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El Chapo Trial: Why His I.T. Guy Had a Nervous Breakdown (nytimes.com)
120 points by ajay-d 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

From the article: "The I.T. expert said the crime lord also asked him to install spyware called FlexiSPY on the “special phones” he had given to his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, as well as to two of his lovers, including one who was a former Mexican lawmaker. ... Mr. Rodriguez also gave the (FBI) the user names and passwords of Mr. Guzmán’s FlexiSPY accounts, allowing agents to read — almost in real time — the intimate and incriminating texts he sent his romantic partners."

Right there is one of the best arguments to make against backdoors. If you put in a backdoor for yourself, someone else may use it, too. This example will get that across to CEOs and politicians.

It was a pretty common occurrence in medieval times to start a war, buy an army of mercenaries, miscalculate something, not be able to pay them their salaries, get conquered by your own mercenaries.

The conclusion people got from this was "make sure you pay your mercenaries on time", and not "don't start wars".

I'm honestly not sure it will get that across. The common mindset always for those pushing for these kinds of backdoors is that _they_ are the ones who will be the sole beneficiaries of it. They either fail to accept (or ignore) that something being protected solely by policy is not the same level of protection as something truly impossible.

The world doesn’t change by “getting things across” to CEOs and politicians. If a CEO’s enlightenment gets int the way of his fiduciary responsibilities, he will simple be replaced.

It’s about systems, not Great Men.

People make the system. The CEO. The board. Your local city council. Your federal representatives. There is no smart contract, there is no code that evaluates the rules obediently without interpretation. Just people.

And yet ... there's a tremendous degree of variety between and among people, but it seems that certain archetypes tend to emerge time and time again in specific positions of power and authority, including in business and politics.

One simply has to wonder if these systems either select for or change those they come in contact with. Which would then point to a systemic rather than individual responsibility role.

This is reductive. Systems are not merely sums of their parts (people): they have emergent properties.

Systems don’t change because people as individuals decide to do things differently. That’s not sociology, that’s just individualism. Unfortunately(?) there is no way to avoid analysis at the systemic level. Neither individuals nor “smart contracts” can get around that.

Personally i'm with you on that. Unfortunately cold objective science says different:


"In terms of its effects, a system can be more than the sum of its parts if it expresses synergy or emergent behavior. "

On a micro scale, yes. On a macro scale, it's easy to see that even the higher ups are just players in a bigger game, the rules of which they did not make. But the most successful ones (according to a specific definition of success) play the game well.

How do you affect change in systems if not by applying pressure and leverage against elements in the system?

See especially Donella Meadows "12 Leverage Points":

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)

11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows

10. Structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)

9. Length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes

8. Strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against

7. Gain around driving positive feedback loops

6. Structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

5. Rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)

4. Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

3. Goal of the system

2. Mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises from

1. Power to transcend paradigms


Note that "members of the system" doesn't even make the list.

This is cool. I'll note that "members of a system", implying individual focus, is a slight straw man of my argument, which is that elements such as "CEOs" or "boardmembers" could be incentivized with new knowledge. 5 and 4 seem relevant--new risks cause companies to restructure their processes all the time, it seems like making clear that backdoors can pose direct risks can cause systemic change.

You apply pressure to the system. Not just elements (individuals?) that make up the system. The most enlightened human being could become a CEO (insert your favorite mythical person) of an oil/coal company; they would still simply be fired if they didn’t do their job.

So did this man commit a crime against people on behalf of the drug man, and then the FBI became co conspirators to th crime? Or did they seek some sort of warrant?

From this article https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2019/01/09/El-Chapo-jurors-r...

"FBI Agent Steven Marston said the agency obtained warrants to intercept hundreds of text messages from 2012 via the spyware Guzman installed on the phones of his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro, associates and purported mistress Augustina Cabanillas Acosta, The Los Angeles Times reported."

The US warrants can protect against wrongs in the US, but mean little outside the us. If we look too closely we can probably find some illegality somewhere, but everyone is now in the US and will probably never leave. Given the case, i doubt any country will speak up about the fbi tapping the phones of drug dealers outside the us.

