Underwater drones, messaging apps and cryptocurrencies: Drug research and development defies police investigation

A submarine crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the end of 2019, from Brazil to Spain, loaded with 3,000 kilograms of cocaine. It was a hand-built self-propelled device that was raised just 25 centimeters above sea level, and the crew deliberately sunk on arrival in Galicia. It was the first time that the police discovered this way of introducing drugs in Spain, an example of how the technological development of drug trafficking has accelerated in recent years, but is expanding: drones, self-driving cars or crypto technology.

The attempt failed, but it served as a study of the sophistication of the technology used by drug cartels to move from one point in the ocean to another, with devices that had been used in places like Mexico but had not been used before. used found in Spain.

The Civil Guard spotted a semi-submerged bathyscaphe on the beach in the Aldan estuary in Pontevedra. It had a moisture escape device that prevented thermal exposure; muffler, which protects the noise of engines; and an engine that has enough range to travel 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots. It was, according to the judgment of the Pontevedra Provincial Court, “a marine device which, despite its traditional construction, was very effective”.

This type of boat had not been discovered in Spanish waters until that moment, but the police reckoned that these submarines had been in operation for some time, a more sophisticated model than the traditional gliders of the Galician cartels. In fact, in 2006, the device found an abandoned drug submarine in Vigo Estuary. However, the novelty in recent years has been the adaptation of these submarines to unmanned vessels or, as they have been called, underwater narco-drones, unmanned underwater vehicles or UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicle).

In the same July, the national police dismantled a network that used several of these vehicles, underwater drones capable of transporting 150 to 200 kilograms of drugs, equipped with engines of up to 200 CV, controlled from a console on the other side. The strait is very difficult for agents to detect because it is partially submerged and mixed with waves.

Police later gave more details about the operation, dubbed “Kraken”, which was carried out simultaneously in Cádiz, Malaga and Barcelona and in which up to eight people were arrested and ten different types of vehicles were seized for hiding and transporting the drugs, as well. Six drones with up to 12 engines and the ability to cover a distance of up to 30 kilometers under water. They were found in a ship in Casteller de la Frontera, Cadiz. Two were in the production phase and one was almost finished to be delivered to a French customer.

“For the first time, these unmanned underwater vehicles intervened, which were an innovative mode of drug transportation, and we managed to dismantle the entire organization,” Udyco chief inspector José Antonio Silero told Televisión Española. The driver of the car could control it from the app, dozens of kilometers from his home, thanks to the GPS system and the remote control that allowed him to anchor it in the desired place on the beach.

Just three years earlier, and also in Cádiz, the National Police managed to break up a ten-man gang. using a radar system Installed in two houses on the Linea de la Concepción to detect police presence in the area and know when to send drug-laden boats to the beach. The device had two antennas that allowed drug traffickers to know if patrols or helicopters were nearby, all in real time. Criminals had hired personnel with specific subject knowledge to set up and operate the surveillance equipment. The police investigation lasted more than a year and ended with the arrest of these ten people. Agents seized two radars, 22 guns, more than 70,000 kilos of hashish, three boats and 230 vehicles used by the network to transport the drug from the coast to warehouses.

In another operation that ended earlier this year, this time by the Civil Guard together with the French anti-narcotics police, agents destroyed a network of drug traffickers who transported drugs in large helicopters. The investigation began in 2020 when both police discovered the activities of French drug traffickers on the southern coast of Spain and discovered that the group had entered the Andalucian coast from Morocco in an unlicensed helicopter. The Civil Guard, after a day of monitoring, intercepted a shipment of drugs in a helicopter in the city of Torremolinos, which had no plans to fly to a neighboring country. In total, agents arrested eleven people and seized more than 2.4 tons of hashish and 112 kilos of marijuana.

“We were entered by the public authorities. We recommend that you get rid of this phone.” This notice was issued in mid-June 2020 Among EncroChat users, The instant messaging app, which drug dealers and other criminals have used for years to communicate, has been hacked for months by French and Dutch police forces in cooperation with police in other countries. “A joint investigation over the past few months has made it possible to capture, share and analyze millions of messages exchanged between criminals,” Europol explained in a press release, saying they had dismantled an exclusive communications network.

According to this European agency for police cooperation, in recent years countries on the continent have experienced an increase in crimes committed by organized groups thanks to, among other things, communication through encryption technologies. The French Gendarmerie began investigating the app in 2017, with interventions on phones on which EncroChat had been downloaded, after discovering that many phones seized in operations were using the platform. “As of 2020, a gendarmerie team of more than 60 soldiers began monitoring encrypted phones and monitoring the conversations of thousands of criminals. At the same time, the Dutch police conducted a similar operation. “EncroChat’s tracking ended in June 2020 when the company realized that public authorities had infiltrated the platform and warned its users to destroy their terminals,” the note said.

The statement announced the closure days after it learned it had been tampered with, but the damage had already been done. In Spain, thanks to conversations monitored on EncroChat, the national police were able to arrest many drug lords, some of them important, such as Jesus Heredia, alias El Pantoja, who was in pre-trial detention at the time and was later released. After paying the bail. This drug lord was arrested again in the Straits in March this year.

The end of EncroChat made it possible to reveal to the general public a high-tech communications system, encrypted and known only in certain circles, an example of how the drug trade, as well as other forms of organized crime, use sophisticated systems to communicate. To launder money from their juicy business or simply to contact potential clients.

A report by the Organization of American States’ (CICAD) Observatory on Drug Addiction warned in April 2019 that authorities had discovered up to 700 new psychoactive substances worldwide and estimated that 400 were being distributed through the “deep web” or dark web. In September of the same year, Austrian police dismantled a drug trafficking network linked to the Sinaloa cartel and branches in Germany, Serbia, the Philippines and the Netherlands, which used the deep web to sell their products.

As the EFE agency reported at the time, the investigation began when police officers found that the Austrian citizen had repeatedly received packages containing heroin and methamphetamine, respectively, from Holland and Mexico. To get these packages, this person made a purchase on the deep web and paid with cryptocurrency.

This year, The UN has published a report In which he estimated $25,000 million in money that drug-trafficking networks would launder using crypto-technology to bypass global banking systems and thereby alert authorities. “Organized crime groups in Mexico and Colombia are increasingly using virtual currencies because of the speed and anonymity of these transactions,” the document said.

Source: El Diario

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