Drug kingpin Joaquin Guzmán Loera, better known as "El Chapo," has recently been recaptured after making an escape from a maximum security prison in Mexico back in July 2015. It emerged that Hollywood actor Sean Penn met with the fugitive and interviewed him when he was on the run. Rolling Stone magazine published the story and it turned out that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) played a crucial role in their communications.
The interview was conducted over seven hours by the two-time Oscar-winning actor in October and later followed up with correspondence using burner phones and encrypted email. It delves into El Chapo's past and how he started his infamous Sinaloa drug cartel.
While many already know part of his tale—that of a farm boy who came from a poor family and emerged to be a drug lord reportedly worth around $1 billion—the interview filled out some areas that both baffled and fascinated people following his story. It shed light on how he started out growing poppies and marijuana at the age of 15, how he managed to perform his second prison break and how he wants to die, among others.
On Friday, El Chapo was captured by Mexican marines who took him back to the same Altiplano prison he escaped from last year. It was the second time the drug lord got out of maximum-security prison. In 2001, he successfully fled by hiding in a laundry cart. The most recent prison break, meanwhile, involved a secret mile-long tunnel El Chapo entered through a hole in his cell's shower.
A team of engineers reportedly trained in Germany for three months to figure out a solution to the low-lying water table underneath the Altiplano facility. Upon entering the tunnel, El Chapo rode a motorcycle that is "modified to function in the minimally oxygenized space" underground.
Penn admitted that he is not a tech savvy person. However, his account of how he contacted the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel contained a few references to BBM. The actor used the messaging application to send a set of questions to El Chapo. Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who produced the interview, also used BBM to keep in touch with the drug kingpin.
BlackBerry Messenger is a proprietary Internet-based instant messenger integrated into BlackBerry devices that enable users to send messages and make voice calls. It allows them to send pictures, voice notes, files (up to 16 MB), and share real-time location on a map as well. BBM had previously been a closed app, available exclusively to BlackBerry users. In 2013, it was finally made compatible with both Android and iOS users.
Furthermore, BBM is not the only technological avenue mentioned in the Penn's El Chapo interview; the actor also wrote that he had to use the security-focused Blackphone handset to handle encrypted communications with the drug kingpin. Penn said that his preparation for the meeting included "burner" phones and explained how he used them: "one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackphones, anonymous email addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form."
For the unfamiliar, the Blackphone is a smartphone developed by SGP Technologies whose main features revolve around privacy. It runs a modified version of the Android platform called SilentOS that comes with several security-minded tools.
BlackBerry users have come to know that the company takes pride in the fact that its products, whether hardware or software, have always focused on security and privacy. The Canadian company recently made it clear that it would rather pull out its operations in a country than agree to a government's demands for access.