The denouncer’s dilemma


Many of the spontaneous letters of denunciation sent to the PIDE were anonymous. Whether the denunciation was ‘genuine’ or instrumental, their authors were obviously keen to avoid any direct contact with the secret police. But by making an anonymous denunciation, the denouncer in effect gave up any claim to a ‘reward’ for his/her deed. The author of the present letter, reporting on the activities of a group of ‘subversive’ individuals in January 1962, appears to have found a solution to this dilemma, by promising to reveal his identity upon conclusion of the case – ‘to see if you give me something because I am very poor’. The move may have been designed to lend the denunciation greater verisimilitude and ensure that the PIDE responded to it. It may also have resulted from the denouncer’s own uncertainty or instrumental purposes regarding the information provided. But the determination not to miss out on any potential material compensation was also undoubtedly present in many of the letters.


In this unusual ending to an anonymous letter of denunciation sent to the PIDE in January 1962, the denouncer threatens to take up the case directly with Salazar should the ‘suspect’ escape his due punishment.

He needn’t have bothered. As a rule, the PIDE valued any information sent to it ‘from below’, and thoroughly investigated any reports of political dissidence. In this particular case, the ‘suspect’ was indeed a supporter of General Humberto Delgado – a reminder that a significant proportion of the denunciation letters were ‘genuine’ in content (often containing at least some element of truth about the denounced), and not merely opportunistic instruments of private conflict resolution.

Emigrants and the PIDE

One particular type of denunciation, not infrequent in the PIDE Archives, are the denunciations made by Portuguese emigrants (in this case in France) against other Portuguese emigrants, usually accused of having emigrated illegally or of spreading ‘blasphemies against Dr. Oliveira Salazar [sic]’.

Often these letters were rooted in personal rivalries. But they usually contained an element of truth and as such contributed to the PIDE’s efforts to keep an eye on the increasingly large Portuguese community of emigrants in France. In this particular case, from 1962, the denouncer included the holiday address of the ‘suspects’ in Portugal, in order to facilitate the PIDE’s task. The fact that parts of the letter were underlined in red by the PIDE agent who received the letter, indicates that the political police took these letters seriously. An investigation was launched into the activities of the two ‘suspects’. In this way the PIDE’s ‘capillary operation of power’ spread beyond the national borders.

A prospective ‘application’ to become a PIDE informer (1962)

Another example of how poverty and material necessity contributed to fashioning the relations between society and the PIDE. In this case, from 1962, the prospective applicant is anxious to demonstrate the kind of information he can provide for the PIDE, and starts by denouncing three of his fellow-residents in the council of Paredes for constantly ‘protesting against the Salazar regime’.

A ‘personal agenda’ denunciation letter

The above denunciation letter was sent to the director of the PIDE delegation in Porto on 28 July 1962. The letter is signed but, on demand of the archivists of the ANTT, I have had to anonymise it before making it public. In it, the author denounces a taxi telephone operator for allegedly being ‘against the situation’ (i.e. opposed to the regime). The author provides precise information in order to facilitate the work of the PIDE in identifying the suspect.

The PIDE was extremely responsive to spontaneous denunciations, and promptly dispatched an agent to identify the suspect and sound out his political opinions. In this case, it found no evidence that the suspect had taken a stance ‘against the situation’. This would suggest that the letter was written in the pursuit of a personal agenda (for example, to inflict some form of retribution in a personal dispute). Although most personal agenda letters tended to be anonymous, some of the authors signed under a false identity in order to lend their denunciation greater verisimilitude, as was perhaps the case here.

In many of the cases of personal agenda letters, it is possible from the investigation carried out by the PIDE to figure out the nature of the personal motive behind the denunciation, and why a certain individual was targeted for denunciation. This is not the case here, however. It is also possible, of course, that the PIDE agent dispatched to investigate the case simply failed to uncover the evidence against the suspect. At this stage in my research, this particular case thus remains open to various interpretations. The ‘personal agenda’ thesis remains the most likely one, however, if only because PIDE agents were usually efficient in detecting any signs of political deviance among the denounced when these existed. Ultimately, whatever the motive behind the denunciation, it allowed the PIDE to demonstrate its presence on the ground, feeding popular belief in its panoptic capacities and contributing to the New State’s ‘capillary operation of power’.

The ‘antifascist’ memory of the PIDE

One of the main features of the ‘antifascist’ memory of the PIDE, as it expressed itself in the immediate aftermath of the 25 April 1974 revolution, was to equate the PIDE with the Gestapo – as in the two publications above. The intended effect was to appropriate the Gestapo’s globalised symbolic capital of evil, conjuring up images of extreme ruthlessness and putting the PIDE on an equal level with the nec plus ultra of political violence.

The element of demonisation of the PIDE inherent to such comparisons – whose crimes, certainly in quantitative terms, cannot be equated to those of the Gestapo – should be understood as part of the context of revolutionary fervour following 48 years of dictatorship, as well as the urge to inform the public about the violent methods used by the PIDE against the opposition (arbitrary arrest, torture…). But it also served the more immediate interests of the parties of the far-left, whose status as principal victims of the secret police enhanced their legitimacy on the post-25 April political stage. Finally, it also suited popular aspirations by implicitly positing the population at large as powerless victims of the ‘Portuguese Gestapo’, thereby covering the multiple expressions of collaboration which emanated from society itself, not least the thousands of paid or spontaneous informants at the PIDE’s service.

A prospective application to join the PIDE (1963)

The relations between ordinary Portuguese citizens and the Salazarist authorities were moulded to a significant degree by the situation of endemic poverty in Portugal, right until the end of the regime. The phenomenon has yet to be studied systematically, but numerous citizens wrote letters to the public authorities in the hope of obtaining some form of assistance, such as access to work. In this letter, one citizen from Lousada – whose name has been ‘expurgated’ by the archivists of the Torre do Tombo – wrote to the President of the Republic (Américo Tomás) in the hope of joining the PIDE. From his perspective, the PIDE did not represent a threat to his ‘freedom’ or well-being’, but an economic opportunity to be seized upon.

The document below is a typed copy of the letter, forwarded by the Presidency of the Republic to the PIDE for assessment. This suggests that such prospective applications were taken seriously by the authorities, as a means of supplying the PIDE with functionaries and informers. (Arch. Ref.: PIDE/DGS, SC, CI (1), 219, NT1177, pasta 4).


Representations of the PIDE

Part of my research will look at the way the PIDE was represented in the media, novels, films and documentaries. In the immediate aftermath of the 25 April Revolution, there was a spate of publications from communist and far-left political groups, ususally recounting the memories of the victims of the PIDE. The representations of the PIDE made in these publications have had a lasting effect on the collective memory of the PIDE in Portugal.

One such publication was the comics-book series, Dossier PIDE/DGS, of which two issues (‘Na teia da PIDE’ and ‘Métodos Hediondos’) were published by the Edições Acropole in 1975. In it, PIDE agents were shown primarily as torturers of pregnant women or regular consumers of pornography and prostitution, in an effort to highlight their moral hypocrisy. There was no doubt an element of demonization in such representations, as the PIDE became the overriding symbol of Salazarist oppression.

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