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'El Chapo' installed 'spyware' on wife's phone, witness testifies

A Colombian cybersecurity whiz testifies that the spyware he placed on phones used by the alleged cocaine kingpin's wife, associates and female friends let "El Chapo" snoop on their texts and track their moves.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquín "El

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, arrives at a federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Photo Credit: AFP/ Getty Images / Don Emmert

El Chapo was also El Nosy, according to federal court testimony Wednesday from a Colombian cybersecurity whiz who installed spyware on phones of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera's wife, associates and female friends that let the alleged cocaine kingpin snoop on their texts and track their every move.

Christian Rodríguez, 32, who also set up an encrypted phone network for Guzmán in 2008, then betrayed him to the FBI in 2011, said Guzmán used the snooping software on his “special phones” as a “toy,” and was especially fond of a function that let him remotely turn on a phone’s microphone.

“He would call a person on their extension, talk about a subject, they would hang up, then he would call another line to open up the microphone and hear what they would say about him,” Rodríguez told jurors in Brooklyn federal court.

Guzmán, 58, a legendary leader of the Sinaloa cartel who twice escaped prisons in Mexico, is charged with running a violent trafficking empire that smuggled $14 billion in cocaine into the United States over a quarter century. Nine former associates have testified against him in a trial that began in November.

The betrayal by Rodríguez allowed investigators to crack into Guzmán’s encrypted phone network and get incriminating phone calls that were played for the jury earlier this week.  His appearance Wednesday followed testimony from an FBI agent about how the obsession with tracking the women in his life came back to haunt Guzmán.

Agent Stephen Marston said that when Rodríguez secretly flipped, he opened Guzmán’s spyware monitoring channel to investigators, yielding a gold mine of intelligence, including texts about drugs, weapons, security measures and his personal life that were displayed for jurors.

“Our kiki is fearless,” Guzmán wrote in one 2012 text to his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, using the nickname for one of their twin baby daughters, María Joaquina. “I’m going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me.”

Guzmán also advised his father-in-law to “Use black” — a reference to a Blackberry — to avoid radio surveillance on a drug flight, asked his wife to get him clothes and “moustache dye” after he barely escaped a 2012 raid on a Los Cabos safe house, and counseled her to try to live a “normal life” amid omnipresent surveillance.

“When you guys see suspicious-looking cars, let me know right away so I can have them checked out,” he texted. “ . . . They just want to see if you’re going to where I am.”

Coronel, sitting in the gallery, was impassive during the testimony about her husband’s spying on her, looking straight ahead with her hands folded in her lap, and she continued to avert reporters’ glances as the FBI agent moved on to texts with two other women Guzmán surveilled.

One of them, Lucero Sánchez, is a former Mexican legislator facing federal drug charges in Washington, D.C., who is described as a girlfriend in news accounts. The other, Agostina Acosta, was called “my love” by Guzmán in the texts and she described him as her “husband,” but she also played a dual role as a cutout who dealt with other operatives on his behalf, Marston said.

Using screen names like “Fiera” and “Mona,” according to the texts, she juggled multiple phones, taking questions he fed her and passing them along to operatives handling business deals, overseas chemical plants, drug deliveries, and legal arrangements for workers arrested in raids.

“Yes, love, if it takes a while to reply to you it’s because I’m talking, texting with 4 at a time,” she responded to an impatient Guzmán in one text.

“How are the sales going?” he asked in a later text about a drug deal she was handling involving a correspondent named “Guero.”

“Oh, like busy bees, nonstop love,” she responded.

Rodríguez, who began working in 2008 for Guzmán and a Colombian cocaine cartel run by the Cifuentes family, has not yet described why he decided to turn on them, but according to testimony he could be in line for a $5 million State Department reward.

He said Guzmán initiated conversations about spyware after paying Rodríguez about $100,000 to set up the encrypted internet-based phone system, and was immediately thrilled by the "flexispy" software's potential to monitor texts and phone calls and track movements with GPS, as well as the remote microphone.

Guzmán ordered 10 at first, and eventually 50 to give to associates without revealing their secret properties, Rodríguez testified, and called at least once a day to complain about a missing GPS upload or a slow data feed. “He would call me to ask me to solve it,” Rodríguez said.

On one occasion, he testified, Guzmán asked how long it would take to install the spyware on a computer. When Rodríguez said it would take only a few minutes, Guzmán said he would “distract” a woman who was visiting him with a computer, so Rodríguez could secretly upload the software.

Eventually, Rodríguez said, Guzmán had an aide named Benjamin spend all his time monitoring people — advising him to deflect questions about why he spent all his time hunched over a computer with headphones.

“He told him to say he was listening to music,” Rodríguez said.

Testimony is scheduled to resume on Thursday.

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