Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

Borderland Beat

Marines Cancel 300- foot Narco Tower

Last week, Mexico’s navy said it dismantled a radio communications network used by organized crime to report the movements of the armed forces and police.

A communications system consisting of rebroadcast antennas and a radio frequency station” was found on the Veracruz state side of the Panuco River and dismantled, the Navy Secretariat said in a statement. The radio frequency station enabled an illegal communications network to function in the towns of Ozuluama and Naranjos, in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, as well as in the cities of Tampico, Ciudad Madero and Altamira, in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas. In the operation, which began on Sept. 2011, a group of marines and communications specialists corroborated an illegal emission of frequencies at that station. 

Radio communication equipment, several antennas, power supply units, controllers and couplers, a 90-meter-high (295-foot-high) transmission tower and other materials were seized in the operation. 

The network was used to report the movements of the military and police in the northern part of Veracruz and the Tampico-Ciudad Madero-Altamira metropolitan area, the Navy Secretariat said.

The statement did not indicate which organized crime gang operated the station, although the notorious Los Zetas drug cartel is known to operate in both Veracruz and Tamaulipas.

Marines were sent in to dismantle it. The statement doesn't say which cartel operated the system but both the Gulf cartel and the Zetas operate in the area and have been known to have sophisticated communications systems.

The easiest way  for criminals to  be arrested  is to be heard in telephone conversations by police, says Robert Johnson of Business Insider. To avoid this weakness in its chain of the organization , the  drug cartel los Zetas  has installed hundreds of  antennas and repeaters  throughout Mexico. Last year, Michael Weissenstein of the Associated Press reported on the Dec. 4th bust that  the  network consists of  everything from radio towers,  to the hand held two-way radios which transmit  radio waves through the tower.
When a convoys of soldiers or federal police move through the scrubland of northern Mexico, the Zetas drug cartel already knows they are coming. The alert goes out from a taxi driver or a street vendor, equipped with a high-end handheld radio and paid to work as a lookout known as a "halcon," or hawk. 

The radio signal travels deep into the arid countryside, hours by foot from the nearest road. There you will find, the 8-foot-tall (2-meter-tall) dark-green branches of the rockrose bush conceal a radio tower painted to match. A cable buried in the dirt draws power from a solar panel. A signal-boosting repeater relays the message along a network of powerful antennas and other repeaters that stretch hundreds of miles (kilometers) across Mexico, a shadow communications system allowing the cartel to coordinate drug deliveries, kidnapping, extortion and other crimes with the immediacy and precision of a modern military or law-enforcement agency. 

The Mexican army and marines have been attacking the system, seizing hundreds of pieces of communications equipment in at least three operations since September 2011 that offered a firsthand look at a surprisingly far-ranging and sophisticated infrastructure. 

Current and former U.S. law-enforcement officials say the equipment, ranging from professional-grade towers to handheld radios, was part of a single network that until recently extended from the U.S. border down eastern Mexico's Gulf coast and into Guatemala. 

The configuration of  the  sophisticated network  was launched  by former  Mexican soldiers  special forces  who now comprise a fundamental part  of Los Zeta,  using  communications specialists to install, run and update the network .

The network allowed Zetas operatives to conduct encrypted conversations without depending on the official cellphone network, which is relatively easy for authorities to tap into, and in many cases does not reach deep into the Mexican countryside. 
"They're doing what any sensible military unit would do," said Robert Killebrew, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has studied the Mexican drug cartels for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. "They're branching out into as many forms of communications as possible." 

The network was built around 2006 by the Gulf cartel, a narcotics-trafficking gang that employed a group of enforcers known as the Zetas, who had defected from Mexican army special forces. The Zetas split from the Gulf cartel in 2010 and have since become one of the nation's most dominant drug cartels, with profitable sidelines in kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking. 

The network's mastermind was Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, a communications expert known as Tecnico who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine in federal court in Houston, Texas, two years ago. 

