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The Phone Dragnet That Caught the World's Top Drug Lord

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the prohibition-as-a-rube-goldberg-machine dept.

Crime 62

Daniel_Stuckey writes "The contacts on Zambada-Ortiz's phone, which officials seized, would prove critical in pinpointing cartel stash houses strewn across Sinaloa state in mountainous northwest Mexico. Crucially, the episode would breathe new life into the joint US-Mexico dragnet that recently caught Chapo, who'd been at large for 13 years after famously escaping from Mexican prison in a laundry basket. Zambada-Ortiz's capture and the data scraped from his phone led to more and more Sinaloa phones until a month ago, when Mexican authorities (moving on American intelligence work) successfully carried out a number of raids that scored a cache of weapons and the arrests of a few of Chapo's senior henchmen. With each apprehension came another phone full of leads, 'a new trove of information for officials to mine,' as TIME reported. Then, sometime last week, Mexican commandos 'traced a number stored in a seized cell phone to a stash house outside the provincial capital of Culiacan, where they believed Guzman was hiding,' TIME added."

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What I get from this (5, Insightful)

AvitarX (172628) | about 10 months ago | (#46358513)

is that traditional investigative work functions to capture people, and not indiscriminate collection of meta data.

Re:What I get from this (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#46358609)

I agree, but recall that congress raised gigantic stink about this exact same kind of "traditional investigative work" [wikipedia.org] . For no other reason than an imagined slight on guns.

Politics in this country is poisonous towards doing things right, and apathetic towards abuses.

Re:What I get from this (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#46358619)

Wikipedia sucks with their damned, redirects. And that's all I have to say about my mistake.

Re:What I get from this (3, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 10 months ago | (#46358695)

I'm not sure what more than ten hours of white-knuckle racing action has to do with this, but I've really got to start watching CSPAN if that's what congress gets up to.

Re:What I get from this (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 10 months ago | (#46358721)

I thought the issue with Operation Fast and Furious was that it basically let a lot of known gun-running operations act unhindered, while getting no real result?

Re:What I get from this (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#46358849)

Of course it failed, it wasn't a well-done traditional investigation, but come on, it's the feds, do you expect constant competence?

Re:What I get from this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359591)

congress raised gigantic stink

Politics in this country is poisonous towards doing things right

it wasn't a well-done traditional investigation

You know that you're an idiot, don't you?

Re:What I get from this (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#46359621)

Hey, look, being called an idiot on the internet. That's new, and helpful.

Proper doesn't mean smart. And you're a douchebag who is incapable of more than a single-dimension of thinking, but yay, you found something you could twist into a contradiction with enough ignorance.

Hoo-ray! That means you win! And winning means no one gets anything out of the discussion! Exactly the point!

Re:What I get from this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46363223)

it's the feds, do you expect constant competence?

Implying that there exists a group that is capable of constant competence.

Look, if you don't like the Federal government, that's fine. I don't like them either. But this sort of failed pot-shot makes me question whether or not you are worth listening to.

Re:What I get from this (1)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | about 10 months ago | (#46362261)

Oh they got results, its just the opposite of what most sheeple would expect they want.

The truth starts to come into view when you see US troops guarding poppy fields
in Afghanistan, and then Pat Tillman says he is gonna blab and ends up dead.

Re:What I get from this (1)

Tailhook (98486) | about 10 months ago | (#46360175)

Weapons from Holders anti-gun gambit have turned up [cnn.com] as recently as 10 weeks ago in major shoots-outs with Mexican authorities. The gift that keeps on giving has the ATF issuing another statement accepting responsibility for their "mistakes" and "errors" funneling rifles into Mexico to create a gigantic stink over US firearms.

