For decades, Latin American elections have been rigged. In the 21st century, technology has abetted the practice, resulting in the region’s dirtiest elections over the past half-decade. And, when hacking an election, Bloomberg reports, using Bitcoin is crucial.
As Enrique Peña Nieto, a lawyer and a millionaire from a family of mayors and governors in Mexico celebrated the 2012 return to power of his Institutional Revolutionary Party – or PRI – it’s unclear if he knew Bitcoin had helped him steal the election.
For more than seventy years the PRI ruled until its ouster 2000. During his campaign, Nieto had vowed to crack down on drug violence, corruption and promote transparency in Mexican political affairs.
From Bogotá’s well-to-do Chicó Navarra, Colombian political hacker Andrés Sepúlveda watched Nieto’s victory. While Nieto publicly celebrated the win, Sepúlveda protected the campaign’s dirtiest secrets.
He destroyed flash drives, hard drives, and cell phones with drills, hammers and microwaves, reports Bloomberg. He shredded documents and flushed them down the toilet. He deleted servers, located in Russia and the Ukraine, which he rented anonymously with bitcoins. He called the Peña Nieto campaign “one of the dirtiest Latin American campaigns in recent memory.”
Sepúlveda, 31, claims to have worked as a hacker for political campaigns throughout Latin America, and tells Bloomberg the $600,000 Peña Nieto job was “by far his most complex” since his start in 2005. Raised poor north of Bogotá, he enrolled in a local technology school and learned to code. He is now serving ten years in a Colombian prison for charges related to hacking, and other crimes, during Colombia’s 2014 presidential election.
His team of hackers stole documents from other campaigns, mass trolled social media, and installed spyware on opposition devices for Peña Nieto. During the time, the hackers life was threatened by drug cartels for hacking the computer of a well-connected politico. He escaped the country with his life.
Sepúlveda’s team sometimes knew what PRI opponents were up to before the campaign team’s themselves knew, thanks to spyware. Oftentimes, Sepúlveda’s team could watch in real time thanks to spyware.
On the night of the election, Sepúlveda faked phone calls at 3 a.m with the appearance of coming from left-wing gubernatorial candidate Enrique Alfaro Ramírez. Alfaro would lose by a small margin.
In order to manage all of this, Sepúlveda acted as the ultimate political troll.
He used throwaway social media accounts to change opinions and emotions about his campaigns and opposition campaigns: “When I realized that people believe what the Internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.”
The Sepúlveda story underlines how it’s not only darknet drug users and amateur ransomware hackers using bitcoin for illicit activities. The highest echelons of global political institutions are using cutting edge technologies to disguise the wrongdoings of the world’s most powerful brokers.
“My job was to do actions of dirty war and psychological operations, black propaganda, rumors—the whole dark side of politics that nobody knows exists but everyone can see,” Sepúlveda said.
He did it with the help of Bitcoin. It’s a revelation you won’t find in the Panama Papers.
Featured image from Shutterstock.