Colombian Hacker Claims He’s Rigged Latin American Elections For 10 Years

Lead Photo: Juan Arredondo for Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Juan Arredondo for Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
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At just 31 years old, Andrés Sepúlveda claims to have controlled major elections across Latin America with just his hacking skills. Currently, Sepúlveda is serving a 10-year sentence for rigging Colombia’s 2014 presidential election; his charges include espionage, misuse of personal information, and employing malicious software.

Bloomberg Businessweek scored Sepúlveda’s first interview, where he opened up about the seedy underbelly of Latin American politics. And he didn’t hold back. From working with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign and Juan José Rendón – a political consultant who definitely has more than a little Frank Underwood (House of Cards) in him – to his current work with Colombia’s attorney general’s office, Sepúlveda shined a light on information the general public isn’t privy to but has long suspected.

Related: Was the #YaMeCansé Hashtag Hijacked By EPN Twitter Bots?

Sepúlveda added that he’s only met a few of the candidates he’s worked for, meaning that some may not even know of Sepúlveda’s involvement in their campaigns.

Here are a few of his biggest revelations – all of which politicians have refuted – during his eight-year career:

Since 2005, he's rigged elections in at least 9 Latin American countries.

Sepúlveda claims to have rigged elections in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela.

In Colombia, he helped Alvaro Uribe get re-elected, as well as members of Uribe’s party during the congressional elections. Sepúlveda also worked on Oscar Iván Zuluga’s unsuccessful 2014 presidential campaign. In Mexico, he worked on Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign over a three-year period.

Miami-based political consultant Juan José Rendón was behind much of Sepúlveda's work.

According to Sepúlveda, he was usually on the payroll of political consultant Juan José Rendón, a man who has been called the Karl Rove of Latin America.

Though Rendón denies that he hired Sepúlveda to perform anything illegal, Sepúlveda claims they worked closely together, and provided email evidence of their relationship (which Bloomberg had verified by an outside group.)

Rendón – who has worked with PRI candidates since 2000 – and Sepúlveda went their separate ways in the last Colombian election, but Rendón definitely shaped the hacker’s techniques. “Rendón, says Sepúlveda, saw that hackers could be completely integrated into a modern political operation, running attack ads, researching the opposition, and finding ways to suppress a foe’s turnout,” according to Bloomberg.

Social media became one of Sepúlveda's most powerful tools.

Sepúlveda realized that public opinion is easy to manipulate, especially through social media. Once he realized that “voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers,” he started creating trending conversations based on false information.

Sepúlveda created Social Media Predator to manage large numbers of fake Twitter accounts. “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,” he said. For the Mexican presidential election, he used Twitter to get real people talking about EPN’s plan to end drug violence. He also dragged other candidates through Twitter. For AMLO, for example, he got people to believe that a correlation existed between his rise in polls and the depreciation of the peso.

Enrique Peña Nieto's campaign was his most complicated and expensive job

For $600,000, Sepúlveda manipulated the conversation surrounding Enrique Peña Nieto on social media. He also installed malware on Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s and Josefina Vázquez Mota’s offices.

He scored the job because despite EPN’s lead, his supporters wanted security. Sepúlveda’s hacking revealed that one of AMLO’s consultants possibly broke Mexican laws after asking businessmen for $6 million for the campaign.

But Sepúlveda didn’t just focus on EPN’s direct competitors. He also helped make the PRI party stronger by taking down members of other parties. In the race for the governor of Jalisco, EPN’s fellow Priísta Aristóteles Sandoval’s path became easier after Sepúlveda went after Enrique Alfaro Ramírez.

“On election night, he had computers call tens of thousands of voters with prerecorded phone messages at 3 a.m. in the critical swing state of Jalisco,” Bloomberg reported. “The calls appeared to come from the campaign of popular left-wing gubernatorial candidate Enrique Alfaro Ramírez. That angered voters–that was the point–and Alfaro lost by a slim margin.”

A PRI spokesman denies Rendón worked on EPN or any other Priísta campaign, even though Rendón said he works with the party to this day.

Sepúlveda's involvement in a Venezuela election led the government to disable internet across the entire country

During the emergency election that followed the Chavez’s death in Venezuela, Sepúlveda hacked Nicolás Maduro’s Twitter account to tweet about election fraud.

“Blaming ‘conspiracy hackings from abroad,’ the government of Venezuela disabled the Internet across the entire country for 20 minutes,” Bloomberg noted.

He thinks Mexicans talk too much.

Sepúlveda broke down his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Latin America’s hackers based on their nationalities: “Brazilians, in his view, develop the best malware,” Bloomberg wrote. “Venezuelans and Ecuadoreans are superb at scanning systems and software for vulnerabilities. Argentines are mobile intercept artists. Mexicans are masterly hackers in general but talk too much. Sepúlveda used them only in emergencies.”

He regrets nothing.

““I worked with presidents, public figures with great power, and did many things with absolutely no regrets because I did it with full conviction and under a clear objective, to end dictatorship and socialist governments in Latin America,” he said. “I have always said that there are two types of politics—what people see and what really makes things happen. I worked in politics that are not seen.”

Rendón has been tied to Donald Trump.

In 2015, the Colombian media tied Rendón to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. However, the consultant denies he’s working with Trump, whom he dislikes, but says his team did offer him a position. Trump’s team denies this.

Rendón says he is involved with a U.S. presidential candidate, but his work won’t start until the general election begins.