Brazilian prosecutors charged The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and six others on Tuesday with cybercrimes for allegedly hacking into the encrypted Telegram accounts of 176 people, including high-ranking public officials.
The Federal Public Ministry (the equivalent of attorney general) issued charges against the group including organized criminal activity, money laundering, and illegal phone wiretapping, according to Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo. Folha, a left-wing newspaper, published some of the “leaked” conversations that the Brazilian government claims Greenwald urged the other suspects to hack out of public officials’ phones. Greenwald is not implicated in the money laundering charges, Folha notes.
Among the individuals whose private conversations were compromised by the alleged hacking is Brazil’s Minister of Justice Sergio Moro. Moro served as the judge in charge of “Operation Car Wash” — a corruption investigation that resulted in the imprisonment of dozens of politicians from nearly every major political party in the country — and became a folk hero in the country after his investigation led to the arrest and conviction of former socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on charges of having used taxpayers’ funding to buy a luxury beachfront property.
The Intercept, in tandem with outlets like Folha, published conversations including Moro that the outlet claimed revealed that Moro developed a bias against Lula as evidence surfaced of his corrupt activities. The conversations also revealed that Moro sought to use his power to help Venezuelans struggling against socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Greenwald and The Intercept insist that the conversations were “leaked” to them by an anonymous source and that publishing verified leaked information is a legitimate form of journalism. In the indictment, Brazil’s Public Ministry claims the conversations were “hacked” and Greenwald personally encouraged the hackers to steal the information.
“Contrary to the thesis the journalist presented, Glenn Greenwald received material of illicit origin while the criminal organization [the hacker ring allegedly responsible] was still practicing such conduct, seeking new targets,” prosecutor Wellington Oliveira wrote in the indictment, according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. Oliveira wrote that the evidence suggests Greenwald was “having a close relationship” with the hackers and “tried to subvert the notion of protection [of criminals] into ‘keeping a source secret.’”
Greenwald “even oriented the group by telling them to dispose of messages archived to avoid linking the suspects to the ‘hacked’ content, demonstrating direct participation in criminal conduct,” the indictment reads.
O Globo reported that prosecutors had access to conversations between Greenwald and the other suspects. Walter Delgatti Neto, among the other six, appears in the indictment as the “directly and immediately responsible” suspect in the hacking. Delgatti reportedly confessed to the crime in July. Delgatti, the indictment claimed, hacked into the Telegram accounts of 176 people and monitored 126 of them in real time. Telegram is an encrypted instant messaging application, popular largely because it boasts allegedly strong security.
Folha noted that Brazilian federal police appear not to have been involved in any investigation against Greenwald, casting suspicion on how prosecutors could be so sure that he participated in any crimes or where they procured evidence.
The newspaper also published a statement from Greenwald’s attorneys, Rafael Borges and Rafael Fagundes, who condemned the charges as “injuring freedom of the press and serving as an instrument in a political dispute.” Greenwald has been vocally critical of conservative President Jair Bolsonaro and of Moro’s investigation into Lula.
“Its objective is to belittle the journalistic work done by The Intercept’s Brazil team, in partnership with other national and foreign media, in divulging messages … are preparing the appropriate legal measures and will ask that the Brazilian Press Association … close ranks in defense of the attacked journalist,” the legal team said.