The Cartels’ Fondness for the Internet

first_imgBy Dialogo June 01, 2012 Drug-trafficking cartels are increasingly using internet technology to improve their communication, evade law-enforcement operations, and recruit young people, but their tracks on the net could be used to combat them, officials responsible for the fight against drugs said at a meeting in Cancún, Mexico. Groups such as the Los Zetas cartel, made up of military personnel who deserted to work with drug traffickers, and the Pacific organization, led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, considered the most powerful Mexican drug boss, habitually turn to social networks, and not only in order to frighten their enemies with videos of executions, a common practice in recent years. Young people between 14 and 20 years old arrested in the United States have admitted that they were contacted on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter by Los Zetas liaisons, who then involved them in activities such as transporting contraband across the border or even working as gunmen. A report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicated in late 2011 that the cartels also “spy on their members on social networks, in order to obtain information,” about family members, for example, that they can use in case of desertion. Groups such as Los Zetas also retain the services of hackers, who can access the addresses, telephone numbers, and even bank statements or credit-card statements of possible victims of extortion or kidnapping, the same document maintains. The report was among the texts analyzed by experts from 20 countries who gathered in the Mexican beach resort of Cancún to begin designing a hemispheric strategy targeting organized crime that was mandated by the recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, and is supposed to be ready by the end of the year. One of the aims of that strategy is to find mechanisms for filtering crime-related information that can be obtained on the internet, and making it useful for designing operations. “Greater collaboration in the area of real-time information exchange is necessary in order to carry out more effective operations,” General Oscar Naranjo of the Colombian Police stressed in Cancún. After more than 34 years of activity, including resounding blows struck against his country’s cartels, Naranjo – who will retire this month in order to take a post as an advisor to the Mexican government – said that just as criminals take advantage of technology, the authorities should do the same. In 2011, the Mexican Navy dismantled a communications network maintained by Los Zetas in the Mexican port of Veracruz that enabled them to connect their cells on land with vessels transporting contraband cocaine. An example of the way in which the authorities could make use of information obtained in cyberspace is geo-tagging, which makes it possible to use photos or data obtained from mobile phones or computers to locate criminals. The U.S. consulting firm Southern Pulse developed an interactive map, with changing information, showing gangs linked to drug trafficking in the Mexican city of Monterrey, their areas of activity, and possible mobilizations. Introducing a report about Mexico this week, Southern Pulse’s director warned that just as there is a “connection between organized crime and local hacker cells,” governments should have “an organized and secure approach” to accessing information available in cyberspace.last_img read more