Will the cartels start using pigeons rather than iPhones?
The "El Chapo" trial took an interesting turn this week. It appears that an I.T. guy is a principal in making the case against the cartel leader.
This is from the Washington Post:
In February 2010, Cristian Rodriguez showed up at a Manhattan hotel expecting to attend a business meeting of sorts.
An information technology expert living in Colombia, he had previously set up an encrypted communications system for Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, making it impossible for law enforcement to eavesdrop on phone calls placed by the alleged leader of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel.
Joining him in New York was a potential client who needed a similar system for his own shadowy crime syndicate – or so Rodriguez thought.
In fact, the man – who posed as a Russian mobster, according to the New York Times – was actually an undercover agent.
Testifying in federal court on Tuesday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Marston said the agency had become aware that cartel members were using an encrypted voice-over-Internet system to make phone calls but had been unable to crack the code.
After the clandestine meeting, however, federal agents persuaded Rodriguez to cooperate, allowing the U.S. government to listen in on hundreds of incriminating phone calls, including conversations in which Guzmán allegedly plotted drug deals and ensured that Mexican officials were being paid off to look the other way.
That evidence may prove to be crucial in Guzmán's ongoing trial, which began nearly two months ago in federal district court in Brooklyn.
This is huge and will send most cartel leaders into shock. Don't be surprised if they throw away all of their phones and tablets in the garbage and go back to messengers or even pigeons.
A few years ago, I remember stories of how the cartels were run by sophisticated MBAs and I.T. people. In other words, the cartels ran their business through "front companies" that laundered money and processed communications, not at all different from any other multinational doing business in Mexico.
At the top of the sophisticated organization sat a cartel leader who checked the accounts and messages before sitting down for breakfast. The "boss" was further protected by a network of guards also speaking to each other by phone.
A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary titled Getting to El Chapo through His Inner Circle. In the end, El Chapo and his wife were discovered in a hotel room, tracked there by means of a guard's phone.
The I.T. guy's testimony is huge and may bring down quite a few cartels. It won't end the criminal enterprises, but the days of hiding behind encrypted phones are over.
The cartels are smart, and they will adapt. They will go back to messengers or even pigeons.