But do the same for political or trade reason and yes, they will cry foul.

Funny enough, but this reminds me almost exactly of what I was asked to do while working for an Asian husband and wife duo.

I'm not Asian, but am curious to know why the word Asian is relevant in your post?

Because detail is how we bring stories to life. Otherwise all of our statements would be “I did a thing with a person.”

It's about as meaningful as "a couple that had a red toothbrush," unless you want to make something from a word as nebulous as 'Asian.'

There's no life to the story, it's to vague to even parse. Who was eavesdropping on who? Both on each other? A mutually distrustful relationship? How much was the pay, what were the stipulations? Does 'duo' imply they work together?

Oh well, at least I know they're Asian.

“Funny enough, but this reminds me almost exactly of what I was asked to do while working for a White husband and wife duo.”

“Funny enough, but this reminds me almost exactly of what I was asked to do while working for a Jewish husband and wife duo.”

I guess it does add more detail.

Some details are merely descriptive. Others have a history of being associated with discrimination in some form.

Unless race is relevant to the story, it should be omitted. I’m sure there are plenty of other details about the couple that could be mentioned if you need to spice up the story.

"this reminds me almost exactly of what I was asked to do while working for a short guy and his wife."

"What do you have against short men?"

Perhaps it refers to geography rather than ethnicity?

Even funnier, this reminds me when my white boss asked me if I could hack into his white wife’s email. I told him I couldn’t. I’m also white.

Should've hired an Asian hacker.

Poor IT guy will probably be executed too. The reach of the crime syndicates pretty pervasive, even throughout the US. He'll likely never know any peace, even if he hadn't had a total mental breakdown.

Won't they have witness protection though?

Good luck hiding from the most profitable black market corporation in the history of civilization.

Oh wow! I envy your ignorance.

Mexican cartels are some of the worst organizations in the world. They don’t want to kill you, they want to make you suffer. They will kill his family, the family of his family, and maybe the whole neighborhood just to make him go crazy, and then —right at the end— they will kill him.

If the IT guy was smart enough to hide all his family’s information, then maybe they are safe, but he is still in danger because the mafia will bride someone from the protection program to kill him, and I don’t mean “bride” with money, no, I mean bride them with their own life, because if the person from the protection program doesn’t gives them access to the IT guy, they will kill their family too.

I am exaggerating a little bit, maybe I shouldn’t even write this considering that I’m spreading the fear, and that’s probably what they want —same as other organizations like ISIS— but I have seen so much pain and tears over the years, that I genuinely don’t believe the IT guy will be in peace.

I don't think it's that easy to find someone in witness protection, unless there are some other sloppy programs in the US, you, sir, are incorrect.

"More than 18,400 men, women and children have participated in it, and not one of the 8,500 witnesses or the 9,900 family members has been harmed" [1]

Now his family idk, good luck to them.

1. https://www.cnn.com/2013/02/16/justice/witness-protection-pr...

It seems like that statistic will be harder to keep as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives.

Do you have a source? I don't think FBI's witness protection program has ever been penetrated.

People who change their identity in order to disappear are ultimately found because they're sloppy. They miss their old life; they expose themselves make contact with friends and family. In some cases, they brag about their true identity while drunk. Henry Hill [1], of "Goodfellas" fame, managed to do it twice.

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

That's North Korea's method too. If one person escapes, 3 generations of relatives go to prison camp. It's tough to take on that responsibility when you flee.

Exactly. Common methods of execution are putting a tire around your arms and chest and setting you on fire, and cooking you alive in a giant microwave. Just hearing about this stuff is enough to give you nightmares, and that's the whole point. There was an episode of The Americans where someone was killed with the tire method and even on TV it made me sick to my stomach and left me feeling disturbed for several hours.

As an aside... I feel pretty done with that kind of TV and movies. That shit is disturbing and I do not find it entertaining. The real world is messy and sad in a lot of ways, and I kind of want my entertainment to be a window into a nicer, neater world where the good guys are good, and vanquish the bad guys.

I never understood the appeal of violence in tv. Even some scenes in GOT I had very hard time watching.