Re:What I get from this (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | about 10 months ago | (#46360201)

Traditional investigational work would have some sort of mechanism for recovering these guns or being able to track them to the end buyers then making arrests/dismantling the drug cartels, which was the stated mission objective. The problem is that nobody informed Mexican police or shared the intel with them which is suspicious since the objective was to dismantle drug cartels in Mexico. They let 1,600 guns go and had no mechanism to track them beyond the straw purchasers. Either the people running the operation were grossly incompetent and had no oversight from the DOJ or the operation had ulterior motives, either way this debacle deserved the attention it got.

Re:What I get from this (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#46360427)

The people who planned it didn't understand the technical implications of their plan. This isn't the same as violating peoples' rights.

Re:What I get from this (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | about 10 months ago | (#46361063)

What technical implications were so hard to understand? You permit people to buy guns illegally, stop agents from arresting the smugglers and straw buyers with the cache of illegally purchased weapons, watch the weapons disappear over the boarder, but do not inform the Mexican police. How can anyone be shocked when these weapons are found at crime scenes? Multiple field agents are on record of questioning this tactic.

You are making the assumption that ignorance was the culprit is very naive. The delaying by the DOJ to release documents subpenaed by congress, then the issuing of executive privilege to stop those documents from being released even though Eric Holder claimed under oath that he nor the white house was aware of the operation, indicates otherwise. I would say giving guns to criminals certainly makes all parties involved in the operation accomplices to any crimes committed with those guns.

Re:What I get from this (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#46361763)

I feel like on slashdot, a lot of people can't really come to terms with how incredibly nontechnical your average person is. The trackers have a range at which they can be detected, and a battery that can only keep them on so long, and you're tracking them across national borders.

Now, any slashdotter is immediately going to intuit that they're going to need them constantly on to keep track of where they are, and follow at safe distance, which they could do without using the technical solution. To other people it's like movies "turn on the tracker". The one person who understood the tech side of the operation face-palms and the whole thing explodes as a national boondoggle, with people in column A going "they were up to something!!!!" and people in column B facepalming their way through it.

Re:What I get from this (1)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | about 10 months ago | (#46362359)

As someone who went to GSM seminars, and AIN for cell networks they can
just follow the tower hand offs.

For awhile ppl could get antennas that glowed when they transmitted, and one
of my co-workers on the SS7 let me know he could watch the tower hand offs
as he moved from "cell zone" to "cell zone".

https://forums.att.com/t5/3G-M... [att.com]

Re:What I get from this (1)

jxander (2605655) | about 10 months ago | (#46360429)

Not sure if you were being facetious... but "give guns to bad guys and see what happens" isn't exactly traditional investigative work. (hoping the quotes imply "sarcasm")

Re:What I get from this (1)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | about 10 months ago | (#46362395)

The government running guns and drugs is not really about trying to investigate anything
but limit their competition.

Ask Mr. Ruppert.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

Re:What I get from this (1)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | about 10 months ago | (#46362423)

I found out about this guy by watching the film Collapse in 2009, and since then
I see the US in a totally different perspective.

The funny thing was I thought I was awake after seeing "911 press for truth", but
honestly I did not know just how bad it really was til watching Collapse in 2009.

Re:What I get from this (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 10 months ago | (#46360471)

You mean that it is traditional to encourage known criminals to commit obtain a device to be used in a crime and then stop following the device when it is passed off to another party.
The "logic" offered behind Fast and Furious was that it was an attempt to trace straw purchases to the higher ups who were ordering the guns. The problem with that was that the "higher ups" were in Mexico and they did not inform the Mexican government, or even the U.S. agents working in Mexico, that they were doing this. In addition, when the straw purchaser passed the guns off to someone else, ATF agents were ordered to NOT follow the person(s) who now had the guns. In other words, no attempt was actually made to track the guns to the people who they claimed were the target of the investigation.
Interestingly enough, right about the time they started facilitating the movement of guns into Mexico, high level Administration officials (including the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the President) began making regular speeches about how the majority of guns used in crimes in Mexico were traced back to sales in the U.S..

Re:What I get from this (2)

Talderas (1212466) | about 10 months ago | (#46361813)

It's almost as though the ATF planned this operation to confirm what the high level officials were saying. That's conspiracy though and that certainly could never happen.

