The seized radar device.

Major drug smuggling gang used radar to spy on authorities' aircraft and boat movements in Strait of Gibraltar

Spain's National Police and the Aduana custom forces have dismantled the sophisticated system that traffickers had set up to monitor their activity in the south of the country

MELCHOR SÁIZ-PARDO / JUAN CANO MADRID / MALAGA.

The battle that Spain's state security forces are waging against drug smugglers in the Strait of Gibraltar is entering a phase that increasingly resembles a conventional war, with both sides using similar control and espionage systems.

But in the last few days there has been a coup by the National Police and the Aduana customs force, which have dismantled a sophisticated spying system used by a major drug trafficking group to monitor the movements of cars, boats, helicopters and planes of the state’s security forces and customs surveillance. It was also discovered that the counter-surveillance operation was hired out to other traffickers in exchange for 20,000 euros per landing.

The joint operation in Chipiona, Cadiz, has made it possible to locate and neutralise a modified nautical radar and a thermal camera used for the control of ships and aircraft of the police services. Officers also intercepted another, more sophisticated, radar, after its location was discussed by the drug dealers, according to information from wiretaps.

The discovery of the 'narco' spying system, which has been active for at least two months, took place during the last phase of the 'Saline' operation, which began in April last year. Three searches have been carried out in the towns of El Puerto de Santa María, Jerez de la Frontera and Chipiona, and seven people have been arrested, including the alleged operator of the counter-surveillance system.

The commanders of the operation consulted by SUR said that the radar system, which was installed in an attic of a house in Chipiona, covered practically the entire coastline of the province of Cadiz. From this "strategically located" penthouse, which had a monthly rent of around a thousand euros, the 'spies' directly controlled the entire Bay of Cádiz, the mouth of the Guadalquivir and part of the province of Huelva.

Military model

The thermal camera used by the drug gang was a military model and could be operated remotely to monitor the movements of both law enforcement officers and the traffickers themselves. Investigators highlighted the difficulty of finding a similar device on the black market, which would cost in excess of 100,000 euros. "It is a very similar technology to the one we use,” explained a senior operative in charge of the operation.

Now, the specialists of the Special Response Groups for Organised Crime (GRECO) of Cadiz and Customs Surveillance are focusing on two aspects. The first is to locate the infrastructure of a large trafficking organisation in La Línea de la Concepción for which this espionage network worked. The second is to determine which police operations were monitored by the drug traffickers' radar system. The investigators are convinced that the decision of some drug traffickers to throw a thousand kilos of hashish into the sea was linked to a tip-off from the counter-surveillance network because it occurred simultaneously with the departure of a Guardia Civil patrol boat that had no connection with the operation.

Hashish seized

Operation 'Saline', which led to the discovery of the tracking network, had two previous phases on 8 August and 1 November, when a total of 104 bales of hashish were seized, with a gross weight of 3,120 kilograms.

The criminal organisation was targeted by the security forces after the discovery of recreational boats moored in the Guadalete river as it passes through El Puerto de Santa María and others hidden in industrial warehouses in the same town, "all of them with clear indications of being used for the trafficking of narcotic substances". Police investigations revealed that an organisation was trying to introduce a boat loaded with hashish at an unknown point on the river. This boat was found semi-sunken off the coast of Cadiz, loaded with 29 burlap bales containing hashish.

In a second phase of the operation, officers intercepted 75 burlap bales containing narcotics inside a van. The driver was arrested. The two inflatable boats used to transport the drugs were found at the scene of the haul.