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El Chapo was brought down by a sysadmin

Christian Rodriguez says he set up secure VoIP communications for the cartel: a system whose encryption keys he wound up giving to the FBI.

It’s time to crown a new Sysadmin From Hell. Or from heaven, if you’re law enforcement. His name is Cristian Rodríguez: a Colombian IT geek who wound up working for drug kingpin “El Chapo” Joaquin Guzmán, got flipped by the FBI, and is likely going to go down in history as being the man most responsible for (probably) sending his ex-boss to jail – likely, for life.

On Tuesday, two months into Guzmán’s trial in Brooklyn, the FBI admitted that agents had cracked the communications between El Chapo and his associates (and his wife and mistresses) by enlisting Rodríguez’s help to move a custom encryption system from Canada into the Netherlands and to then hand over the encryption keys.

For a detailed look at the drug lord’s systems engineer, his background, the story of how he got recruited by multiple cartels, and the work he carried out at their behest, check out USA Today’s coverage.

New York Times reporter Alan Feuer recounted a summary given in court by FBI special agent Steven Marston of how Rodríguez enabled the bureau to tap more than 1,500 calls on the cartel’s encrypted system between April 2011 and January 2012.

Some of the details:

El Chapo’s takedown was accomplished with “hi-tech cloak & dagger stuff,” as Feuer put it.

About a decade ago, before he dropped out to build his own business, Rodríguez was an electronics system engineering student specializing in cybersecurity at a college in Colombia.

One of his clients was Colombian drug lord Jorge Cifuentes, who recommended him to Guzmán. Cifuentes told El Chapo that Rodríguez could set him up a closed, encrypted voice-over-IP (VoIP) network for totally secure communications. Rodríguez traveled to Guzmán’s headquarters in the Mexican county of Sinaloa to set it up, enabling El Chapo to place encrypted calls that law enforcement couldn’t tap.

Rodríguez initially put Guzmán’s servers in Canada, but after the FBI recruited him, he told his boss that he was doing a system upgrade that included moving the servers to the Netherlands. Once the servers were in the Netherlands, Rodríguez gave the FBI the encryption keys, enabling agents to intercept communications.

According to Rodríguez, Guzmán wasn’t satisfied with encrypted, unbreakable phone communications. He allegedly had a keen interest in eavesdropping, and he asked his sysadmin to install spyware on phones used by his associates and his family. He also asked Rodríguez to install spyware on his mistress’s laptop – something Rodríguez said he could do in three minutes and which he pulled off as Guzmán distracted her.

Rodríguez said that he got paid about $100,000 for the initial network. He said that he also installed spyware that logged call histories and locations of encrypted cell phones for about 50 people who worked for the Sinaloa cartel. But over and above call histories and locations, Guzmán really enjoyed eavesdropping.

The NY Post quoted Rodríguez:

It was like his toy.

He would call a person to their extension, they would talk, they would hang up, and then he would call another line to open the microphone and listen to what was being said about him.

Yikes, what a boss. Rodríguez turned out to be one hell of an insider threat to the cartel, though – the kind the FBI builds cases on. As special agent Marston told it, Rodríguez’s assistance proved so valuable that FBI agents considered nominating him for a multi-million dollar government reward.

Rodríguez didn’t wind up getting that reward: the idea was discarded, Marston said. But he did come out of this alive, having been moved to the US for his safety. He won’t be facing charges as a co-conspirator with either the Mexican or the Colombian cartel, Marston said.

The Brooklyn judge is also watching the star witness’s back. From USA Today:

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan, wary of the cartel’s reputation for murder and brutality, barred courtroom sketch artists from depicting Rodríguez’s face in their drawings.


Oh, sorry bud. We wont offer you the multi-million dollar compensation you deserve, but you can live here in the US where you are totally safe from the cartel (well sort of). Sorry that you need to hide for the rest of your life. Good luck!


“…wary of the cartel’s reputation for murder and brutality, barred courtroom sketch artists from depicting Rodríguez’s face in their drawings….” – riiight, like his former employer(s) aren’t going to have any other ways of remembering what he looks like!!


Do they actually think the people that want to hurt him don’t already know what he looks like? Going to get this dude killed.


This reminds me of the scene in Judge Dredd when the woman trainee lets the IT guy go.
I hope elchimpo (yes SuperTroopers was mocking him back then) meets karma full strength.


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