back to article US drug cops snared crooks with pre-cracked BlackBerry mobes – and that's just the start

Back in 2013, Canadian John Darrel Krokos got 11.5 years in a US jail for leading a massive cocaine smuggling ring. Two years later, his colleague Zaid Wakil was given a 20-year sentence. What was unique about their cases – and another 20 people also taken down in the investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – was …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So the solution is journalists & activists should wipe every device first before using...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Depends

      There are places this can be stored or things that can be sent that you cannot easily wipe. At least if Defcon presentations are anything to go by, look up sim card special features.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      So the solution is journalists & activists everyone should wipe every device first before using.

      FTFY

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >So the solution is journalists & activists should wipe every device first before using...

      Ain't going to do you much good in certain parts of the world as you're flying out of a 15th storey window in a (cough) suicide.

    4. JohnFen Silver badge

      I'm neither a journalist nor activist, but that's been my standard procedure for about 10 years now. I highly recommend it.

  2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Warrants

    To use such devices and crack phones, etc. there should be warrant issued by a regular court authorizing the surveillance. Otherwise, it is too easy for an unethical flatfoot, shyster, etc. to abuse their power. If the flatfeet do not like it, Blackstone's dictum should be remember (paraphrased) that it is better for the guilty to walk than for the innocent to be imprisoned.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Warrants

      But did Blackstone predict a world where one or a few people can seriously wreck it? Just think the next 9/11...

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Warrants

        Ah yes, the 9/11 case that killed something like 1/10 of a year's worth of USA gun accidents (or substitute "road traffic accidents" if you are a NRA member).

        Also it is pretty obvious in that case the perpetrators should have stood out like a sore thumb but human failings and department rivalry largely had them ignored, which is exactly the same sort of reasons why powers tend to be abused if no checks & balances are applied.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Warrants

          That's nothing. If anyone, ANYONE had a nuke and an itching to use it against the US, you can hardly go wrong with detonating it 20 miles over South Dakota and then invade in the post-EMP chaos. And you wouldn't really need all that much to pull it off, if you think about it.

          1. Michael Strorm

            Re: Warrants

            @Anonymous Coward; "You can hardly go wrong"

            Well, not unless you take into account the fact that any entity large enough to invade the US- even after an incident like that- is going to have to (a) be a nation state and (b) obviously identifiable.

            And that even if that nation wasn't identifiable as the source of the attack beforehand, it's going to be treated as such as soon as it tries to invade and likely subject to retaliatory action from the US's own nuclear weapons.

            But, yeah. Apart from that "you can hardly go wrong".

            Of course, we can get into nitpicking wankery and it's true that- as you possibly intended- it's theoretically possible that the invading country had nothing to do with the original nuclear attack and were merely taking advantage of it.

            But then, given that they'd need to "just happen" to have been in a position to mount a full-scale invasion of the US in the wake of the attack, how much benefit of the doubt do you really think a freshly-nuked US would cut them?

            And frankly, do you think the US would care? Even if the invaders *did* provably have nothing to do with original nuclear attack, how likely do you think it is that a completely vulnerable US would let them take advantage of it without responding against the invading country with their own nuclear weapons anyway? Particularly as it's likely to be the only option left to them.

            All assuming people would be calmly sitting down and considering such academic smartasseries under such circumstances. How likely do you think that is? (Spoiler; not remotely).

            That aside, it's a great idea whose flaws were only spotted by the massed ranks^w rank of one other random guy on the Internet spending a minute thinking about it.

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Warrants

        "Just think the next 9/11..."

        OK, I'm thinking of it. How does that back up your assertion?

  3. Schultz

    Symptoms of misguided policies

    I like the fact that the police in this case specifically targeted the bad guys with surveillance - and succeeded. But in the bigger picture, these efforts are futile, because the invisible hand of the market will balance supply and demand and the long war on drugs does not seem to make a difference on the demand side.

    Time to fix the policy on drugs. The government should not start a war against its people if they want to enjoy their addiction, be it for alcohol (I am looking at you, average TheReg commentard), nicotine, equasy, or cocaine. The resources wasted on the fight against drugs would be more productive elsewhere.

    1. redpawn Silver badge

      Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

      But War. We need the tools. It's us vs. them. Surrendering to the bad guys is unthinkable. Existential threat. Give us more resources.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Gimp

        t's us vs.them. Surrendering..is unthinkable. Existential threat. Give us more resources.

        Etc, etc, etc.

        The usual plea from any data fetishist.

      2. Tom 35 Silver badge

        Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

        Add for profit prisons. Drugs are easily the number one source of "customers" and they need to expend their jail utilization to boost profits. That's whey the GOP is so against pot legalization

        .

