On October 30, Brazilians will again head to the polls as far-right incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro faces off against left-wing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a tight run-off election.
As the second round nears — and with tensions between the candidates high — Israeli involvement in Brazil’s elections is coming under scrutiny.
During the election’s first round, Lula won 48% of the vote, while Bolsonaro edged slightly behind at 43%.
The Brazilian Superior Electoral Court announced the elections took place without any credible reports of electoral fraud. Yet that has not stopped Bolsonaro from peddling claims that voting machines are vulnerable to fraud and pushing for public counting of votes.
Echoing Donald Trump’s 2020 election rhetoric, Bolsonaro’s campaign is not the only entity concerned with the country’s electoral process. Brazil’s Army — in coordination with an Israeli cybersecurity firm — are also questioning elections.
In March 2022, Israeli cybersecurity company, CySource, signed a cooperation agreement with the Brazilian Army to train military personnel in cyber defense. However, the contract was called into question by Lucas Rocha Furtado, deputy attorney general of Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry (MPF, the acronym in Portuguese), who considered it a possible threat to the electoral process and requested Brazil’s Court of Auditors (TCU in Portuguese) to investigate the partnership.
In his petition to the TCU, which transformed into a lawsuit, Furtado argued that General Héber Garcia Portella, the Army’s cyber defense commander, had already been appointed to serve on the Election Transparency Commission when he signed the contract with CySource. Furtado also noted Portella has “reinforced Jair Bolsonaro’s discourse that the Brazilian voting system contains risks and weaknesses that could compromise the integrity of the elections.” In that regard, Furtado asserted the agreement was “not with the intention of satisfying a public purpose, but rather, in flagrant deviation of purpose, with the aim of investigating the alleged risks and weaknesses of the Brazilian voting system.”
“In my opinion, it is unacceptable that the structure of the Brazilian Army is used to meet a whim of Jair Bolsonaro, who has insistently questioned the security of electronic voting machines and the electoral verification procedures adopted by the Superior Electoral Court”, Furtado wrote.
Despite his voiced concerns, the TCU approved the agreement.
Brazil’s military then conducted a parallel vote count — a suggestion heeded by Bolsonaro — yet hasn’t revealed the results of its audit. According to Furtado, this is the first time since Brazil became a democracy that the Army has overseen an election. “I’ve no doubt [it’s] because the president wants the monitoring,” he said.
On Oct. 7, Furtado urged TCU to request the Defense Ministry’s audit reports, but the information hasn’t been disclosed yet.
“Traditionally, the [TCU] does not involve itself [in] elections. But it is the most important thing in a democracy that [an] election reflects the will of the people,” Furtado told MintPress News, emphasizing that the public should be made aware whether the military’s inspection determined there is not a problem with the electronic ballot boxes.
The Army did not respond to MintPress News’ inquiries.
“In a democracy, all the question[s] must be answered and justified. Because it’s the Army, it is not an exception,” Furtado said. “I’ve no concern about [CySource]. It doesn’t mean it stays out of accountability.”
Who is CySource?
CySource was founded by Israeli military veterans. CEO Amir Bar-El worked with the Mossad, Israel’s secret service. He also worked with the notorious NSO Group, an Israeli cybersecurity firm responsible for developing Pegasus software that has hacked at least 45 countries.
CySource opened up a training academy in Brazil in September 2021. In addition to the Army, CySource’s partners in Brazil include the country’s Civil Police, PayPal, and Inatel, Brazil’s national telecommunications institute.
CySource has also established training programs in other areas of the world, including Japan, Germany, and the United States. Its customers include Japan’s and Germany’s armed forces, Israeli banks like Bank HaPoalim, and the office of former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett.
“Over the past few years, we have established cybersecurity academies for various military organizations and security units around the world, which has allowed us to consolidate strategic expertise in cyber defense,” Bar-El said when announcing the agreement with Brazil’s Army.
The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Shai Alfasi, helped create Uruguay’s cyber program, developed training for Germany’s cyber unit, and led the police cyber unit development team in Japan.
The startup also appears to be showcasing its skills to other countries by attending conferences in the United Arab Emirates and the Czech Republic. CySource also recently published a post on LinkedIn about a partnership with Africa, but details on the agreement are not available. CySource did not respond to MintPress News inquiries on its partnership with Brazil and other countries.
Israeli involvement in Brazil’s elections
Both the Army and CySource have released statements denying their partnership is related to this month’s elections. “It should be noted that the agreement was signed at no cost to the Union and has no relation to external events, such as the elections,” the Army told Brasil de Fato.
However, the agreement was signed with the Army’s Cyber Defense Command, which is the unit overseeing the electoral process. Over the last few months, CySource’s representative in the Army deal, Hélio Cabral Sant’ana, disseminated false or misleading information related to the election on social media as identified by Brasil de Fato. On a Twitter account that no longer exists, Sant’ana published posts in support of Bolsonaro and wrote about unregistered electoral polls. Some of these posts were labeled as fake by Twitter.
CySource’s employees in Brazil also have Bolsonaro and military connections as well. Sant’ana served as first lieutenant in the Army from 2009-2013, and was the information technology director of the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic in Bolsonaro’s government. He is also closely linked to Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, himself a member of parliament. Sant’ana owns the website domain belonging to the Brazilian think tank, the Liberal Conservative Institute, which was founded by Eduardo Bolsonaro. The organization hosts its own version of the U.S.’ Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC.
Sant’ana’s brother, Sérgio Cabral Sant’Ana, served as an advisor to the Ministry of Education in Bolsonaro’s government. Portella, the Army’s Cyber Defense Commander who signed the CySource agreement, worked as an instructor at Agulhas Negras Military Academy, one of the biggest military schools in Brazil, and where Bolsonaro attended before his military service. He also served as a commander of the 28th Light Infantry Battalion in São Paulo. And CySource’s global sales director, Luiz Katzap, was a lieutenant in Brazil’s Army from 2008-2016.
Israel’s motive in Brazil
Israel has considerable interests in who wins Brazil’s election. According to Dr. Arlene Elizabeth Clemesha, Arab History Professor at the University of São Paulo, Bolsonaro’s relationship with Israel represented a dramatic shift in Brazilian foreign policy in the Middle East.
“So for the first time in Brazilian history, since the military dictatorship and redemocratization, we had an ideological support for Israel and everything it represents,” she said, referencing Bolsonaro’s first term in office.
Bolsonaro’s government opposed the International Criminal Court’s probe into possible Israeli war crimes against Palestinians and has rejected resolutions critical of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council. Bolsonaro’s deep ties to Israel stem, in part, because his wife is an evangelist. In 2016, Bolsonaro travelled to Israel and was baptized in the Jordan River.
On the other hand, Lula recognized the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders in 2010, and later that year, became the first Brazilian head of state to travel to the Occupied Territories.
Lula and Bolsonaro’s contrasting perspectives may indicate how each government handles the Palestine-Israel issue. Lula’s administration may be more hesitant to engage with Israel’s weapons and surveillance industries, while Bolsonaro is likely to vote in favor of Israel at the UN and would support Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Support in general for [Israeli] occupation, we would not see from a Workers’ Party [Lula] government,” Clemesha told MintPress News. “In the next Lula government, we might even have a more outspoken and bold support for grassroots proposals for a positive shift in the approach to the Israel-Palestine question.”
Despite being separated by an entire continent, Israel has firmly entrenched itself in Brazil’s election and in the political agenda of the country’s far-right populist president. Therefore, it won’t just be Brazilians closely watching the outcome of the October 30 election.
Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.