El Chapo Was Hunted by Surveillance, Security Technology

As the world's most hunted man, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had to know the most sophisticated information and surveillance technology available was marshalled against him: satellites, unmanned aircraft, NSA and DEA eavesdroppers, malware-sowing Mexican state hackers.

Yet Guzman may have let his guard down before receiving Hollywood actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo three months ago on a remote central Mexico mountaintop in apparent hopes of getting a biopic made to his liking.

Authorities are not identifying whatever information security missteps may have led to Guzman's being recaptured Friday in a seaside town not far away.

"Whatever mistake or screw-up played a role, presumably the government is going to keep it secret. Because if El Chapo made this mistake others will make it in the future," said Christopher Soghoian, a surveillance expert with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mike Vigil, a former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the Oct. 2 visit likely went undetected because Penn took "extraordinary" measures beforehand, apparently using disposable phones and changing numbers daily.

Neither actor took electronics to the meeting.

Instead, previously intercepted communications between Del Castillo and Guzman's lawyers were key -- authorities knew about the movie plans and were closing on him well before Penn, on assignment for Rolling Stone, accompanied Del Castillo to the meeting she arranged, said Vigil, who was briefed.

Mexico's attorney general, Arely Gomez, said Friday that cartel security had been compromised during contacts between El Chapo's lawyers and "actresses and producers" hoping to make a biopic. She presumably meant Del Castillo, who Penn said was contacted by a Guzman lawyer in 2014 on the matter.

Mexican agencies possess commercial spyware from firms including Hacking Team that could have been used to infect computers or cellphones of people involved. Such programs harvest keystrokes, voice calls, emails and text messages.

Vigil said...

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