Using millions of dollars worth of legally available equipment, Del Toro Estrada established the system in most of Mexico's 31 states and parts of northern Guatemala under the orders of the top leaders in the Gulf cartel and the Zetas. The Gulf cartel boss in each drug-smuggling territory, or plaza, was responsible for buying towers and repeaters as well as equipping his underlings with radios, according to Del Toro's plea agreement.
 Del Toro employed communications specialists to maintain and run the system and research new technology, according to the agreement. 

Mexican authorities, however, presented a different picture of the cartel radio infrastructure, saying it was less monolithic than the one described by U.S. authorities. A Mexican military official denied that the army and navy have been targeting one network that covered the entire Gulf coast. The operations had been focused on a series of smaller, local systems that were not connected to each other due to technical limitations, he said. 

"It's not a single network," the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. "They use it to act locally." 

In recent years, reporters traveling with the Mexican military have heard cartels using radio equipment to broadcast threats on soldiers' frequencies. The military official told the AP that the signals are now encrypted, but cartels are still trying to break in. 

At least until recently, the cartel's system was controlled by computers that enabled complex control of the radio signals, allowing the cartel to direct its communications to specific radios while bypassing others, according to Grupo Savant, an intelligence and security consulting firm in Washington that has firsthand knowledge of Mexico's cartel operations. 

The radio system appears to be a "low-cost, highly extendable and maintainable network" that shows the Zetas' sophistication, said Gordon Housworth, managing director of Intellectual Capital Group, LLC, a risk- and technology-consulting firm that has studied the structure and operations of Mexican cartels and criminal groups. 

Other Mexican criminal organizations maintain similar radio networks, including the Sinaloa cartel, based in the Pacific coast state of the same name, and the Barrios Azteca street gang, which operates in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, a U.S. law-enforcement official said. The Zetas' system is the largest, however, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. 

The Mexican raids are "a deliberate attempt to disrupt the business cycle of the cartels," said one former law-enforcement official with direct knowledge of the network. "By going after command and communications you disrupt control." 

Law-enforcement officials and independent analysts described the operations against the Zetas' communications system as significant short-term victories in the fight against the cartel. 

"The seizures show that the organization is scrambling," said Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight, a group that analyzes and investigates organized crime in Latin America. 

The longer-term impact is unclear. The cartel has had little difficulty in replacing radio gear and other equipment seized in smaller operations in recent years. And contacts among the highest-ranking Zetas operatives tend to take place in highly encrypted communications over the Internet, according to Grupo Savant. 

Certainly, cartel radio equipment is a near-ubiquitous presence for Mexicans living along the front lines of the drug war.

In the state of Tamaulipas, across the border from eastern Texas, many antennas are concealed in the foliage of the rockrose, an invasive shrub that has spread across much of the state's open land. 

Even from a few meters away it's nearly impossible to see the towers or their power cables. 

In Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas' first stronghold, antennas sprout from rooftops and empty lots. One soldier told the AP that even when authorities took down an antenna there, it was swiftly replaced. 


  1. Looks like they took the time to dismantle the equipment. That smells fishy. Maybe someone plans to sell the equipment back to the cartels. I say C4 it when you find it. Don't fuck around or waste your time. Let the locals take whats left to the scrap yard.

  2. That's old news, radios have been used since the 80's. You can see towers all over the country side of Mexico. Good story none the less.


  3. "The seizures show that the organization is scrambling,"?
    Typical media soundbite
    Scrambling from what?All these components are easily and legally replaceable.It does not take high end experts to set it up.Just a bit of intelligence and diligence.Let the authorities and media have their moment,let it die down,and replace them in different areas with better camouflage.That may be more important,but how do you camouflage towers?Sometimes use legitimate towers to"piggy back"yours.They got all the time in the world to put it right.Because they are a definite asset.

  4. Damn....this is far advanced that amateur radio equipment.

  5. man the u.s is supplying everything to the cartels, from wepons to communications...

