Serviço Nacional de Informações

Serviço Nacional de Informações
   / National Intelligence Service
   Known as the “System,” the SNI was Brazil’s secret police during the 1964–1985 military dictatorship. It was established on 13 June 1964 by the Escola Superior de Guerra (ESG, Higher War College) and designed by General Golbery do Couto e Silva, who became its first chief. It was located in the executive branch, where its chief held the rank of minister and sat in the president’s cabinet. Its main office was in the capital, Brasília, but it had eight regional offices as well. In addition, after February 1967 its officials were embedded in every government ministry, ensuring compliance with national policy and providing clearances for jobs and promotions. During the dictatorship, the SNI’s budget was increased more than 3,000 times, and more than 50,000 people were on the payroll. Among them were Emílio Garrastazú Médici and João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, SNI chiefs who would become military presidents.
   The SNI, which Golbery do Couto e Silva called the “ministry of silence,” adopted the ESG’s theory of internal war, which saw the main threat to Brazil as coming not from an external enemy but from “subversives”—trade unionists, peasants, students, professors, religious group, and, by 1968, armed guerrillas. Against them the SNI waged a “dirty war” through intelligence agencies that acted almost independently and sometimes competed with one another. Some of the agencies were created by the military: the Centro de Informações do Exército (CIEX, Army Intelligence Center), the Centro de Informações da Marinha (CENIMAR, Naval Intelligence Center), and the Centro de Informações da Aeronáutica (CISA, Air Force Intelligence Center). Other agencies were created by the political police: the Departamento de Ordem Político e Social (DOPS, Department of Political and Social Order), at the national level, and the Departamento Estadual de Ordem Política e Social (DEOPS, State Department for Political and Social Order), at the state level. Each of the agencies employed death squads and torture centers. From 1964 to 1969, the primary torture centers were those of CENIMAR and DOPS. In mid-1969, to coordinate the repression of urban guerrillas and other “subversives,” the army established Operação Bandeirantes (OBAN, Operation Pioneer), which was funded by local and international firms, including Ford and General Motors. Based in São Paulo, OBAN integrated the efforts of the army, navy, air force, and police. It was so successful that, in January 1970, it provided the model for the Destacamento de Operações Internas–Comando Operacional de Defesa Interna (DOI–CODI, Information Operations Detachment– Operational Command for Internal Defense). DOI–CODI units—the DOI was an executive branch, the CODI a death squad—were staffed by all three military branches but were under the control of CIEX. They were established in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Bahía, Pernambuco, and Ceará. The DOI–CODIs were the principal torture centers during the dirty war’s most repressive phase, which would last until 1974. Sergio Fleury’s São Paulo DEOPS, however, competed aggressively with the DIO–CODIs. After March 1974, the SNI and the DOI–CODIs resisted President Ernesto Geisel’s policy of political liberalization known as distensão (relaxation). They continued to arrest and torture suspects. But the death under torture of two well-known figures—Vladimir Herzog in October 1975 and Manoel Fiel Filho in January 1976—prompted Geisel to bring the security forces under control. Nevertheless, the SNI continued to operate and receive funding, even after 1985, when the dictatorship ended. In 1990, the newly elected President Collor de Mello abolished the SNI, replacing it with a civilian security organization.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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