Loose Lips Sink Ships

How El Chapo’s rookie error cost him his freedom

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Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is a Mexican crime lord and leader of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, the group responsible for supplying a large amount of drugs to the US market, and the wider world. El Chapo has twice escaped from Mexican “high-security” prisons, firstly in 2001 when he escaped via a laundry cart and most recently in July 2015, when he evaded Mexican authorities and fled his cell through a sophisticated underground tunnel. The power of the crime boss cannot be doubted, but his recent capture showed the world that El Chapo might not be as crafty as the world had previously believed.

6 months after his 2015 escape, as El Chapo lay low in the coastal city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa, he was captured by Mexican marines after extended surveillance and communication monitoring. The raid did not go entirely to plan, with El Chapo and his lieutenant escaping through a tunnel which led to the city’s sewage system. Thereafter, the cartel boss stole a car before being captured 20km away, in the town of Juan Jose Rios, after officers refused his attempts to bribe them. As the world awoke to the news of the capture, the most baffling part of this tale was still to be uncovered.

After the capture, it began circulating that El Chapo had met with US actor Sean Penn and Mexican star Kate del Castillo several months prior to his arrest, after Castillo had written to the boss several times requesting an interview. In what was a completely unprecedented move for the cartel boss, who was previously known as a shy figure who continually denied his links to drug trafficking, El Chapo told Penn he had a “fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats” and that he supplied “more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world”.

Thereafter, Mexican officials confirmed that communications between the Mexican drug lord and the American actor had played a key role in locating El Chapo. Even prior to his eventual capture, Mexican authorities were able to track Guzmán several times, with the gangster narrowly managing to escape amidst a hail of gunfire. American authorities played an instrumental role in the process, intercepting phone calls between the pair and providing their Mexican counterparts with enough information to allow them to raid 18 known Guzmán residences in the months prior to his January capture. After these shocking details emerged, questions must be raised as to why El Chapo chose to jeopardise his already unstable position as a free man by speaking with such high profile celebrities.

El Chapo does not lack fame; in spite of his role as a leading drug supplier on a global scale, he has gained celebrity status in Mexico, being seen as a type of twisted Robin Hood figure who came from poverty and rose to fame. Both he and his cartel have been one step ahead of US authorities for decades, in spite of their huge budget and sophisticated tracking mechanisms, further augmenting his hero-like status in the country. In addition, Forbes magazine placed El Chapo as number 67 in the “2013’s Most Powerful People” list, estimating that his organisation was operating at an annual turnover of $3 billion.

El Chapo is a household name and well-known figure across the world, he did not require any further exposure and certainly did not lack cash. Perhaps his desire was to leave a lasting legacy in a similar manner to Al Capone, as it appears Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo were interested in directing a film about the Mexican’s life. Yet it seems unthinkable that such a high-profile fugitive would both communicate with, and be interviewed by, Hollywood actors. Mexican cartels have a strictly tight-lipped policy and very rarely offer interviews, only doing so with covered faces and skewed voices. Even then, those who have been interviewed are generally low-ranking members, street dealers and smugglers, certainly not those in leadership positions.

Ultimately, El Chapo can blame only himself for his capture. At this point, it does not seem that Sean Penn tipped off authorities in any way, or that anyone else involved with the interview gave information to authorities. “Loose lips sink ships” is an age-old saying, which denotes criminals’ requirement to embrace a code of silence regarding their activities. But never has such a statement been so relevant than in relation to El Chapo’s capture, particularly in an era when communications tracking is highly sophisticated and advanced. It is now up to Mexican authorities to retain the prisoner at the third attempt, a feat which is made more difficult by the fact that El Chapo’s bribes far exceed the salaries of prison guards. But with the US keen to extradite the Mexican cartel boss, the future looks bleak for El Chapo Guzmán, who’s ageing eyes may never live to see the mountains of Sinaloa, or oversee the transportation of the huge amount of drugs consumed by Americans, again.

Charlie Hebdo- 1 year on

On the 7th January 2014, as the Western world wound down from festive and New Year’s celebrations, the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked by 2 Jihadi brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. Both French citizens of Algerian descent, the brothers targeted the magazine’s Parisian offices after it had attracted widespread attention due to its scathing depictions of the prophet Muhammad. 1 year on, and Europe is a very different place as a result of both further terror and an ongoing refugee crisis. Just how much changed as a result of the Charlie Hebdo attacks is unclear, but ultimately the shootings were a sign of things to come in Europe, and marked a new landscape within the region.

While the Charlie Hebdo attacks were initially deemed a revenge attack for the magazine’s portrayal of Muhammad, it quickly became clear that they went beyond this. Europeans saw the attacks as a direct assault on the Western way of life, and the fundamental value of free speech. The “Je Suis Charlie” campaign that followed on social media demonstrated an initial determination to rise above those who sought to disrupt this. Western leaders adopted a similar, unified approach and spoke of the necessity to carry on as normal, and not allow Jihadis the disruption they crave.

However, the changes we have witnessed since demonstrate a massive increase in the presence of Islamic terror and willingness to attack. After a thankfully quiet summer, Paris was again targeted in November, however this time on a much larger scale. The increase in both sophistication and willingness to cause mass death demonstrated the change in radical Islam, which coincided with the rise of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. ISIS’s encouragement to others to attack on Western soil became a reality in the November attacks, which ultimately dwarfed those observed in January.

2 terror attacks in a year is worrying for Paris, a tourist favourite loved the world over, but what is more concerning is the perpetrators, particularly their nationality. As stated, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi are both French citizens, and the mastermind and perpetrators of the November attacks held Belgian passports. This conveys the new age of terror faced by Western authorities, and while intelligence services may try, these are particularly hard to monitor and thwart.

The concept of an enemy within is a worrying one, but one which may have a silver lining. This new age of terror simply demands enhanced information and intelligence sharing among States effected, and may lead to a new-age of European co-operation. As has been seen since the UK voted to undertake air strikes against IS in Syria, intelligence gathering is fundamental to Western safety- even more so than killing Jihadis according to the British army’s operations thus far.

One thing that is also certain is that there simply can be no more mistakes in the war against Islamic terror- the embarrassment that followed the announcement that Salah Abdeslam had been questioned by French police and let go, only to become the most wanted man alive, mustn’t be allowed to be replicated. In an age where Western intelligence is extremely sophisticated, it is up to those involved to gather information efficiently and effectively, in order to overcome the comparatively weak enemy.

Western unity is fundamental to success in this battle; it is often said after tragedies such as Charlie Hebdo and the November attacks that such attacks unite us- it is now time to put this into action and truly demonstrate that the world is committed to unifying against this most abhorrent enemy. IS seek to divide populations, thus we must overcome these targets through co-operation, unity and a genuine determination to overcome.