SIVAM and Brazilian extremist nationalism

A Brazilian nationalist street stall in Rio
A Brazilian nationalist street stall in Rio

Whilst finishing up my work in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, I came across this interesting bunch of people, mv-brasil, who appear to be a Brazilian nationalist movement, with much in common with organisations like the British National Party or the various right-wing groups in the USA. Their website contains the usual odd mixture of anti-globalisation, evangelical Christian (they campaign against Halloween) and anti-United Nations / New World Order stuff with the added anti-Americanism. There of course is the usual rather uncomfortable fact of the ‘Brazilian Christian’ nationalist being a representative of a colonial power that invaded the country and took it from the indigenous people, but they roll over this one with some nods to Indian rights when it suits their cause, most notably when it comes to the Amazon.

A t-shirt with anti-internationalisation and privatisation of the Amazon slogan
A t-shirt with anti-internationalisation and privatisation of the Amazon slogan

One of the T-shirts for sale makes reference to this, being against ‘internationalisation and privatisation’ of the Amazon by the USA. It is a conspiracy theory I’ve come across before when I was doing some research on the SIVAM program – which provides some actual evidence for contentions that there is a secret American program to control the rainforest. I had someone tell me here in complete good faith that it was a ‘fact’ that several Amazonian tribes already thought that they were part of the USA and flew the US flag! This is combined with the fact the UN and international environmental organisations are very concerned about the destruction of the rainforest and the perceived lack of effort by successive Brazilian administrations to stop it. Put all this together and you have the ingredients for nationalist paranoia.

sivam_logoSo what is SIVAM? And why would I be interested in it anyway? The reason is that SIVAM is a surveillance system. Announced at the Earth Summit in 1992, and finally completed in 2002 and fully operationial from 2004, the Sistema de Vigil├óncia da Amaz├┤nia (SIVAM) is a multipurpose, multi-agency network of satellite, aerial and ground surveillance and response that aims to monitor the illegal traffic of drugs and forest animals and plants, control national borders and those of indigenous peoples’ lands, and prevent the further destruction of protected areas of forest. A good technical account in English can be found in Aviation Today from 2002, and there is an interesting article on its construction here.

Donald Rumsefld visits the SIVAM control centre, 23 March 2005 (Wikimeda Commons)
Donald Rumsefld visits the SIVAM control centre, 23 March 2005 (Wikimeda Commons)

The problem is that, although an initiative of various Brazilian government agencies including the environment and Indian affairs ministries, the federal police and the army, SIVAM is supported and funded by the USA – most of the initial $1.39Bn US cost came through a grant from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the consortium that supplies the equipment includes giant US military supplier, Raytheon – amongst many others from Brazil to Sweden. The visit of former President George W. Bush’s right-hand man and then Secretary of State for Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to the SIVAM control centre in 2005, was widely reported in Bazil. It was of course interpreted by many as further evidence of Brazil’s ceding of control of the Amazon to the USA, or even presaging a US invasion of the Amazon, as Senator Norm Coleman discovered on a fact-finding mission later that year.

Latin American countries have every right to be suspicious of US motives: the Monroe Doctrine; George Kennan’s Cold War ‘grand area’ vision; the support for dictators like Augosto Pinochet; the invasions of Panama and Grenada; Plan Columbia and the widespread use of military ‘advisors’… the list goes on. And it is certainly the case that US strategic surveillance plans for ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ and the like, have have long included ‘leveraging’ any system in which they are involved from the International Space Station to things like SIVAM. So of course they will have a strategic interest, and no doubt SIVAM data will find its way to US military C4ISR centres, but this does not amount to a plan to invade Brazil or take control of the Amazon.

China calls for better international regulation of space

…it is the USA that effectively controls earth orbit. However many other emerging economies see no reason why this should be the case….

Following last week’s collision between an obsolete Russian military satellite and an US Iridium communications satellite, there has been a lot of discussion about the management of orbital space (or, more accurately, the lack of it). Orbital positions are managed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), but the effective control of orbital space is a matter of power projection – i.e.: which country can maintain a stronger and more pervasive presence in space. With the Russian program almost defunct, and European satellites limited in number, it is the USA that effectively controls earth orbit. However many other emerging economies see no reason why this should be the case. India now has a regular launch program and in particular China is massively expanding its space presence, even making noises about its ability to destroy satellites if necessary.

China seems now to be using this incident to sound out other countries and the international scientific community about a more coherent and comprehensive international management of orbital space. In an article published on the official English-language news site, Chinadaily, various senior Chinese scientists and People’s Daily journalists are quoted in favour of “establishing a system for the promotion of space safety is an important method of space traffic management”, through “long-term cooperation from the international community”, and perhaps even a “space traffic law”, although it is acknowledged that this is “still a very remote concept”.

The one organisation that is not going to like this at all is the US military. USSTRATCOM has absorbed the space power doctrine developed in the 1990s by USSPACECOM, which argued effectively that orbital space should be part of US military plans for ‘Full-Spectrum Dominance’ (FSD) and that international projects like the International Space Station would be tolerated only insofar as they could be ‘leveraged’ to US advantage. The US military wants to maintain the ‘ultimate high ground’ that dominance of earth orbit gives them, for communications, for surveillance, for weapons targeting. They are not even very keen on the EU Galileo project, the new and more technically-advanced rival to GPS (which is a US military system).

Just as with the discussion about internationalising management of the Internet and moving it beyond US government control, any suggestions of a more comprehensive international management of space are likely to be resisted even at the expense of logic and reason. The Chinese know this very well, and are being rather cleverly provocative. They are however, right.

Satellite collision opens up the world of space surveillance

Top story on many news channels today is the collision of a US Iridium telecommunications satellite with an obsolete Russian military satellite. Iridium is an interesting company that is almost permanently bankrupt (due to the rise of GPS-enabled mobile telephones) yet whose largest single customer is the US Department of Defense, which uses a Hawaii-based gateway for a secure network using NSA-approved handsets.

The Phased Array Radar pyramid at RAF Fylingdales (Yorkshire CND)
The Phased Array Radar pyramid at RAF Fylingdales (Yorkshire CND)

Even more interesting however is that the story mentions the obscure work of the Space Surveillance Network or SPACETRACK, formerly operated by US Space Command (USSPACECOM), now along with all of that influential body’s operations, part of US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). This global network of 25 bases using Phased-Array Radar and other tracking systems includes the RAF station at Fylingdales in North Yorkshire.

Satellite view of RAF Fylingdales (Cryptome)
Satellite view of RAF Fylingdales (Cryptome)
Debris in Low Earth Orbit (NSA Orbital Debris Program Office)
Debris in Low Earth Orbit (NSA Orbital Debris Program Office)

SPACETRACK continually watches earth orbit for new objects, which are then added to the US space catalogue. It also tracks debris fields, which are increasing in number and becoming more of a hazard for new space craft, and therefore problems for both military and civilian communications, weather, mapping and surveillance systems. This collision would seem to have been in relatively low orbit which causes the most problems. Cleaning up earth orbit would be a very good idea, but few people seem to have any serious ideas as to how it might be done. Some even argue that such a clean-up could destroy a valuable source of historical information!