The Spy Tech That Might Have Kept El Chapo Invisible for So Long

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sophisticated network prevented his capture for 13 years.

Joaquin Guzman, better known by the nickname "El Chapo," didn't get to be one of the world's most notorious and elusive drug lords without knowing a thing or two about how to cover his tracks.

According to senior law enforcement officials, Guzman used some of the latest counter-surveillance gadgets to keep out of sight. "He didn't spare any expenses when it came to protecting himself," one official told the Associated Press. "It was top-notch."

Though El Chapo might have been able to be harder to find if he went completely off the grid, Todd Morris, the founder of Brickhouse Security, said that wasn't a likely option. "You could go to the most extreme case and live a cave with messengers coming and going, but then what's the point [of being a drug lord]?" he told ABC News. "Typically, the goal [of a drug dealer] is to maximize invisibility without minimizing the joy of the billions of dollars you have."

Top-notch security means more than just a thorough pat-down for every visitor and a handful of security cameras looking over the premises. Here's a couple of the gadgets that Guzman may have used to keep out of sight from the law.

PHOTO: A spectrum analyzer can be used to figure out if theres a particular computer connection has been bugged.
Brickhouse Security
Spectrum Analyzer

Chances are that Guzman wasn't trusting a Wi-Fi password to keep his cyber activity hidden. "There's no way you could make that secure, so more likely, all of his computers were Ethernet connected," Morris said, referring to the hard-wired connection to the Internet. But in the case that someone planted a bug to turn the computer into a surveillance device, Guzman could buy a spectrum analyzer to scan his connections.

"The spectrum analyzer looks for unknown signal and voltage changes," he said. If the computers are shut down but the analyzer continues to detect a signal, then odds are that the connection has been bugged. "These can run anywhere from $9,000 to $50,000," Morris added, noting that the more expensive analyzers are better at diagnosing the root of the problem.

PHOTO: A wireless signal detector can be used to determine if theres a piece of equipment thats broadcasting an unwanted signal.
Brickhouse Security
Wireless Signal Detector

The connection itself may be free of bugs, but there's still a chance that that the electronics could be broadcasting unwanted signals. "You can deactivate Wi-Fi on laptops by removing the chips so that it shouldn't be transmitting anything wirelessly," said Morris. If a modified laptop is still producing a signal, then it's been bugged.

Alternatively, a wireless signal detector can also be used to detect specific frequencies and track cell phones operating on a different cell phone network. "If all your burner cell phones are on the T-Mobile network and you find a [different] CDMA signal, you're going to be able to track it down," said Morris.

PHOTO: In this file photo, a man is pictured using a non-linear junction detector.
John Mahler/Getty Images
Non-Linear Junction Detector

Unwanted electronics themselves that don't leave a wireless signal can still be found using a non-linear junction detector. "This is a device that looks like an old metal detector from the '70s," said Morris. The detector works by sending and receiving specialized microwaves.

"You sweep it across any physical object and when the microwaves bounce back, you find things that shouldn't be there," said Morris. Even if a listening device or audio bug is dead or powered off, the detector will still register a change in the signal.

PHOTO: In this file photo, a trade exhibitor shows a portable pocket-sized cell phone jammer CPB-2000P at the CommunicAsia 2006 exhibition in Singapore on Jun. 21, 2006.
Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images
Cellular Jammer

For a drug kingpin like Guzman, having a cellular jammer in his homes and his vehicles would have been de rigueur. "As soon as someone comes onto his property, the cell signal would stop working," said Morris. "It could be used to block cell phones that are acting like audio bugs or transmitting data out."

Unsurprisingly, the cell jammer is illegal in many countries. "In the United States, only the Secret Service and the [National Security Agency] are allowed to use cell jammers," said Morris. "No one else can have it, including the bomb squads of the New York Police Department, where a cell phone could be used as a triggering device."

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...