Dutch police tapped Mexican drug baron El Chapo on behalf of U.S.: report

El Chapo in US custody after his extradition from Mexico, Jan 2017
El Chapo in US custody after his extradition from Mexico, Jan 2017Photo: Immigration and Customs Enforcement / Wikimedia Commons

The Dutch police intercepted the communications of Mexican drug baron Joaquín Guzmán, better known as 'El Chapo', for 18 months in 2011 and 2012 and shared that data with the FBI. This tapping operation gave the American authorities a complete picture of El Chapo's extensive organization, the Sinaloa cartel, and ultimately contributed to his arrest, sources told the Volkskrant.

This operation started thanks to an IT specialist, who was a criminal informant and agreed to work undercover for the FBI, according to the newspaper. The IT specialist set up a BlackBerry network for El Chapo's organization. BlackBerrys have long been popular among criminals because of their apparent security - messages and calls are encrypted, and the encryption keys can be stored on their own computer server. 

Thanks to the IT specialist, the FBI got access to the BlackBerry server and encryption keys. The Americans then started looking for a country where the server can be placed and tapped. The server was first placed in Canada, but the country has strict privacy laws. The United States itself was not an option because of strict regulations on tapping computer servers. The Netherlands was eventually chosen. According to the Volkskrant, this decision was influenced by the Americans and Dutch working closely together in the past and the Netherlands dealing smoothly with tap requests.

The server was placed in a Leaseweb data center just outside Haarlem. For 18 months the Dutch High Tech Crime team tapped the communications and passed the encrypted data on to the FBI. Thanks to the Dutch help, the FBI got insight into El Chapo's lifestyle for the first time in years. Hundreds of calls with accomplices were intercepted, and the FBI was able to identify El Chapo's voice using earlier recordings. "It was the first time in at least five years that the Americans heard him speak", a source said to the newspaper.

The Dutch police was only partially aware of the importance of this operation, according to the newspaper. Only after the operation ended, two FBI members went to the Public Prosecution Service in Rotterdam to explain what they had uncovered and how important the Dutch contribution had been. 

El Chapo is considered to be one of the biggest drug barons in history. He was head of the Sinaloa cartel. The Mexican and American authorities had been hunting him since the late 80's. He was arrested multiple times, and managed to escape on several occasions. In 2015 he escaped custody by means of a 10-meter-deep and 1.5 kilometer-long tunnel that had been dug by his henchmen. He is currently in custody in the United States and the trial against him will start later this year. 

The Public Prosecutor and police confirmed this operation to ANP after the Volkskrant's report. "In consultation with the Public Prosecution Service we decided to agree to the request of the Americans", a police spokesperson said to the news wire. According to the spokesperson, they receive this type of request quite regularly.