SIGINT: Drug cartels using encrypted commo network

Years ago I was hearing some RUMINT that a major European communication company (that also supplies the US Military) was selling high tech radio equipment to Mexican drug cartels.  This was on top of unconfirmed reports that when the Colombians and the DEA finally moved in on the Cali cartel that they found them operating nothing less than a Cray super-computer in their compound.  They had been wondering why their snitches kept getting the chop and the rumor is that the cartel was running their own SIGINT platform.  I wish I knew how much of it was true but a few days ago I did spot a very interesting report from Borderland Beat.

The Mexican Marines reportedly dismantled a number of radio towers and encryption equipment that the Zeta drug cartel was operating to coordinate their activities in Veracruz.  This is some true 5th Generation Warfare going on south of the border, a conflict that at least one commentator has dubbed as the world’s first “post-political war.”

Keep in mind that I was just a knuckle-dragger in the military but in the video news report I believe we are looking at the radio masts, solar cells, Motorola ICOM type radios, industrial size batteries, and the kit needed to set up micro-wave relay stations.  There is plenty of other gear that I’m unable to identify so maybe those commo guys out there can help the rest of us hard heads out with this one…

Kit Up! contributor Jack Murphy is a former Ranger, Special Forces Soldier and is the author of the new military thriller PROMIS: Rhodesia.

  • mpower6428

    aiyee curamba

    well, at least we know the bankers IN THIS COUNTRY still know how to protect an investment.

  • The Mad Duo

    It’s no secret they have great comms. Three or four years ago NPS officers assigned to a border area (members of their tactical team, who’d been doing a lot of tracking smugglers and sensor emplacement) were moved to a different location and their TTPs modified because they were constantly being monitored. Cell phones intercepted, radios monitored (with occasional jamming suspected) and in at least on case an actual OP assigned to observe the officer’s home and family to establish not only his patterns of activity, but those of his family. Pretty much anything is possible if you have unlimited funding and no conscience whatsoever.

  • Kelly

    IBM Cray? Since when did IBM start making Crays? Must be news to Cray.

    • reflexivefire

      Fixed. I’m trying to track down the original article with that tidbit in it. I’m still reading through this but it looks to have some background, “”

  • Pitter

    It won’t take much time before cartels get UAVs to locate border patrol agents in the ground with thermal cameras…

    • mpower6428

      are we sure that isnt happening already…

  • Battalion Commander

    Why the semi trucks in the background? Were they taken from the cartel too?

  • JPTX

    The cartels have an unlimited supply of cash. They can buy whatever they want, whenever they want. Another issue is the weapons, ammo, etc. When our government, military, police, etc buy weapons or comm equipment the order is delivered. The cartels lose alot of the weapons and equipment because it is intercepted going South and is seized. The cartels don’t bat an eye and just keep buying more stuff. I’m not surprised by this article. The Sinaloa carte, just one of many in MX,l has the cash on hand to purchase almost anything….with cash. Don’t be surprised if they keep purchasing more advanced equipment, weapons, etc.

    • JPTX

      Sorry for the typos. Been a long day!

    • bob

      And as long as the failed War on Drugs keeps providing them with an insanely profitable black market they will continue to be able to afford whatever they want.

  • Lance

    Mexican’s need radio jammers to block there networks.

    • Trainwreck101

      First you have to find the network before you jam it. There are ways of “hiding” signals.

  • fact275

    Time we stop pussyfooting around with the cartels.

  • Trainwreck101

    Not only were there two way radios, but duplexers from repeaters to get much more range from the hand held radios. I spotted VHF and UHF antennas and duplexers and some direction low end microwave stuff. They planned it out well. They had a whole secure repeater network laid out that could cover most of the country without having to use landlines, cell or internet. A hand held ICOM radio can get you a half mile to 5 or 10 miles depending on terrain, but if you have a repeater, 50 miles is easy and if you network the repeaters together, a few hundred miles is duck soup.

    • reflexivefire

      Thanks for helping to flesh out some of the details. Pretty amazing for a so-called non-state actor!

  • bob

    Who knows, maybe we can start up a few conspiracy theories that the communications companies sold the equipment at the behest of the government and that it contained a backdoor so (insert agency here) could listen at will to the drug dealers’ communications…

    Obviously the raiding agencies once making this large arrest had to take away the comms networks to stop the cartels from realizing that their comms were not secure at any point…

    • Buckaroomedic

      We can only hope . . . but I doubt it.

  • Paralus

    Non-state actors like cartels, terrorist organizations, etc., are 4th Generation. I’ve yet to see a cogent definition of 5th generation warfare which isn’t just 4th Gen in more detail.

    • reflexivefire

      I might agree with that point Paralus.


    Dear fellow knuckle-dragger brother, good article and i think we can go back many a year ago when Central America was our hidden war. They had always some sort of deal like this and when running around in the jungles like Peter cotton tale we found many sites but as you know never could have any papers write about it.

    • reflexivefire

      Can you write about it today? I’ve always had a hard time making sense of our actions down in Central America back in the 80’s, what a mess it must have been.

  • orly?

    Free market?

  • J.K.

    The cartels are using night and thermal vision equipment; those are cheap now days. Submarines have also been available to the wealthier of the rich for a long while now, so I also wouldn’t doubt if the cartels have a small submarine fleet running drugs undetected.

    10 years ago, serving as US Army MI, we had crypto comms that frequency hopped to avoid being detected, jammed or triangulated. What are the chances the cartels have similar tech now? A very good chance.