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

      Each of those addictions have collateral costs that affect the rest of society (wife beaters, secondhand smoke cancers, delinquency, etc.), yet you can't fix stupid, and you can't let it lie since there will be lawyers, so what are you to do?

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

        You are right about "collateral costs" but also we can look at the biggest addictions (smoking and alcohol) and see how they are managed around the world. Generally they are legally available so the quality is mostly 'safe' but with restrictions on sale, use (e.g. smoking bans in public buildings in many places), and advertising along with various campaigns to promote more responsible use.

        Now it is not a complete success but overall it seems to be better to manage and tax it than to have prohibition and funding organised crime.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

          But you can easily say that those two are a whole different league versus harder drugs like Ecstasy (which CAN AND HAS killed in a single regular dose, as has other stuff like cocaine and heroin). And even alcohol, regulated as it is, has had thousands of years of issues that haven't been addressed too well (wife beating is just the tip of the iceberg, and all this with regulated hooch). Meanwhile, it's hard to regulate tobacco in the home, and guess where most of the secondhand smoke cases arise...

          1. Stork Bronze badge

            Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

            I am not really convinced Alcohol and tobacco are that much softer. There were some stats in an article in the Economist years back, and from memory the attributable death rate of users of various drugs were:

            - Heroin 1.5%

            - Tobacco 0.9%

            - Alcohol 0.5%

            -

            -

            - Cannabis: none ever attributed

            When you consider the interesting mixures and miserable lifestyles of many heroin users, those numbers are surprising

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

              Directly from cannabis, no. But what about indirect. There is a verified death from DWS, and there are strong hints many don't stay with weed and look for stronger stuff.

            2. adnim Silver badge

              Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

              "MCDA modelling showed that heroin, crack cocaine, and metamfetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals (part scores 34, 37, and 32, respectively), whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others (46, 21, and 17, respectively). Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack cocaine (54) in second and third places."

              https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)61462-6/abstract

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Symptoms of misguided policies

                But as I recall, one has to pick one's fights. I mean, I can't picture three drugs more ingrained into society more than alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. To the point swarms of people willingly defied the law to look for a drink. More loyal to their vice than to their country; that sends a message, I would think. Forget psychological and physical dependence. We're talking societal dependence here.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Human Rights Watch notes that the same techniques mayARE be being

  5. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    Try a Pager, Burner and a Smartphone With No SIM

    The country I reside in has a very active Internal Security police force. They even own a civilian cell service! (For the money)

    To circumvent their prurient interest in Foreigners we use pagers for initiating communications, Burners for communications (our cell handsets don't have GPS) and Smartphones for holding data (or playing games).

    Apart from rotating SIMs, the ideal place to make a call to avoid triangulation is close proximity to a cell base station. Fortunately, our cellco uses easily identifiable antennae configurations, which is never changed as they are hoisted into place by cranes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All that effort.

      Then the just use your trace from this forum post... ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Try a Pager, Burner and a Smartphone With No SIM

      "Apart from rotating SIMs, the ideal place to make a call to avoid triangulation is close proximity to a cell base station."

      Nope, as triangulation isn't necessary anymore if your base station time is near-zero. They can just plot a very small radius around the tower and work from there. Plus the other towers can probably STILL see you and STILL triangulate you.

  6. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Don't get caught

    Re: So, um, your legal process?

    Surely the same as for the (traditional) villians: Don't get caught.

    Getting caught is of course a little bit more subtle than just being found out: it is based also on TPTB's desire to prosecute and available evidence. Hence for law enforcement, getting caught might arise from the press kicking up a fuss and necessitating a scapegoat.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well maybe

    Supplying known criminals with monitored electronic devices is not illegal nor unethical. It's time for many folks to understand that digital communication is not guaranteed to be secure nor should it be. Conventional POTS telephone communication was never secure and it's monitoring by authorities to prosecute criminals was always legal. There is no reason to believe digital or other communications should not be monitored to convict crims or for security reasons. Crims are hacking personal electronics all the time yet there is little outcry by the privacy advocates. Very strange.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: Well maybe

      OK, I'll bite.

      Supplying known criminals ...

      Define "known criminals". We used to have a principle of innocent until proven guilty, involving an elaborate and expensive ritual to declare anyone a criminal, and give them lots of benefit-of-the-doubt.

      ... is not illegal nor unethical

      Well, even if I knew what country you're talking about, I'm not a human rights lawyer to comment on the ethics or legality of monitoring convicts. But I had an idea that the convict would at least be informed of the monitoring?

      Conventional POTS telephone communication[sic taut] was never secure and it's[sic] monitoring by authorities to prosecute criminals was always legal.

      Again, what country? I thought such things tended to be governed by a judicial process, so a court order would make the difference between legal and illegal.

      There is no reason to believe ...

      that the relevant processes and safeguards should be any different?