I agree, it's only appealing to our basest urges. Most of us don't get much violence in our normal lives so it's removed from the mundane and therefore somewhat interesting. It's amazing how much violence we witness on TV/movies when there is really so little in our actual lives.

I get bored with the "neater world where the good guys are good, and vanquish the bad guys" stories, but there are still lots of interesting stories out there.

I don't even watch the nightly news for the same reason, it's all rapes and stabbings which I could have done nothing to prevent. I am constantly thinking to myself, "why do I need to hear this?"

It's been getting worse down there too. A buddy of mine works on the cell networks and hes been telling me that bodies are starting to be strung up on bridges even in tourist areas when people don't pay up or snitch. I'd go into more detail but at some point it's just gore.

For clarification, by "down there" are you referring to Mexico, or the US states along the border?

If you mean Mexico itself, bodies being strung up on bridges in tourist areas is NOT a new phenomenon. Just dig through some of BestGore's archives from 2011-2014 if you have the stomach for it.

You have been watching too many movies.

It is perfectly possible for people to change their names, and move to a different part of the country, or whatever.

The drug cartels do not have facial recognition cameras on ever street corner. They do not track people, with secret spy software, across continents.

Thats ridiculous.

i’d be very interested in seeing an example of this or anything like it taking place in the US witness protection program.

Yeah, he is done... a pawn in the big game. poor mofo.

the reach of those guys is scary. HE could relocate to the middle of nowhere but i can't imagine a life of looking over your shoulder.

snitches end up in ditches

Snitches get stitches

>Poor IT guy

I don't know how he got there, but I'm guessing this person isnt the highest moral figure.

I don't know, I've heard stories about Russian hackers being tortured to coerce them into working for organized crime. They may have made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

The IT guy did it for the money:

> Not long after his 21st birthday, Christian Rodriguez got the contract of a lifetime for his new info-tech company: The Colombian was hired as a cybersecurity consultant by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo. While Mr. Rodriguez had little experience or formal education, he had been recommended by one of his other clients: Jorge Cifuentes Villa, a veteran trafficker who worked with Mr. Guzmán making cocaine deals with left-wing guerrillas in Colombia.

And from another article that I found:

> The government allowed him to keep the half-million he’d earned working for Guzman, and in addition paid him $480,000 for his expenses and technology services – which he later neglected to pay taxes on. Ref: https://www.courthousenews.com/sinaloa-cartels-it-guy-testif...

Ah, should have RTFA

That is a valid defense.

But he had plenty of opportunities of doing something about it.

Really? I mean, how would you do something about it if it meant your whole family would be tortured to death? Set on fire? These guys have horrifically cruel methods of execution. And despite all that he did go undercover. Balls of steel if you ask me.

That doesn't mean we can't be compassionate and empathize with his current predicament. Regardless of his moral character, he did a good thing and has exposed himself to a great potential of suffering for it.

> After fleeing to the United States, Mr. Rodriguez said he had a “nervous breakdown” within a year. He was hospitalized and treated with electroconvulsive therapy.

I had no idea that electric shocks are still used to treat mental issues.

It has that 'barbaric and probably pseudoscientific treatment that we surely abandoned 50 years ago' feel, doesn't it? But I remember reading in this SSC post (at point 7) that it actually works well, and isn't quite as scary as it sounds, although the long-term effects are still uncertain: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/16/things-that-sometimes-...

Memory loss is a very real problem with ECT. Most professionals downplay this and I find that a bit disgusting.

This is an anecdote, but I believe relevant.

I studied psychology as a mature student. One of the other adult students on my pre-degree course (kind of equivalent to community college I guess) had been a train driver. After two suicides on trains he was driving he'd developed clinical depression and been treated with ECT. This was around 2002, so it would have been the modern 'safer, targeted form of ECT'.

Ultimately despite an enormous amount of academic support on our programme he had to drop out. His permanent memory issues - a form of anterograde amnesia, were so bad he couldn't function academically, even at the limited level required to pass the course.

Depression is awful, monstrous, indescribably horrific and dehumanising. Losing ones mind, to me that's worse. As Hemingway said after his ECT (right before he committed suicide), "It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient.”

