From the Vault: “El Chapo, the War on Drugs & Intelligence” – with Trial Reporter Noah Hurowitz
Noah Hurowitz (Twitter; LinkedIn) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss infamous drug kingpin El Chapo. A weak link in his cybersecurity set-up would help bring him down.
What You’ll Learn
El Chapo’s internal surveillance operation
The cartel’s use of cryptography to keep communications covert
How cybersecurity enabled then brought down El Chapo
The role of the infamous DFS – a corrupt and now disbanded intelligence agency
Technology – early adopters vs. counter responders
The changing nature of crime enabled by emerging technologies – spyware, drones, etc.
And much, much more…
Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo (shorty) because of his 5-foot 6-inch frame, was called by one of the agents chasing him, “the godfather of the drug world.” So, how did a low-level drug dealer from a provincial state rise to try and subvert the Mexican government to his will? What was the intelligence game that played out with regards to El Chapo? How did the cartels use spytech, tradecraft and cybersecurity to stay one step ahead of the law? How was he caught?
To answer these questions and more, Andrew sat down with Noah Horowitz who covered the trial of El Chapo in Brooklyn for Rolling Stone magazine. Noah is also the author of the recent book El Chapo, and his work has appeared in the Village Voice, the Baffler and New York Magazine.
In the El Chapo trial, question No.57 asked prospective jurors, “Are you familiar with Jesus Malverde?” If you are not familiar with this angel of the poor (el ángel de los pobres) as well as the Sinaloan narcos (el narcosantón), then you can find out why this question would be relevant here, here, here and here.
Quote of the Week
"So, in addition to encrypted communications…he was also installing spyware on Blackberry devices that El Chapo was giving out to his lieutenants and his girlfriends and his wives. And then EL Chapo was able to use this, the spyware program to see what was on their phones. He was able to see their text messages. He was able to see their locations. He was even able to remotely activate their mic and listen to them. And he loved that…it was like a toy to him almost. He became obsessed with it." – Noah Hurowitz
El Chapo, N. Hurowitz (S&S, 2021)
Drug Cartels, Sleeper Cells, the Waco Siege & the Mob - Dennis Franks (2021)
Dope: History of the Mexican Drug Trade, B. Smith (W.W. Norton, 2021)
Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs & Cartels, I. Grillo (Bloomsbury, 2021)
Drugs, Crime and the Cartels, CFR (2021)
The Tech that Took Down Pablo Escobar, Wired (2021)
Mexican Cartels Cyber Surveillance, C. Schilis-Gallego, Forbidden Stories (2020)
Spy vs. Spy, El Chapo Edition, E. Groll, FP (2019)
The Spyware that Brought Down El Chapo, S. Fussell, The Atlantic (2019)
El Paso Intelligence Project (EPIC)
Centro Nacional De Intelligencia (CNI)
PBR (Projects, Briefs, Reports)
Mexico: Evolution of the Merida Initiative, C. Seelke, CRS (2021)
Mexico Organized Crime and Drug Traffickers, J. Beittel, CRS (2020)
EDNY Press Release on El Chapo Trial (2019)
Memo in Support of Pre-trial Detention, USA vs. Joaquín Guzmán Loera (2017)
Trial Transcripts of El Chapo Text Messages with His Mistress (2012)
Official Report on Mexico’s “Dirty War” (2006)
Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (1999)
Primary Source Collections
The Mexican Intelligence Digital Archives (MIDAS)
Inside The Cartel: Key Documents (LAT)
“The Original Indigenous People of Sinaloa”
To understand Joaquín Guzmán Loera, starting at the year of his birth, 1957, might be enough; but to understand “El Chapo” it might help to go deeper still…