      Crims are hacking personal electronics all the time

      Speak for yourself. When are we going to prosecute the perpetrators of the worst cybercrime to date: stuxnet?

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Well maybe

      "Conventional POTS telephone communication was never secure and it's monitoring by authorities to prosecute criminals was always legal "when it was carried out under warrant

      There's a big difference between targeted surveillance carried out under the rule of law and surveillance, targeted or not, by anyone who fancies doing saw. The difference is "rule of law" which is an essential component of a free society under the rule of law. And is there any way in which that freedom can be maintained?

      "There is no reason to believe digital or other communications should not be monitored to convict crims or for security reasons."

      No there isn't provided there are legal safeguards such as requiring a warrant obtained from a competent authority who has been provided with a sound basis for granting it. For avoidance of doubt a competent authority does not include other members of the investigating body or a politician. Independence of the judiciary is an important factor in a free society (which, BTW, is a reason that some of us look askance at the political shenanigans involved in the appointment of US judiciary).

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Well maybe

        I think the problem is that ALL tech as we know it is dual-use. What can be used can be ABUSED. And if it CAN be abused, the human condition dictates it WILL be abused. AND it's hard to tell which is which because the latter is always done on the QT with parallel construction used for plausible deniability.

        IOW, what good is rule of law if someone is powerful enough to get away with breaking them?

      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: Well maybe

        Independence of the judiciary is

        ... a double-edged sword. It keeps the elected politicians in check, but gives enormous power to a judiciary that is not merely unelected but also accountable to noone but itself. Hence why in places where "rule of law" is strong - like Blighty - the Judiciary itself inevitably becomes the heart of corruption (though of course it would be a criminal offence "Contempt of Court" to point at examples).

        And that's ultimately worse than other centres of corruption: a corrupt copper or politician can ultimately be held to account (at least in principle) whereas a corrupt judge has Judicial Immunity.

        An independent judiciary also works like one of those irregular verbs:

        - We have an independent judiciary to hold the politicians to account.

        - Iran has an unaccountable leadership that asserts itself over elected politicians.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well maybe

          In fact I don't believe the English judiciary is significantly corrupt though there is still far too much old boy network and one particular university and one Public School feature far too often.

          The system that is disastrously, moronically stupid is that in the US where people are elected to the Supreme Court basically for as long as they can still shamble, despite the term limits on everything else. There is no obvious reason why SC appointments should be more than 8 years, the maximum Presidential term. When the court was instituted, nobody imagined that it would become weaponised by the Right,

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Well maybe

            "In fact I don't believe the English judiciary is significantly corrupt though there is still far too much old boy network and one particular university and one Public School feature far too often."

            If you mean Eton & Oxford & doubt they contribute a high proportion of lawyers. Proximity to the Strand and the Inns of Court is more helpful than being out in the sticks on the wrong side of the Chilterns.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Well maybe

              "If you mean Eton & Oxford & doubt they contribute a high proportion of lawyers."

              Look at the upper echelons. I have irons in this fire, I'm not simply bloviating.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Well maybe

            in the US where people are elected to the Supreme Court

            Appointed. Which I'm assuming you know, and this was just a slip of the diction.

            There is no obvious reason why SC appointments should be more than 8 years

            Well, there's the same problem there is with all term limits: you're artificially constraining job experience. It's certainly debatable how much of a problem that is, particularly with a body as small as SCOTUS with as large a pool of potential candidates, even if we were rather more rigorous about selecting those candidates.

            There's something to be said for letting justices sit on the court long enough to live through the results of some of their decisions. How often they'd change their opinions about past decisions is also open to question (probably not very often; that's basic psychology), but we might see some reconsideration of decisions like Kelo, for example, with the clarity of hindsight.

            All that said, I don't know I'm opposed to a term limit for SC justices, provided they were always limited only to a single term. If there's the possibility of a second term, it'd be far too tempting to try to play to public or Presidential opinion.

            An interesting tidbit from Wikipedia: "Historically, the average length of service on the Court has been less than 15 years. However, since 1970 the average length of service has increased to about 26 years." I might be happy with, say, a 12- or 16-year maximum service.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Illicit drugs and Alcohol/Tobacco

    Regulation is the answer to the problem.

    It's obvious, turn the crims out of their own industry.

    Undercut them.

    Let the State regulate, monitor and (via Doctors) administer the drugs to the dependent.

    It won't stop new addicts entirely but it would hurt cartels and prevent deaths.

    And think of all the real law enforcement possibilities for other issues.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Re: Illicit drugs and Alcohol/Tobacco

      I cant upvote this enough

      Having seen what heroin addiction does to somebody, lie cheat and mostly go out stealing just to fund the next fix(and if she couldn't do that there was always selling herself to fund it)

      "But you'll make everyone a junky!!!" comes the scream

      Given how much booze there is available... how many of us posting here are dependent on booze, and how many are addicts?

