A hacker arrested in Colombia’s latest wiretapping scandal has reportedly admitted to purchasing intelligence from an illegal wiretapping operation that was run by the Colombian military, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported.
Andres Sepulveda, the hacker arrested in last week’s wiretapping scandal, has admitted to purchasing information from the Andromeda program, a top-secret intelligence gathering operation that was run by the Colombian military, according to documents obtained by El Tiempo.
The same documents reveal that in the hours after his arrest, Sepulveda told prosecutors that he had trafficked illegally obtained information and acquired confidential data from contacts within the Andromeda program.
According to El Tiempo, Sepulveda told prosecutors “A friend, who is an analyst for the Air Force intelligence service and an expert in information security, told us that he knew people in Andromeda.”
Raid only the tip of the iceberg
Sepulveda was arrested last Tuesday after agents from the Prosecutor General’s technical investigation team (CTI) raided an apartment in northern Bogota, where they discovered surveillance equipment used to intercept electronic communications.
The suspect was allegedly in possession of classified military intelligence including information about the government’s ongoing peace negotiations in Havana, and lists of demobilized guerrilla combatants.
The documents obtained by El Tiempo reveal that shortly after the discovery of the Andromeda program, Sepulveda met with a contact named, “Bender,” who offered him information about the rebel group FARC and its ongoing peace negotiations with the Colombian government.
According to Sepulveda, Bender also offered him, “a tool to monitor Blackberry devices, which was capable of listening to calls, taking videos and photos, copying messages, and using geolocation tracking.”
Alleged offer of intelligence on the FARC
Sepulveda has also admitted, according to the newspaper, that the individuals involved in the Andromeda program offered him a packet of information, which included chat logs and emails of discussions between top level FARC officials, for $15,000.
Sepulveda’s original plan was to resell that information to the National Intelligence Directorate, but that fell through when his contacts in the Andromeda program came up short on their offer. Instead of the 100 email accounts promised, his contacts only delivered 20, which he purchased in exchange for a laptop and $4,000 in cash.
The suspect alleges that it was through this transaction that the received a list of demobilized guerrilla combatants that was found in his possession.
The Andromeda program was discovered in February, after a 15-month investigation by the magazine Semana concluded that a secret Colombian military intelligence unit used advanced online technology and hacking techniques to monitor the text messages and emails of opposition politicians and representatives of both the government and the FARC involved in the Havana peace negotiations.
Connection with presidential candidate
Soon after Sepulveda’s arrest, it was discovered that he had recently been employed by the campaign of presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, to assist with “information security.”
Zuluaga had previously denied having contact with Andres Sepulveda but changed his story this past weekend, apparently following a consultation with his staff.
“On one occasion, at the beginning of my campaign, I visited the office of whom today is accused of acting illegally. I went to greet the people who were doing social support work,” Zuluaga confirmed, adding, “I want to speak frankly, with all truth while always acting in good faith.”
Despite fears that such outside interference would destabilize the ongoing talks, which recently entered their 25th round, chief government negotiator Huberto de la Calle has said that illicit surveillance has not had any crucial impact on the tone of negotiations or the resolve of the parties to forge a lasting peace.
So far, only Sepulveda has been arrested in relation to the most recent incident, though experts are combing through computers seized as part of the investigation and have not ruled out further arrests.