Initially, the Executive only announced that the Ministry of Defense had suffered a “security flaw” in some email accounts of the Armed Forces. That was Wednesday, September 21.
But as the days passed, more details were revealed, the real seriousness of the situation. A group of hackers brake the email accounts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the state body that coordinates between the Ministry of Defense and the three branches of the Armed Forces: Army, Air Force and Navy.
The hackers had access to a total of 400,000 messages sent between the different institutions between 2012 and May of this year, and exposed the information on the Internet. More than 340 gigabytes of classified data came to light through pages associated with a group of international hackers called Guacamaya, which issued a statement indicating that this leak is the first step in an intervention against the “repressive forces of Latin American countries”, and announced that in the coming days it will expose military documents from Mexico, Peru, El Salvador and Columbia.
According to an analysis by the specialized media Center for Journalistic Research of Chile (Ciper), in these files there is information on cybersecurity strategies of the Armed Forces, the operation and description of some equipment, private bidding documents to acquire equipment, supplier data and prices of what was spent on these items.
In addition, with the information it is possible to know the satellite communications monitoring plan that Chile deploys on its borders and the mechanisms used by the Armed Forces to intercept communications by radio waves.
Secret intelligence reports were revealed that address sensitive issues, such as the strategy used by the military in the south of the country, where a constitutional state of emergency has been in force for months, or some of the plans used by the Army in the first half of this year, when a militarization was decreed in the northern zone to control irregular migration.
They are detailed: number of troops deployed, operating vehicles, patrol locations, etc. Many of the emails expose issues that put the country’s national security at risk. For example, quotes for the satellite communication monitoring service implemented by the State of Chile are shown, explaining how the system operates and how it connects with the strategic communications of the Armed Forces and with intelligence services.
Other messages show documents that are classified as “top secret”, and details are given of some Army exercises for personnel training in 2023, helicopter purchase offers and also, it is realized that there is a communication system between the Armed Forces that unites all the branches, evidencing that this network is operated by a private telephone company.
The information is so massive that there is all kinds of data, such as the background of the military personnel who were infected with covid-19, information from foreign military attaches, a report on protesters from the 2019 social outbreak and a plan to evacuate the Ministry of Defense building area in an emergency.
In some of the reports, the Armed Forces analyze the three countries that border Chile: Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia. The economic situation of these nations is addressed in them, the political situation they are going through, their defense measures and the relationship they have with Chile are analyzed.
In a document called Neighborhood Strategic Political Situation, it is mentioned that Chile and Bolivia maintain “a state of distance and political distrust, especially in a closing stage of the judicial process that took place in The Hague – seat of the International Court of Justice – regarding maritime demand for the waters of the Silala River and, eventually, in relation to the Lauca River”.
In the Argentine press, it was noted that criticism of President Alberto Fernández appeared in the leaked emails. Chilean military authorities pointed out in a message that the Argentine president “has a habit of interfering in some way in the internal politics of neighboring countries”, assuring, for example, that Fernández “supported opposition leaders of the Chilean left during the mandate of President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014 and 2018-2022)”.
The first thing the Defense Minister did when she landed in Chile was to set up a crisis committee, made up of experts and led by the Undersecretary of Defense, Gabriel Gaspar, in order to take stock of the situation and take immediate operational measures to ensure national defense.
Subsequently, a summary investigation began within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a criminal investigation was initiated by the Military Prosecutor’s Office and the State Defense Council was ordered to assume the judicial representation of the Executive before justice.
In addition, a series of regular meetings were announced between the commanders-in-chief of the three military branches, the Executive and the parliamentarians of the Defense Commission of the Chamber of Deputies to deliver updates on the case. However, the pressure and complexity of the situation forced the Government to make a more concrete decision.
On Thursday the 22nd, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Division General Guillermo Paiva, was asked to resign. The responsibility was concentrated on the military because, according to reports, the general had been aware of the hacking since May and would not have alerted the civil authorities. This Friday the 23rd, Minister Fernández appointed Army Vice Admiral José Luis Fernández as the new head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and announced that General Mario Grez will be the prosecutor who will lead the internal administrative summary investigation in the agency.