  • Riceball

    The cartels are already using subs these days, or more properly, submersibles boats although they seem to be getting more and more like true subs lately.

  • Ten years ago when I was a Special Agent for US Customs, we had intel reports saying that they have the entire continent of S.America completely penetrated with respect to telephonic comms with a full on NSA style data mining operation to weed out informants. At that time, the USG was straight out saying that the Cartels had far more SIGINT capability than we had access to through EPIC. I can’t imagine how that information dominance has grown since. No question that our SIGINT capabilities are superior but they are GWOT focused rather than DW focused. I predict mortar rounds flying over the border into San Diego within 10 years. This has just begun.

    • SGT ROCK

      You know your right about that but i feel that would play right into our hands and would be a major mistake on their part. The money machine would stop for them and us (yes us) you don’t think for a moment that we don’t cash in on this at all for certain black projects that congress can’t know about.That has been going on for how many decades now?. If congress can’t follow the money they can’t follow the missions that need to be done around the globe.I have said enough

      • reflexivefire

        It’s pretty much an admitted fact that American banks launder the drug money. Wachovia got caught washing hundreds of billions of dollars, settled with the US Government by paying a couple million in fines, merged with Well Fargo, and business as usual. If you study terrorist groups and criminal organizations, they do pretty well when they fly under the radar and maintain a level of violence that is more or less socially acceptable. When they get to out of hand with extravagant attacks and blood baths it invites a crackdown, think Al Qaeda, Pablo Escobar, or to a lesser extent the Italian Mob. The cartels are going way over the top and the escalation to hanging 60mm mortar rounds over the border is perfectly plausible at this point. This is the war we need to focus on instead of Libya.

  • major.rod

    I get regular updates on what’s going on in Mexico . Most of it is open source stuff but much is not reported here. There aree areas where the cartels even wear uniforms and travel in large convoys. I’ve read reports of up to 50 vehicles. They actually armor up some of their vehicles to include road warrior jobs done to tractor trailers that lead and trail the convoys sine they are loaded with fighters. This explains some of the demand for barrets. The tractor trailer in this picture might not be a cartel vehicle but rest assured they have custom ones built with smuggling compartments to fully armored cabs for internal ops.


    The fifty year rule still applies and like many things, we all must wait till it becomes useless.Heck they just let out top secret stuff about WWII a few years back just to give you an idea.So maybe when we are old farts and the grand kids are ready to drive would be about the time.

  • major.rod

    BN CDR – Check out my ans to Kelly just below here.

  • Malatamo Senroa

    This is what happens when you don’t pay TECH people enough in the private sector. You get good Techs working for the dark side because they can actually make a living wage by working for the bad guys. instead of a paltry $22.00 an hour working for a corporation that thinks they are a nuisance…. Tech people getting paid a reasonable wage will be less likely to risk working for the bad guys.

    But no, pay the CEO a disgusting amount and keep on lowering the wages of tech people…

  • aditya

    whats the annual budget of DEA, these guys move about 50 Billion $ worth of contraband in to US annually, Sinaloa Cartels Guzmán Loera’s personal body guard is said to possess MANPADS , US is said to have sold sophisticated surveillance equipment to corrupt Central american countries, these guys can Shop there

  • Border rat

    You’re too late, they’re already ordered.

  • Border rat

    Search Cray COmputers Seized + 1994 + Bogota and see if anything comes up.

  • Border rat

    Not just Mexico, try international to points South. Think US interoperability requirements, with unlimited funds, and the will to actually make things work. FRS in Guatemala to Push to talk on the Rio Grande? Can do easy! Commercial networks? We don’t need no stinkin’ commercial networks!

  • Border rat

    Which Government? Which side of the Atlantic?

  • Border rat

    Drones? What drones? The Mexican Air Force acquired the Hermes 450 system in 2009. …
    And who owns the Mexican military, except for the Marines?

  • Charles De Gaulle

    it was an USD 1.5 million IBM AS400 mainframe computer

  • Cristian

    there are some interesting “amateur” UAV, electrical engine and CoPro camera with live feed.. they are “cheap” and with some more money (think the price of a sedan) you can buy them with night vision capability.. so I suspect the Cartel already have in place such kind of device.

  • Cristian

    Sir again they don’t need military stuff, they just need to purchase some widly available tech.. repeater? they can be (and usually are) bought and mainteined by local group of HAM volounteers for fun but also they will be used (they are made available to authorities for this) in case of emergency as a back-up to mainstream network of repeaters (HAM club here in Italy do this a lot combining the love for HAM radios to the love for hiking, offroading and so on and on) so I suspect that, for an organization with the illimited resource like the Z.. and also please note that I am not refering to low-end and low capability stuff

  • Cristian

    Sir, all the bank are connected and networked. if you have to do a big laundry job you don’t do it alone, you need somebody (a bigger-than-you-bank) that cover your six. First question that they ask? Where this moeny come from? and they lie to us, not among them.. how do you think that Mafia stopped to kill (at last to a daily basis) but yet increased the grasp all over my Country and the rest of the world?

    I see one big issue and what you wrote here: the will. I don’t see any government with the will to get things done on that. I don’t see the Obama administration (or the Italian.. wait wait we don’t have one at the moment) or any Mexican Gov to take action untill.. well untill the first salvo of mortar hit the ground.. please don’t take this as a crictique(sp) the the US, it is not, it is a crictique(sp) to the Gov. all over the world that don’t take enough action to deal with those people

  • Why is this video blocked? I can’t watch it. If you’re going to place a video on a public accessed web page, why make it private?