  6. Whats (Run of the Mill Equipment) in the States is "Sophisticaed Equipment" in Mexico but I can assure you this type of communications was not purchased at Radio Shack! This is something that the Authorities have known about for a long long
    time and the reason it's old news now is because
    they can no longer moniter it easily as before. With the type of Funds these Cartels have access to I'm surprized that they don't have state of the art comminications as good if not better than the Mexican Government since for a few correctly placed dollars they can Buy any code that the Army is using!

  7. Anyone know how much a network like that costs?
    Good Post ,,,thanks for the read

  8. One “small” step in the right direction.

    Maybe something or someone is starting to put pressure on Mexico to restore law & order...

  9. Just wondering what is going on with the other Original zetas Viejos That are alive and still operating freely such as Jorge Lopez "el Chuta", Galdino Mellado Cruz "el Mellado" , Gonzalo Geresa-no "el Cuje", Carlos Vera Calva "el Vera", Daniel Marquez "el Chocotorro", Prisciliano Ibarra Yepis, Rogelio Guerra "el Guerra",Eduarod Estrada Gonzalez, and of Course El Lazca. Thanks Great Site by the way keep up the good work All of you.

  10. Hopefully they tapped into them for a while and got all the intel they thought was important before destroying them... VIVA MEXICAN MARINAS!

  11. Buen Trabajo Havana,
    Es una historia muy interesante, llena de detalles que no son del conocimiento común, es una buena lectura.

  12. I Can Hear you still!!! You have a lot more work to do out there!

  13. It's HUGE! And they just took it down?

  14. Busy, busy criminals.Wish they'd get busy helping the country instead of just taking for themselves.Imagine what they could do with all this energy if they turned it towards doing something positive. Maybe they are just too stupid to realize.

  15. isnt this what the zetas were trained in america to do??? break codes and communications thats what i had heard some yrs back.america didnt train them to kill but fight the fight on a slicker way. but it back fired.


  16. there is a lott of equipment they didn't show in those fotos, Believe me-all the computers they aren't talking about.

  17. There was an Article a while back? that said a Texan man took a job setting up a communications network and was never heard from again

  18. "One soldier told the AP that even when authorities took down an antenna there, it was swiftly replaced."

    What they should do is take down the antenna and then stake out the area. When you see someone coming to replace it, shoot to kill. Rinse and repeat. The problem is the Mexican military is in on the action protecting the cartels and their equipment.


  20. "isnt this what the zetas were trained in america to do"
    There is no proof whatsoever they were trained on US soil.But don't let rumor get in the way of a good story.Lets say they were trained there,the US was trying to make them more professional,but,as we all know,they decided to throw it into Mexicos face and turn traitor.Good viejos Z

    1. Yes the original gafes were trained in fort Bragg

  21. I am kind of leary when I see "evidence" layed out all nice and neat. Yes, in practice it should be used to to put away the bad guys. I just have this feeling that someone up the chain of command wouldn't hesitate to take it and sell it back.

  22. Damn there goes my favorite radio station. Great political talk shows, weather and highway conditions. Hardly any commercials.

  23. @5;43 Fort Bragg nth carolina they were trained by america's 7th special forces group"snake-eaters" in the early 1990's....yes the original Zetas were trained by america's elite,fk sake took me 1minute to find this info on the net.

  24. When there's Too Much STATIC the radio station has this sound ZZZzzzzzZZZZZ .... and that's when I get my fly squatter out -- and we all know what that letter stands for!

    In fact, I've never owned a fly squatter. When I was a very young boys I don't why but I used to do thing that I came to regret. What my neighbors think Should Be Clipped or Mowed I let grow so that insects can thrive and I've found out that bees are actually quite ok, they don't attack you you, only the ZzzzZZZ attack and do very bad things to other people, ¿and THIS, they call Doing Business????!!! There should be a good peso to be made for the one who comes up with a Good, Effective, Z Squatter and I'd like to be the first one to Give It A Try. You'll find me in my garage tonight TILL DOWN working on this New Device that will benefit ALL OF MEXICO!("and the neighbors could not sleep for he was running all kinds of strange tests ALL NIGHT!")

