QCOSTARICA – Costa Rica will be investigating whether hackers interfered with its 2014 presidential elections, following revelations by jailed hacker Andrés Sepúlveda that he rigged elections throughout Latin America for almost a decade.
Sepulveda, who grew up poor in Bucaramanga, Colombia, eight hours north of Bogotá by car, told Blooomberg how he had used black propaganda and other tactics in order to influence many electoral races across Latin America over a run of eight years for 2005 until 2013, hacking emails, phones and websites in order to gather intelligence in order to give his clients an illicit advantage.
Sepulveda said he targeted nine Latin American countries, with a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies and installed spyware. In his story of how he manipulated sentiment by fabricating false waves of enthusiasm and derision on social media, launching spam campaigns designed to annoy, he says his first jobs, at the beginning of his career in 2005, were small.
Within a few years, for $12,000 a month, a customer hired a crew that could hack smartphones, spoof and clone Web pages, and send mass e-mails and texts. The premium package, at $20,000 a month, also included a full range of digital interception, attack, decryption, and defense. The jobs were carefully laundered through layers of middlemen and consultants.
Sepúlveda decided to finally open up to Bloomberg Businessweek in his first interview since being sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he is serving now. He admitted to have rigged elections in, at least, eight Latin American countries including Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela and Costa Rica.
Sepuldeva says many of his efforts were unsuccessful, but had enough wins that he might be able to claim as much influence over the political direction of modern Latin America as anyone in the 21st century. 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,” he says.
In Costa Rica, Sepuldeva supported Johnny Araya’s failed presidential candidate for the Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN) in the 2014 election.
The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) – Costa Rica’s elections tribunal – authorized an investigation into the 2014 presidential elections following a complaint by the Frente Amplio (FA) party, headed by former presidential candidate Jose Maria Villalta, prompted by Sepulveda’s revelations.
According to a teleSUR report, the TSE made the decision after going over the request from the FA that it may have suffered most from the alleged hacking.
The request was made by the president of the executive committee of the FA, Patricia Mora, and head of its legislative fraction, Gerardo Vargas, in hopes to discover if there were irregularities and to confirm if Sepulveda, by his own admission, was hired by the PLN to rig the election.
“It’s an extremely serious situation,” Gerardo Vargas told teleSUR.
While Sepulveda admitted to engaging in dirty campaigns in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua, he told Bloomberg that he engaged in a “more normal” campaign in Costa Rica.
One of the hacker’s tactics was to command a “virtual army” of social media users to distribute memes and tweets that ran against left-wing candidates. In the 2014 Costa Rican presidential election, anti-FA memes were in abundance. Some of the memes sought to portray the FA as sympathetic to Columbia’s notorious FARC guerrillas.
The PLN denies all allegations of ties to Sepulveda. He “was not paid for any work, nor was one of our dealers or consultants,” read a party statement sent to teleSUR. They called the media buzz around the story “false revelations.”
Although FA was in second place for much of the election,with some polls showing Jose Maria Villalta in first, this aggressive campaign allegedly caused a drop in public support, and Villalta finished third with 17 % of the vote.
Now serving 10 years for charges including use of malicious software, conspiracy to commit crime, violation of personal data, and espionage, the 31-year-old Sepulveda is reportedly hoping to prove the public he has reformed to get a reduced sentence.
“When I realized that people believed what the internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything,” he said.
“I did it with full conviction and under a clear objective, to end dictatorship and socialist governments in Latin America,” in talking to the media after years of operating in the shadows in an apparent bid to portray himself as a reformed person.
Sources: La Nacion, Telesurtv.net, The Independent, Bloomberg, The Register, LA Times