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Shadowy US spy firm promises to surveil Crypto users for the highest bidder

by Kit Klarenberg 
 
Part 3 - ‘Patterns of life’ and ‘bed down locations’

A February 2021 U.N. special rapporteur report on the impact of American sanctions on Venezuela ruled they were “collective punishment,” and Caracas lived on just 1% of its pre-sanctions income. The previous March, Alfred de Zayas, formerly an independent expert for the United Nations Human Rights Council, calculated that over 100,000 Venezuelans had died as a result of the restrictions.

Despite this monstrous human toll, and countless calls from prominent rights groups and international institutions to end the suffering, Washington rigidly enforces the sanctions regime, and seeks to harshly punish any individual or organization helping Caracas skirt restrictions. While measures have eased slightly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Stateside prosecution of Colombian businessman Alex Saab, abducted from Cape Verde in October 2020, for selling food to the Venezuelan government is ongoing.

Saab could be soon joined in the dock, if Anomaly 6 has anything to do with it. One of the company’s leaked sales presentations provides several case studies showing how its spying technology can be used by security and intelligence services to “derive understanding of the actions of individuals associated with sanctions violations.

By homing in on the location of the Venezuelan government’s sanctioned cryptocurrency exchange, the National Superintendence of Cryptoactives and Related Activities (Sunacrip), which manages all crypto activities in the country, Anomaly 6 identified two specific IoT devices “which show the value of the A6 dataset in this endeavor.

Scouring data generated at the site back to January 1, 2020, Anomaly 6 found thousands of signals emitted by IoT devices and smartphones. From there, it “built out the pattern of life for the devices in that search” – in other words, the locations device owners traveled to and from, when, and where they lived. In all, these devices produced “over 593,374 geographic points of reference”, in Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela.

From this amorphous corpus, Anomaly 6 identified one device with “a unique travel pattern which makes it worth further investigation.” In particular, its movements indicated a “very well-defined pattern of life in and around Caracas” – although the company professed to be “much more interested in its travel to the Colombian border in the Cúcuta/San Antonio del Táchira border area.

That Anomaly 6 was able to track this device while in flight was said to highlight a “unique aspect” of its dataset. The device “took a less than seven hour trip from Caracas to San Antonio del Táchira (Juan Vicente Gómez International Airport) which landed (or was on final approach at 0923 on 23 Feb).

With less than 10 flights a day on average to this airport (pre-Covid 19), it would not be difficult to ascertain a short list of personalities of interest with access to Venezuelan passenger name records,” Anomaly 6 bragged. “Additionally, we can see that this device transits to the border crossing locations in the short time it was located in the area.

This border area was of note for Anomaly 6 as, “according to open source reporting, historically, Venezuelans have used border areas for cash pickup/drops to skirt sanctions put in place by the international community.” Such activities “provide access to hard currency to actors and governments which have been cut off from U.S. dollar trading platforms.

A “second device of interest” was found to have traveled to Medellín, Colombia, and its “pattern of life” indicated its owner had “connections to the financial/banking environment.

Both of these devices exhibit [patterns of life] that warrant further exploration, especially when combined with fact [sic] they have been located at the Sunacrip HQ,” Anomaly 6 concluded. “Further investigation can find bed down locations as well as other insights for business locations, international travel, and other device co-location.

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