SAO PAULO – Brazil is on guard against potential terrorist threats, but denies terrorism is a problem in the South American country, U.S. officials said in confidential diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. In the U.S. view, the policy is aimed at protecting Brazil's international image and that of its Muslim and Arab communities.
The cables, intended to be confidential, were reviewed by The Associated Press after they were posted Sunday on the website of document discloser WikiLeaks, along with other cables from U.S. diplomats based in countries around the world.
"Politically, Brazil continues to deny the presence and potential threat of terrorists and terrorism in Brazil, while law enforcement and intelligence monitor and cooperate to counter the threat," according to one of the cables, sent last December. It was not clear who wrote the dispatch.
In another cable sent in January 2008, then-U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel said that Brazilian Federal Police had "arrested various individuals engaged in suspected terrorism financing activity but have based their arrests on narcotics and customs charges."
That cable did not state what kind of terrorist activities those arrested were allegedly involved in — or if the drug charges brought against them were at all related to terrorism.
Officials from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Brazil said Monday that they would not comment.
An official from Brazil's intelligence agency said the agency would analyze the documents before commenting on them. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.
In the January 2008 cable, Sobel said that local authorities "are aware of the potential threat from terrorists exploiting the favorable conditions existing in Brazil to operate and actively track and monitor suspected terrorist activity and follow all leads passed to them."
Sobel added that while Brazil "is a cooperative partner in countering terrorism and terrorist-related activity" in the country, officials at the highest levels of the Brazilian government "are extremely sensitive" to any public claims that terrorists have a presence in Brazil and "will vigorously reject" such claims.
"This sensitivity results, in part, from their fear of stigmatizing the large Muslim community of Brazil or prejudicing the area's image as a tourist destination," the cable said. "It is also a public posture designed to avoid being too closely linked to what is seen as the U.S.' overly aggressive War on Terrorism."
In a third cable sent in 2005, then-U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich said he was told by an official responsible for overseeing the Brazilian National Intelligence Agency that "it was important that counterterrorism operations were packaged properly so as not to negatively reflect on the proud and successful Arab community in Brazil."
Terrorism has not traditionally been a problem for Brazil. The country has been under scrutiny in the past, however, amid allegations that terrorists or their financiers were operating in the so-called Triple Border region where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina converge.
The cable from last December said that the Brazilian Foreign Ministry recognized for the first time last year that "terrorists could become interested in Brazil because of the award of the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro."
Associated Press writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.