    *I'm against any cartel or criminal organization that is SCREWING MEXICO and I'm especially against any organization that TAKES THE LIFE OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING so this is not just about the notorious cartel I used to write my little writing jam session here tonight. My message to them all? STOP KILLING, BE R.E.A.L. BUSINESS MEN, & ESPECIALLY 'BE HUMAN' & KICK THE MACHO HABIT, IT'S BAD FOR EVERYBODY'S HEALTH especially in Mexico. Get A Life Guys!

    blogger 'Red Scooter' At Your Service!

  25. That's a good title, 'Till Dawn', it spells DRAMA ("he's still in the garage working on a new invention To Help Save Lives" -- don't miss the next episode of -->>

    . . - > "Little R. Scooter, You're on the Right Track!" . . < -

    * Folks, have you noticed that even new born animals and pets are playful? When that side of us disappears Life On Earth may suffer the consequences BIG TIME as seen happening in Mexico, 'some have gone bananas and are a danger to All Creation That Breathes !!

    Dr. MP

  26. "Just wondering what is going on with the other Original zetas Viejos" they still very much active and just below Lazca and Miguel on the hierarchy.

  27. after reading some comments here about the amount of deaths in mexico since 2006 when calderon launched his war on the cartels, id like to relay some interesting statistics. USA during this period has 69,120 homicides. Thats more than the offical death toll in mexico during the same period. Whilst a lot are not reported in mexico , a lot of americans should take a deep hard look at themselves before chastising mexicans for being lawless.

  28. At least the cartels are going green with the solar panels

  29. "Fort Bragg nth carolina they were trained by america's 7th special forces group"snake-eaters" in the early 1990's"
    For fucks sake,what are you reading Wikipedia?
    Oh no, wouldn't be Al Jazeera would it,for fucks sake?Yeya man they got taught to read maps and Al Jazeera.Opinions.Good story,you helped.

  30. October 3, 2012 8:52 PM and
    October 3, 2012 11:08 PM ,,, are the same person?
    How weird is that?

  31. "Whilst a lot are not reported in mexico , a lot of americans should take a deep hard look at themselves before chastising mexicans for being lawless"
    Here we go again,im off,its so boring.


  32. I wish to apologize to you fine folks. You can delete the two BB posts I left here last night at any time. It's true that in what I wrote there is plenty of human expression, good humor attitude, a sharing of past experiences I had as a child, regrets, a change of course for better, a welcoming of other life forms, and I also wrote a most important message to those who are destructive, yet, after all of that, I feel that I should leave the comedy out of the writing because we're dealing with serious matters here at B B, people are losing their lives, and the Mexican people deserve Sober Writing when the subject matter that B B is covering daily is about TRAGEDY, the loss of life, chaos, the destruction of values and culture by forcing the ordinary Mexican people to WORRY and FEAR for their lives, for their family's lives, their relatives' lives.

    R. Scooter

  33. Well 9:40 AM Oct 4,

    It's no weirder than what writers do to invent the stories we find in Novels or even non-fiction books. Using more than one 'character' is a tool used by many folks to communicate ideas, thoughts, sentiments, desires, it can be used as a tool to make a complex message easier to follow and understand; and it can also used to 'lead' the reader in a desired direction whose goal had been previously worked out by the author. By making use of '3' separate commentaries, the last commentary may be the intended 'impacting' psychological message the author wishes the reader 'to take in'. Commentary 1 & 2 were used as Preparatory Material to enhance the bigger message delivered in the 3rd commentary.

    - mp

  34. .

    Espero que tuviste un buen día Havana. Apreciamos todo tu trabajo!

    Chau 4 now,
    - mp

  35. @9;37am wots up your ass? or did you have a bad day? jus dont get why you attacked me....i might just go outside and have a ciggie. they called it fort bragg after trevino morales...fort bragg, forty bragg, eL forty bragg, EL forty, EL Z-forty, Z-40.....see the conection.

  36. - mp
    No offense,i see from your comments,you are a gentle soul.I got no problem with you.

  37. Gracias por tus palabras buena señora 9.14 AM

    K tengas un buen día

  38. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  39. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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