Gilberto Câmara, General Director of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), earlier this summer said that putting humans in outer space was a “complete waste of money,” adding that the U.S. space program “only serves the purpose of maintaining what Eisenhower called the industrial military complex.” Câmara’s barb was not the first, and certainly not the last time a Brazilian official takes an unfounded potshot at the U.S. or our space program. Brazil has rocket envy, always will. Câmara’s comments aside, fact remains that Brazil wants U.S. space and satellite technology and it is getting it but Brazil’s relations with Iran should raise a red flag.
According to a Congressional Notification (CN) published this week, the State Department has informed the Congress that it has tentatively approved a transfer of sensitive U.S. satellite technology to Brazil worth at least $50,000,000. These CNs are not very specific, so we can only make educate guesses as to the details of the transactions. At this stage of the process, the transfer of sensitive U.S. technology and defense services for use in Brazil’s commercial satellite program will likely be approved by the Congress. Brazil and state sponsor of terrorism Iran are close allies and any transfer of satellite and other space-related technology, one would hope, has been closely scrutinized by the U.S. Government.
Brazilian and Iranian relations go beyond food sales, cultural exchanges, or diplomatic happy talk. Brazil is Iran’s gateway to the Americas, affording Iranian businessmen, regime officials, and others access to the Western Hemisphere. Besides potentially allowing individuals suspected of terrorism into the region, a more pressing concern is what steps has Brazil taken to protect sensitive U.S. and Brazilian space-based and rocket technology from falling into the hands of the Iranians? Brazil’s export control law regime is weak and this, coupled with Brazil’s diplomatic dance with Iran, do not raise confidence levels that our technology is safe.
Brazil’s recent quixotic and failed diplomatic moves to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions do not raise confidence either, nor does the May 2010 agreement for Brazil to sell uranium to Iran. The U.S. Congress should take a closer look at this most recent CN and, before Congressional officials sign off on it, request additional assurances that U.S. technology will not find its way to Tehran. During the 1990s Brazil sold rocket technology to Iraq, who is to say it is not doing so today with Iran? Maybe that will temper future Câmara rocket envy statements.