      Make heroin available on prescription and you'll kill off the illegal trade for a start, plus the addicts will have a clean supply (vital if injecting..... blergh) plus be known and will have access to councelling/treatment to get them off the stuff in the first place.

      Make cannabis legal to sell under licence and you'll get rid of the crims from that trade and be able to remove the super 'skunk' strength crap as well.

      Perhaps throw in education too... "hey kids , drugs dont solve your problems"

      And we might free the police//justice system to concentrate on the real problems.... like abusing RIPA to find out who lets their dog shit on the village green every day....

      1. keith_w

        Re: Illicit drugs and Alcohol/Tobacco

        WRT legalizing MJ, Canada will let you know how it goes in a couple of years. Hopefully the number of street dealers will be down, the tax income will be up and everything will be Copesthetic. Of course persons under the legal age of purchase will still be getting their MJ on the street, or ripping off their parents homegrown supply, but why should MJ be different from booze?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Illicit drugs and Alcohol/Tobacco

          Ask Colorado. They're ahead of Canada in this regard, and they're showing both pros and cons.

      2. strum Silver badge

        Re: Illicit drugs and Alcohol/Tobacco

        >Make heroin available on prescription and you'll kill off the illegal trade for a start, plus the addicts will have a clean supply (vital if injecting..... blergh) plus be known and will have access to councelling/treatment to get them off the stuff in the first place.

        What many have forgotten (if they ever knew) - this was the case in the UK, prior to 1968(-ish). The 'British Method' gave free heroin to registered addicts. It worked. We don't know exactly how many registered addicts there were, but it was in the hundreds (as opposed to the tens of thousands existing today). There was very little drug-related crime (occasionally, a pad of prescriptions was stolen - that's about all). There were very few drug-related deaths - since most current deaths come from overdoses - the illegal doses being unreliable.

        The British Method was revived in an 'experiment' in Lancashire, run by a Dr. Knox. Again, crime rates fell during this (11 year) experiment) and none of Knox's patients died - until the experiment was stopped. Two of his patients died during the subsequent year.

        Over the decades, the drug laws have killed a lot more people than the drugs have.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Illicit drugs and Alcohol/Tobacco

        Make heroin available on prescription

        The state might also implement a phased treatment program, where the addict can get heroin in exchange for attending treatment, with a transition to methadone at some point. It might be feasible to wean many addicts off heroin if you lower the barriers to entry and give them a soft landing.

        And anything that helps defund the prison-industrial complex is a win.

  9. tom dial Silver badge

    Before going crazy paranoid over this tidbit, it would be worth knowing more about the Krokos, Wakil, et al trials. It is customary for those in the illegal drug import and wholesale business to employ competent criminal attorneys at trial, and one certainly would expect anyone in that business to know a fair amount about surveillance practice and related warrant requirements, and to question admissibility of such evidence if there was even a remote chance of getting it tossed.

    The document to which the article links appears to be an application for continued and new cell surveillance of Krokos, Wakil, and a substantial number of others, containing a description of the probable cause, the scope, and the minimization procedures to be applied to screen out material unrelated to the specific investigation. It includes various references to applicable legal requirements. It is, in effect, an implicit statement that the DEA was playing fair, and of the agency policy.

    Such techniques could, and doubtless will, be misused, and not only by police. Those in the business Agent Burkdoll's application described almost certainly have competitors who might be happy to supply their communication equipment. Police also might use compromised "secure" cell phones to lead them to other evidence and never try to offer the product of unwarranted phone surveillance as evidence, much like the DEA circumvented, or tried to, their use of NSA intelligence products in a number of cases. Finally, law enforcement agents sometimes will use techniques normally requiring a warrant completely outside law enforcement bounds; the NSA again provides an example in the form of employees sacked for using government time and facilities to check up on significant others, a kind of activity far from unknown in law enforcement circles as well. Unlawful use of surveillance techniques is nothing new, by either law enforcement or others. This new one is not different, and misuse will be dealt with in due course, as has been done in the past.

    1. EnviableOne Bronze badge

      the article was not syaing they didnt have approval, what it was saying that in order to protect the masses, the process by which they get that approval should be made public.

      there is no valid national security concern why this can not be done, and it enables joe public to be aware of what is taken into account and what standard their agencies are held to

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        the process by which they get that approval should be made public

        Yes. And, similarly, there's no reason not to compel the DEA to make records of such surveillance available to the public when targets are brought to trial - it'll come out in discovery anyway - or after a certain amount of time has passed.

  10. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

    That's basically a storyline from The Wire, although in the story they sold them phones that were pre-approved for wiretapping, not pre-hacked phones.

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