Re:What I get from this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46358629)

It's only through both sets of data (the seed and the full meta-data) that one is able to make these kinds of connections.

Re:What I get from this (2)

AvitarX (172628) | about 10 months ago | (#46358793)

Yes, targeted collection of meta-data (and I assume actual phone conversations) appears to work.

It details finding a phone, following up on the contacts of that specific phone, and then finding more phones, repeat. They didn't find the first phone and dismantle the entire network from the office, as it appears is the justification for the indiscriminate collection of meta-data and the ability to pull up past records without a warrant.

Each step was an investigation into a phone as they worked their way up old school.

Re:What I get from this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46358903)

Or.... it was get us a set of phones from this group and we can say which of the 40 cell phones are interesting on the side? Then hey look at what we found...

Or I am just paranoid....

Re:What I get from this (1)

AvitarX (172628) | about 10 months ago | (#46359073)

I would be paranoid about it too, but since these were not US citizens and they primarily weren't in the US, I would think this would be a big win for the indiscriminate collection program, and it would actually be touted as why we need these programs.

If they used the more ambiguously legal methods of collection, I think they'd use it as a PR win.

Re:What I get from this (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46360649)

If they used the more ambiguously legal methods of collection

and then have the chance of getting thrown out of court. Remember they want to try these guys in the US. They would not want these programs to even see the inside of a courtroom 24/7 on CNN news-go-round. If it was even hinted that the initial clues came from these programs the whole evidence chain could melt down.

Or I am still paranoid :)

Wrong issue (4, Insightful)

jaydge (720092) | about 10 months ago | (#46358839)

People aren't concerned about being captured right now - they're concerned that indiscriminate collection of their data strips their privacy and allows a future regime who doesn't like people like them to easily group them with the "terrorists" of the day.

Re:Wrong issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46360085)

Huh? I'm pretty sure Guzman was very concerned about being captured.

Re:Wrong issue (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 10 months ago | (#46362729)

I'm just glad he didn't misdial my number...

Re:What I get from this (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 10 months ago | (#46359069)

is that traditional investigative work functions to capture people, and not indiscriminate collection of meta data.

Actually, I suspect that in the near future we'll find out that the NSA cracked the phones or something. I find it hard to believe the Mexican/US government couldn't have nailed this guy years ago. They usually leave these "Big fish" alone because a headless cartel is less predictable than one with a boss they can manipulate and control. I suspect this is all an orchestrated publicity stunt.

And in other news, OBL is alive and well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46360437)

and running the world's largest opium smuggling ring.

Oh, wait. I live in the real world.

Re:What I get from this (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 10 months ago | (#46361315)

is that traditional investigative work functions to capture people, and not indiscriminate collection of meta data.

Actually, I suspect that in the near future we'll find out that the NSA cracked the phones or something. I find it hard to believe the Mexican/US government couldn't have nailed this guy years ago. They usually leave these "Big fish" alone because a headless cartel is less predictable than one with a boss they can manipulate and control. I suspect this is all an orchestrated publicity stunt.

"Mexican authorities (moving on American intelligence work) successfully carried out a number of raids...."

Yup; either he stopped behaving "predictably" or they had some other reason to shut him down. I found it interesting that they didn't even use the "false trail" trick of having Mexican authorities carrying out a "routine inspection" that just happened to coincide with some American Intelligence which suggested they carry out this inspection. I guess when it's not in the US, they can be more active (as there's nothing illegal about American Intelligence knowing everything about what goes on in other countries).

What surprises me... (1)

emil (695) | about 10 months ago | (#46359149)

...is that these people did not invest in a "Backup & Reset -> Factory data reset -> Reset Phone" shortcut directly on their primary homescreen. You would think that anyone carrying a phone with sensitive data that can be seized would want lots of practice in erasing a phone.

Re:What surprises me... (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about 10 months ago | (#46359545)

Because when people are pointing guns at your head, your first priority is going to be to reach into your pocket for your phone, and not to get your hands above your head...

