Meet the IT guy who led authorities to El Chapo's secrets

Prosecutors released this pixelated photo of Christian Rodriguez to protect his identity, after he gave authorities access to El Chapo's private communications.

(CNN)From his hideout in the mountains of Northwest Mexico, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman took pleasure in secretly listening in on the conversations of his wife, mistress and cartel associates, thanks to spyware the cartel leader had installed on their cell phones by an IT technician.

That technician is Christian Rodriguez, a 32-year-old Colombian who dropped out of college to start his own cybersecurity company and ended up working helping drug cartel members secure their communications.
Rodriguez is a cooperating witness who is living in the United States, and prosecutors have asked that his face not be drawn or shown as he testifies against his former client. The two locked eyes as he began his testimony, and Rodriguez appeared nervous during questioning.
    A frightened Rodriguez first met Guzman in 2008, at a meeting in the mountains where the Sinaloa Cartel leader had been hiding from authorities after his laundry-cart escape from a Mexican prison years earlier. Rodriguez described being taken to a clandestine airstrip to be flown to the meeting, and says he was met on the ground by "armed military." Rodriguez's work initially involved creating an office-like phone extension system for Sinaloa Cartel associates that would allow their conversations to be encrypted, or unable to be intercepted by authorities. Guzman, who did not enjoy working on computers, was pleased with the ability to have protected phone conversations.
      At their next meeting, Guzman asked Rodriguez if he could install "spyware" to monitor the activities of certain devices. Rodriguez installed a program called FlexiSPY, which allowed Guzman to access text messages, emails, phone calls and GPS locations of phones that had it installed. Rodriguez was told to install the software on brand new phones which would be given to people Guzman chose. In all, Guzman was tracking 50 phones.
      "It was like his toy," Rodriguez said. "He liked it very much."
      Then Guzman wanted more: the ability to remotely turn on a phone's microphone so he could hear conversations happening around it.
        He would call up someone, have a conversation with them and then hang up and open up their microphone "to hear what they would say about him," Rodriguez said.
        Guzman called the devices that had spyware installed on them "special," and could transform phones and even computers. Sometimes, it would only take Rodriguez a few minutes to transform a device into a spying tool for the cartel leader.

        The messages

        A BlackBerry that was seized during a US law enforcement raid of the Los Cabos home where Guzman had been hiding in 2012.
        While Guzman had the spyware installed on others' phones, he didn't know that Rodriguez would eventually end up cooperating with the US government, giving authorities access to conversations involving the cartel leader.
        Authorities had another cooperating witness lure Rodriguez into a meeting in New York City under the guise of buying his encrypted communication services to evade law enforcement. Rodriguez was recorded at the 2010 meeting, and eventually agreed to work with the FBI, whose investigators realized they would not be able to see what Sinaloa associates were saying without "insider access."
        Once Rodriguez gave the FBI access, they were able to access conversations Guzman had with everyone from cartel associates to his wife, Emma Coronel.
        A spokesperson for FlexiSPY said the company had not been directly involved in Guzman's case but that the company generally assists law enforcement with their inquiries.
        "If FlexiSPY was instrumental in uncovering illegal activities or bringing criminals to justice then of course we are delighted that our product was able to help," the spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

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