello replaced the SNI with the short-lived (1990–94) Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos (SAE) or Strategic Affairs Secretariat. However, despite the dismissal of 144 SNI officers, the agency continued to be dominated by the military and effective oversight and control of the country’s intelligence activities eluded the civilian government.
In 1995 President Fernando Henrique Cardoso placed a civilian at the head of the SAE and subsequently created ABIN. Like many other Latin American nations, Brazil faces the challenge of having to overcome a long history of involvement by the military and their related intelligence arms in domestic politics. Early on, ABIN was tainted by a wiretapping and influence peddling scandal that led to the agency being placed under the direct control of the President and the Institutional Security Cabinet rather than being responsible to the national Congress. This had once again undermined the attempt to reduce the influence of the military on Brazilian intelligence agencies and their practises.
However, successive governments have taken a number of steps to reduce the influence of the armed forces and related intelligence agencies in domestic politics. The relationships between these groups and government in Brazil, so closely intertwined for decades, is evolving. The focus of intelligence agencies appears to be moving slowly from managing internal dissent to focusing on external threats and support of the nation’s democracy.
On September 1, 2008, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva suspended the leadership of the organization, including its director Paulo Lacerda, and ordered an investigation into allegations that appeared in Veja magazine ofphone tapping of senior figures including the heads of both the Senate and the Supreme Court.
ABIN’s main function is to investigate real and potential threats to the Brazilian society and government and defend the Democratic State of Law, the Brazilian sovereignty and the effectiveness of the public power.