Re:What surprises me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359655)

Better have something like this:

Boeing’s Black: This Android phone will self-destruct
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/02/boeings-black-this-android-phone-will-self-destruct/

Encrypt phone? (1)

emil (695) | about 10 months ago | (#46359843)

I loaded Cyanogenmod 10.2 on my Nook last weekend, and there is now an option to "Encrypt Tablet" - supposedly it takes about a half hour, and it must be done on a full battery while connected to external power.

Will Cyanogenmod 10.2 do the same thing when running on a phone?

Re:What surprises me... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 10 months ago | (#46359863)

It would too difficult to erase it in an emergency. Better criminals would use some kind of encryption layer so that the data can not be decrypted. And a special "unlock" code, which they will reveal to the cops after putting enough of a show, that will actually erase everything.

It is a good thing you and I are not criminals. The cops would be so totally outsmarted.

Re:What I get from this (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 10 months ago | (#46359217)

is that traditional investigative work functions to capture people, and not indiscriminate collection of meta data.

Another thing that you should get, is that indiscriminate blabbing to the press about your investigative methods renders those methods ineffective. Now that investigators have intentionally made it public knowledge how they caught Guzman, other cartels will change how they use cellphones.

Re:What I get from this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359687)

Of course the investigators know this too, so sometimes the information released is not quite accurate. And in terms of an indictment, you don't need to include how you caught the guy, just why you believe he is breaking the law.

Re:What I get from this (1)

otc-lame (3548441) | about 10 months ago | (#46359855)

is that traditional investigative work functions to capture people, and not indiscriminate collection of meta data.

But just think of how quickly they could've caught teh evil turrrists if they had everyone's phone info! Then they wouldn't have had to go through all of those steps to get the one guy they wanted! See, it's a budget-saver too, and we all know the budget is out of control. Problem solved.

Re:What I get from this (1)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | about 10 months ago | (#46362221)

Well he probably was not cooperating with the group that was receiving tax payer
funded weapons from operation fast and furious, and operation gun walker.

It could be worse, he could have ended up like barry seal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

When you know too much about CIA drug running you may end up dead
such as Pat Tillman, thou he did say he was going to go talk to Noam Chomsky, so....

"Despite his fame, Tillman did not want to be used for propaganda purposes. He spoke to friends about his opposition to President Bush and the Iraq war, and he had made an appointment with notable government critic Noam Chomsky for after his return from the military. The destruction of evidence linked to Tillman's death, including his personal journal, led his mother to speculate that he was murdered.[31] General Wesley Clark agreed that it was "very possible".[32][33]"

In the case of Michael Ruppert they let it slide, but did steal his computer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

Surprised Mr. Ruppert is still with us.

Others like Terrance Yeakey left us for other reasons, but by the same ppl.

The secret police is targeting honest citizens folks.

Oh, that dragnet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46358557)

Crucially, the episode would breathe new life into the joint US-Mexico dragnet...

Wasn't that the "dragnet" where US DEA gave Mexican druglords a few thousand automatic assault rifles in exchange for money?

We need to publicize this widely (-1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 10 months ago | (#46358565)

We should figure out exactly how the law enforcement traced these phones and understand it. Then we should employ people of the caliber of Bill Nye or Neil Degraase Tyson to explain the complexities in a language the dim witted drug pushers would understand. We should make such dragnets and arrests of drug kingpins should never ever happen again. Because FREEDOM!

Re:We need to publicize this widely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359401)

I have to admit I was a bit saddened when I first read that el Chapo was captured.
It's like the end of series of books that you've been reading for years.
I wonder what kind of infighting will happen now.

Of course after I was sad for a couple of minutes I was happy that they had captured him, because now they can finally get to work on making a documentary about his life. Also there will be someone new to take his place, and I'm sure that person will have lots of interesting adventures.

Note that I don't live in mexico, so to me this is all just some interesting entertainment, kind of like ww2 is for most people.