EE here.

Electricity disrupts nerves. For better or for worse.

Its very artificial to help, and not solve the root problem. But, it does 'something'. And in Medical, something has a potential use.

Its really grasping at straws to solve this person's problem, but sometimes it helps.

Labotomies are still done too. They are now more scientific and are used to control things like eplilepsy, but still involve cutting/burning through brain to sever connections.

Kind of OT, but talk of lobotomies reminds me of this classic question and answer from The Straight Dope [1]: "In medicine, what’s the difference between an -ectomy, an -ostomy, and an -otomy?"

[1] https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/607/in-medicine-wh...

Nobody performs lobotomies anymore — haven’t since the ‘70s. You’re thinking of corpus callostomies, which sever hemispherical connections in order to limit the spread of epileptic signals. While they prompt fascinating questions regarding neurological integration of the self, they don’t cause the cognitive, emotional, or behavioral changes lobotomies do.

That is one form. There are also therapies, occasionally in the frontal lobe, that use much smaller electrical devices to heat sections of brain to sever connections. Some also use lasers. It is all about cutting connections, a direct evolution from the dark days.

I know someone who has been through ECT, and I had a similar reaction when I learned about it. It's not a treatment to be taken lightly (this followed a suicide attempt), but at least in their case did cure severe depression in conjunction with more traditional treatment.

My very lay-person understanding of the process is that the patient is knocked out with drugs before the electricity is applied - it sounds like a sort of hard reset of memories in the brain. The most obvious and lasting side-effect is memory loss; this person can't remember significant chunks of their life history, so has had to re-learn it from conversations, home movies, photos, etc.

I'm wondering if the use of 'this' in '...this person can't remember...' was a mistake and was meant to be 'the'? I ask because I was looking for, if there was no mistake, confirmation that in your acquaintances specific case significant memory loss occurred.

Yes, sorry, my writing is terrible...

My acquaintance underwent ECT treatment, lost memories, and rebuilt some of them.

They are, and they are one of the most effective single treatments. But usually only when treatment options are exhausted.

ECT is very commonly used still. Its considered the best treatment for drug-resistant depression.


This article seems to paint Ketamine as the worse of the two options for extreme depression.

In simple terms, some patients are so unwell with depression they will either never get better or die from malnutrition/debilitation. This justifies the use of ECT, which is conducted under very careful conditions, involving general anaesthesia. It is often effective in a very short time frame.

It made a huge comeback and is apparently very effective when used properly.

tbh that bit sounded like a masked torturing thingy going on for him — but hey, hope he's ok

What i find amusing is that he only asked for $100,000 to build the network. To risk his life and his entire family for 100K ... even in mexico this is not a lot of money it seems.

The number should have been closer to at least 5-10 million range depending on the size of the family - enough $ to get everyone out permanently to a safe place somewhere far far away on a short notice when things go bad. (similar to that breaking bad guy who makes people disappear when things go bad: permanent change of identity, relocation etc. even that movie guy charged 250K to make that happen.)

But perhaps this IT guy was made an offer he couldn't refuse...

Also, i cant believe that someone running multi-billion dollar empire was too cheap to pay for bullet proof security system. You get what you pay for.

p.s. clearly you can tell i watched too many narcos episodes and BB.

Right, so based upon repeated viewings of Breaking Bad and Narcos, you feel you have the real world experience to understand the expected rate of an IT project in Mexico?

> you feel you have the real world experience to understand the expected rate of an IT project in Mexico?

not OP, but a risk vs reward calculation should probably go into it ...

The world is global. There is no "local" anymore especially in IT.

You say that, but that would mean that a dev in Indian should be making the same as in Silicon valley, and the projects should all the cost the same.

I haven't watched any of those shows but estimating those specs easily gets that high, esp when there's the risk

There were likely ongoing payments beyond the lump 100k since it seemed there were employees tasked with managing the cartel's network and thus ongoing costs.

I read it as $100K in equipment costs for the network... I'm honestly not sure whether that's more or less ridiculous.

Plata o plomo.

I feel like that was the case here. Even though they said he was "recommended".

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