Skip to comments.Mexico Busts Drug Cartels' Private Phone Networks
Posted on 12/10/2011 10:24:31 PM PST by JerseyanExile
The Mexican military has recently broken up several secret telecommunications networks that were built and controlled by drug cartels so they could coordinate drug shipments, monitor their rivals and orchestrate attacks on the security forces.
A network that was dismantled just last week provided cartel members with cellphone and radio communications across four northeastern states. The network had coverage along almost 500 miles of the Texas border and extended nearly another 500 miles into Mexico's interior.
Soldiers seized 167 antennas, more than 150 repeaters and thousands of cellphones and radios that operated on the system. Some of the remote antennas and relay stations were powered with solar panels.
In announcing the operation, a spokesman for the Mexican army in Monterrey, Maj. Margarito Mendez Guijon, said the clandestine system allowed organized criminals to communicate throughout all of northeast Mexico.
Military officials did not specify which gang built the network, but it stretched over territory that is solidly in the hands of the Zetas cartel, one of the largest and most feared in the country.
In mid-November, the army shut down a smaller Zetas-run system in Coahuila near the Texas border. And in September, the Mexican navy pulled down 12 antennas allegedly put up by the Zetas in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz.
The Zetas were formed by members of the Mexican special forces who deserted to work as enforcers for the Gulf cartel in 1999. They later split from the Gulf cartel to set up their own criminal organization.
Scott Stewart, a former special agent with the U.S. State Department and now an analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor in Austin, Texas, says given the Zetas' military background, it makes sense that they would want to have their own radio and cellphone networks.
He says the Zetas commanders would use this system to control their troops on the ground.
"This is battlefield control for when they're having skirmishes. This is control for avoiding this roadblock, that roadblock, getting on the net [and] saying you've got a patrol coming, the Mexican marines are in such-and-such a sector heading this way," Stewart says.
Even if the Zetas encrypted these various communications networks, Stewart says Mexican and U.S. intelligence agents were certainly monitoring them. He says Mexican authorities must have decided that at this stage of the drug war, crippling the Zetas' internal communication was more important than eavesdropping on those conversations.
The Zetas are the only cartel in Mexico to have their antennas publicly destroyed by the government. But Stewart says other gangs may also have their own private communications systems. He says there have also been systems like this built by rebels in Colombia.
"Certainly in other places, in other countries, we've seen organizations like the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] set up their own radio communications network with repeaters and such in the jungles and the mountains," he says.
Kidnappings Linked To Technical Needs
Stewart says these networks are relatively simple to build and often use commercially available equipment. But the Zetas still needed technicians and engineers to design, construct and maintain their system.
And it appears that they got at least some of this expertise through kidnappings.
Over the past two years, at least 13 cellphone network technicians have been abducted in northeastern Mexico. None of them have returned alive. Two radio communication specialists working for the state-run oil company Pemex disappeared in 2010 and were later found dead. The other 11 remain missing.
In the northeastern state of Coahuila, Blanca Martinez works with a support group for family members of the disappeared. She says in 2009, a group of Nextel technicians who were repairing cell towers in Tamaulipas were abducted from their hotel. Martinez says it wasn't a normal kidnapping.
She says there has never been a ransom demand in any of the cases involving telecommunications workers. Martinez says this is quite unusual in kidnappings. Wives of several missing Nextel workers say they believe their husbands are still being forced to work for the cartels.
If Mexicans put this kind of industriousness to a positive use imagine how much less of a sh!thole their country would be.
¿Puedes oírme ahora?
Well... That's a far cry from the telecom hay days when if a Nextel, Nortel, or Ericsson engineers went missing, you knew which bars and police stations to call.
I’m not an expert on this type of comm, but I am in the business and I recognize “state of the art” when I see it. That stuff is “State of the art”.
All and drug and cartel money goes to the Bambi reelection committee. One Billion dollars of laundered dollars is peanuts. Wake up you idiots.