Happy Thursday from the Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46358603)

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a cosmonaut.

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say, thank you for being a friend.

Will catch the next one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359005)

And the next one, and the next one?

Fixing the wrong problem, over and over and over.

Misleading Title (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359013)

This is just old-fashioned police work. I don't see where a "phone dragnet" was used. When did slashdot become pro-NSA?

Re:Misleading Title (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359445)

I agree, scraping the phone-books of arrestees is not a dragnet.

Using the phone numbers in those books as probable cause for a warrant seems like an easy barrier. Using that evidence to get more arrests makes sense. Using those arrests to get more numbers...

Yes, this is how police work is supposed to work.

Where have I seen this before? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46359207)

Guess they don't watch "The Wire" much in Mexico.

and next time, (3, Insightful)

cellocgw (617879) | about 10 months ago | (#46359387)

The drug lords will wise up and use burner phones, replacing them every X days. Gosh, don't they even watch The Wire down there in Mexico?

Re:and next time, (2)

CKW (409971) | about 10 months ago | (#46359609)

They still need to store that massive list of crucial phone numbers somewhere, and also increase communication via other means in order to propogate the phone number changes.

The only thing burner phones is good for is not allowing the cops to easily pull your number from phone company records by name so as to put a trace on your phone.

Instead they have do do actual legwork to figure out what phone you're calling from, and depending on which opponents you are facing and whether they have "high priority" FBI/FSB van-full-of-technology-on-your-ass nearby watching the call metadata from ALL the calls to nearby towers...

Burner phones are also good for people whom the police do not know about nor whom they can physically find ... but that quickly breaks down as they hunt you down from the calls you make to numbers and people they do know about.

Re:and next time, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46361705)

Some of these henchman for unkown cartels hacked up to death four women, video capture posted to the internet, and I wished beyond everything that they would get caught. I hope its them. Their turn.

OR... (3, Insightful)

headhot (137860) | about 10 months ago | (#46359649)

it was the NSA and they used parallel construction.

Re:OR... Mod Parent Up (1)

crunchy_one (1047426) | about 10 months ago | (#46360339)

This is the only explanation that makes sense.

Re:OR... Mod Parent Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46363057)

Not really, the NSA can't even find a terrorist when given their name and personal details. They probably can't find their own ass with a map given their obsessive hay stack collecting.

Whack-A-Mole (1, Informative)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 10 months ago | (#46360051)

Effing pointless. Legalization would actually improve everything - except militarized police budgets and powers, which IS the effing point.

top drug lord? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46360153)

I dunno, last time I checked the CEOs/Chairmen of InBev, Nestle, Segrams, Starbucks, etc... were all still at large.

End the war on drugs (1, Informative)

ender9441 (1358347) | about 10 months ago | (#46360361)

We could end most drug related crime by simply legalizing drugs. No one would compete with $4 known quantity and quality drugs from Wal*Mart. Oh yeah, and quit caging non-violent humans for possessing plants.

Re:End the war on drugs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46363793)

As for legalizing I agree - there is no point in putting people for recreational use of drugs. As for no criminality if you legalize I doubt very much. That is just simplistic view - delegalize and you have crime, legalize and you do not - there is some work to be done too like education so that esp. young people know about consequences and the black market offering stuff for less or to minors will always be there. Other than that it is correct war on drugs never solved anything except to help few power hungry police officials.

Not really a Dragnet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46360537)

So apparently one phone, led to another phone, led to 10 more phones, etc... Well that's not a dragnet.
Sounds like good police work to me. And El Stupido on the part of the cartel. I bet the other cartels will be running through burners for the next year or two before they get back to normal.
Anyway I am glad to see Mexico cleaning up it's drug cartels.

So...big deal. (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 10 months ago | (#46363705)

It doesn't matter how many middle men you eliminate, as long as the most drug-addicted country in the world is waiting at the end of the line for it's product.

Eliminate the USA, then we'd see the cartels disappear.

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