In Other News: Brazil’s “Operation Car Wash” Continues, Iran Opens New Naval Base & More – September 25, 2020

September 25, 2020

Brazil has allowed its popular anti-corruption task force to continue, as the country’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva faces fresh charges. President Jair Bolsonaro and his top prosecutor Augusto Aras extended the mandate of the “Operation Car Wash” task force until January 31. Earlier this month, critics raised the alarm that they would disband the team that started in 2014. Operation Car Wash has grabbed national and international attention for exposing corrupt practices by politicians and businesses like Petrobras and Odebrecht over the past six years. Just this week, offshore drilling company Seadrill announced that its Brazilian subsidiary Seadrill Servi├žos de Petroleo, Ltda has been served with a search and seizure warrant in relation to the investigation of Petrobras. Last week, Lula da Silva was hit with new money laundering charges – the fourth case against him as a result of Operation Car Wash. Lula da Silva denies the charges, and his supporters see them as political persecution. Bolsonaro campaigned on an anti-corruption platform in 2018 when Lula da Silva was barred from running due to corruption charges against him. But since taking office, Bolsonaro has been accused of interfering in corruption investigations involving his sons, and former Justice Minister Sergio Mora, who was a leading figure in the anti-corruption efforts of Operation Car Wash, stepped down in April as a result. Politicizing anti-corruption efforts is not new in Brazil and will likely continue through Bolsonaro’s term in office and into his reelection campaign in 2022.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has opened a new naval base on the Strait of Hormuz – a critical oil shipping lane that handles more than one-fifth of global supply – amid a realignment of regional geopolitics that appears designed to contain Tehran. Iranian state television announced that the Shaheed Rahbari base on the eastern side of the strait will give Iran control over ships that transit the Hormuz Strait, the Persian Gulf, and the Sea of Oman. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz assailed Iran in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, alleging that decades of peaceful outreach to Iran have been met with intransigence on the nuclear issue, supporting extremist groups in the region, and recently, attacks on Saudi oil facilities. Saudi Arabia and many of its neighbors in the Middle East have long been understood to be working with Israel behind the scenes in response to growing concern about Iran as a threat to regional stability and security. Last week, the UAE and Bahrain signed accords normalizing relationships with Israel, becoming the region’s third and fourth countries to do so, and more Middle East states may follow suit. An increasingly isolated Iran may be prone to high-visibility threats (such as to global oil shipping), small-scale confrontations, and other announcements designed to engender concern about destabilizing activities.

Evidence and assessments are continuing to emerge about foreign powers’ efforts to influence U.S. elections, highlighting the need for a robust and coordinated U.S. defensive response. The Central Intelligence Agency recently reiterated its 2016 conclusion, this time with moderate confidence, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directing election interference efforts to boost the electoral chances of President Trump. Sources have conveyed to media that the assessment, which is classified, says that Putin is likely directing the Russian influence operation. The operation involves efforts by pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach (who was recently sanctioned by the U.S.) to work through U.S. media, lobbyists, and members of Congress to spread rumors and other information detrimental to Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The shift from high confidence in 2016 to moderate confidence now appears to be linked to a smaller volume of direct evidence linking the Russian president to election interference efforts. Meanwhile, Facebook has taken down a number of fake accounts believed to be part of a Chinese election interference campaign. In contrast to Russia’s efforts, the Chinese campaign is understood to be limited in size and does not support a specific candidate – messages being disseminated are intended both to support and to undermine the incumbent president’s campaign. That Russia is persisting in its interference efforts despite public denouncement and punitive sanctions for its previous efforts, and that China and Iran (to some degree) are testing these waters, as well, indicate that the U.S. should enhance its focus on online political meddling as an ongoing threat to our national security. We need to build on efforts already underway both to strengthen our defenses against these assaults, which are likely to continue and become more sophisticated over time, and to mount a proactive response to these transgressions.