For those of you not familiar. A repeater is a radio device that takes in comms from one radio and then rebroadcasts it out for other radios to receive. Each repeater channel on your radio transmits on one frequency and then receives on another. What this means is that instead of having to have line of sight with each guy holding a radio, you just have to have line of sight with the repeater, which is normally positioned on the top of a mountain, building, or antenna.
It gets a lot more complex, but you can use some type of connectivity to hook repeaters together as well. This would be something your local and state police would have.
One comment I would make is that the number of repeater systems seized is quite amazing, especially if that was just along the Texas border. I would be surprised if DHS has that many repeaters along that stretch of the border.
Si! Muy bein!
Yes, that is very well said.
Seriously, are THAT many people still on drugs?
It seemed in the 1970s that 75% of the nation was stoned at all times, nowadays not so much.
I mean who is buying all these drugs?
So tomorrow they go Sprint, and laugh?
Capitalism, man. Capitalism.
The Mexican military, esp. their Marines, have been doing a good job fighting the drug cartels. The cartels made a big mistake by massacring 17 soldiers they captured in a truck that was traveling on an open road.
The Mexican military will shoot to kill and do.
A hardly “hoorah” to them.
“Some of the remote antennas and relay stations were powered with solar panels.”
Don’t be surprised to see US money helping out here, too.
And your local HAMS (Federally Licensed Amateur Radio Operators)
Lies! All lies! Big Sis promised the borders were secure and Mexican cartel violence would never come across.
Yo, Mexico, didn’t you learn from us that you don’t advertise what you’ve infiltrated?
This is *really* interesting in light of Michael Yon’s recent columns on smartphones and opsec.
This is the initial column
This is a follow-on and includes some comments about the cartels.
Local HAMS have a microwave backbone?
And people call hams “dorks”. Ha! I got yer dork riiighhhttttt....OK, fine, I am a dork, too.
HAM gear , HF all mode transceivers, packet with simple plus 2 codes and steganography, old surplus PRC 25’’s and 77’s with repeaters being used to juuuuuust keep the origins locations a few blocks off. Hell I even run across working DES and SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) when I was wasting time with JTF-6.
... They watch the repeaters after set up. If they are discovered aka via old style triangulation their version of c3cM hops to the next one. Those are just the fixed sites.
Now mix in mobile rigs or adding such to simple RC helicopters or fixed wing RC “toys”......
IMO if the Jefazo has multi-million dollar ops in locations A, B and C then jam, intercept and disrupt the signals in locations A, B and C 24/7.
One of the tricks I have seen in the past was to record the message an change the speed for a poor boy variant of burst transmissions. Collected, played back at original speed its understandable. Most just hear a wee bit of static for a second.
Only my opinion of course.
Stay safe !!
Amateurs have been linking repeaters for a long time. Links are usually done on 70CM band (420 to 450 mHz) or combination of RF and internet linking.
You can be in San Antonio and use a hand held transceiver to communicate with another amateur in Houston using the linked repeaters. Maybe not “microwaves” but still done via RF.
Hams also link repeaters via the internet via Echolink or IRLP.
Who is buying the drugs? Lots of folks brother, lots of ‘em. And it’s not just the doing of them, it’s the money laundering involved. Imagine if you will, and this is a ridiculously low ball-park figure, but imagine if you were someone laundering $100,000 a month and 10% of that was yours. That’s ten grand a month free and clear. Multiply that by ten, twenty or thirty and you get an idea. It’s always about the money.
We sell an application that can turn a particular brand of digital radio into an extension on a PBX complete with SMS capability, all with 256 bit encryption. And it works over repeater networks.
If you weren’t specifically looking for that kind of signal you’d never find it.
Muy, muy interesante.
It’s a really slick app. You can literally dial to a radio just as if it were a phone. No cell network needed, just a repeater network. You can push work tickets or SMS to it and never break squelch.
The cartels have even been placing repeaters on the Mexican government towers.