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Information Technology and Mexican Drug Cartels

Mexican drug cartels have begun forging a new way forward to gain supremacy over rival cartels and increase their drug dealing businesses. The biggest headlines coming out of Mexico recently have involved the increased drug-driven violence that has resulted in death tolls high enough to warrant U.S. intervention in the Mexican government’s fight against the cartels. With a renewed push by Mexican president Filipe Calderon to end the drug cartels dominance of the border cities, the Mexican cartels have shifted their strategy and are themselves trying to end the violence in the border towns. This new strategy involves the use of information technology, a first by organized crime syndicates, to influence public opinion and government action in the area.

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The Zetas are a paramilitary force that were created from a group of Mexican special forces personnel that employed by the Mexican government to fight the Mexican drug cartels (Becerra, 2004). The Gulf Cartel was able to persuade the Zetas to act instead as its own enforcement arm until February 2010 when the Zetas split from the Gulf cartel after the leader of the Zetas was killed, reportedly by a member of the Gulf Cartel. When the head of the Gulf cartel refused to turn over the killer, the Zetas formed their own cartel, putting them at odds with the Gulf cartel. As the violence raged out of control Mexican and U.S. officials began a campaign to end the cartels’ reign, with the Gulf cartel taking the brunt of the effort.

Now, the Gulf cartel has allied with “La Familia Michoacana, Cartel Milenio de Sinaloa, Cartel de Sinaloa and other allies feuding against Los Zetas, Cartel de Juarez, Cartel de Betran Leyva and some municipal police departments who work with the Zetas” (Goodson, 2010) to form the United Mexican Drug Cartel Federation (UMDCF). On March 3, 2010, a video appeared on Youtube called “The truth about what is happening in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon” by a group claiming to be the “New Federation,” otherwise known as the “Mexican Cyber Cartel.” It details the drug war-related events that are occurring in Mexico and warns residences of certain towns to be wary of an ongoing war between the Zetas and the New Federation. By employing information technology to influence public opinion, the UMDCF has gained the support of local media outlets and even the Mexican government itself.

First, the UMDCF makes an appeal to the Mexican people saying “we know that our business is frowned upon by society, we understand, but this business will always exist, no one is indispensable” (The New Federation, 2010). They appeal directly to the people of Reynosa to take care of their children, not send them to school, remove tinted windows and not burn tires or rubber while the UMDCF kills and eradicates the “trash.” Further, the video indicates that the government is on board with their approach, protecting El Chapito, the head of the cartel, “along with the new alliance [that] have raised their weapons to fuck the Zetas because they have undermined the drug trafficking business with their kidnappings, extortions, etc. To sum it up, they don’t give a shit about the freedom and tranquility of the Mexican people” (The New Federation, 2010).

Second, the UMDCF claims that they have reached an agreement with the Mexican government: “The new alliance has reached an agreement with the federal government that the Mexican army will be withdrawn within 3 years, if and when, this bullshit has been proven to be controlled. This will allow free clearance for a violence-free ‘business, as this has affected all of us, in one form or another” (The New Federation, 2010). If this is accurate it means that the Mexican government has conceded that it will not be able to stop the drug trade, but is content to stop the violence in the border towns.

If it is not accurate it means can mean two things. First, it can mean that the Mexican Cyber Cartel believes that they can get public support on their side. In trying to change the face of the drug dealing business they will be making it easier for members of the cartel to move in and out of towns without people calling the police. Second, it means that they may be trying to influence the Mexican government itself, in order to get a withdrawal of the police forces from drug cartel land. The UMDCF can do this by extending this “agreement” and hoping that the government goes along with it after seeing an improvement in the violent crime rates in certain areas. Alternatively, the UMDCF may be trying to get the public to ally with the cartel against the government so that when the military does not withdraw the Cyber Cartel can claim that the government lies and does not do what is best for the Mexican people.

There is a distinction between using information technology and committing cybercrimes, or cyberterrorism. According to David Speer (2000) cyber crimes “are activities in which computers, telephones, cellular equipment, and other technological devices are used for illicit purposes such as fraud, theft, electronic vandalism, violating intellectual properties rights, and breaking and entering into computer systems and networks.” There has not been any evidence that the Mexican drug cartels have engaged in cybercrime yet.

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Cyberterrorism is an even harder term to meet. Green (2002) argues that there is a major problem with the term cyberterrorism: “There is no such thing as cyberterrorism—no instance of anyone ever having been killed by a terrorist (or anyone else) using a computer. Nor is there compelling evidence that al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization has resorted to computers for any sort of serious destructive activity.” Weiman (2004) sites psychological, political and economic factors that may have combined to spread fear of cyberterrorism in the public arena today.

Dorothy Denning, a professor of computer science, in her testimony before the congressional House Armed Service Committee defines another aspect of cyberterrorism. It refers to “unlawful attacks and threats of attacks against computers, networks and the information stored therein when done to intimidate or coerce a government or its people in furtherance of political or social objectives” (Weiman, 2004). While the Mexican Cyber Cartel has yet to undertake such an objective, given their recent activities it may not be out of the question. Especially if the Mexican government did not strike the agreement that the UMDCF claimed it did.

While the Mexican drug cartels have not yet engaged in cyber attacks, the recent utilization of information technology to advance their cause should give skeptics pause. The Mexican drug cartels have proved extremely innovative in the past, changing the game for organized crime syndicates. Their money laundering practices have become more refined, even using major U.S. banks to exchange dirty money. Money laundering itself has become an extremely computer-oriented game. As the new Mexican Cyber Cartel gets more adept at using technology to advance its agenda, there may be cybercrimes or even cyberterrorism in the future.

Reference List

Becerra, O. (2004). New Traffickers Struggle for Control of Mexican Drug Trade. Web.

Goodson, N. (2010). Mexican Drug Cartel Federation Formed To Combat Los Zetas And Its Allies. Hispanic News Network. Web.

Green, J. (2002). The Myth of Cyberterrorism. Washington Monthly. Web.

Speer, D. (2000) Redefining borders: The challenges of cybercrime. Crime, Law and Social Change, 34, 259-273.

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The New Federation (Producer). (2010). The “truth” about what is happening in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. Web.

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