Drug Cartels Get More Sophisticated

Written by Mark R. Yzaguirre on Tuesday January 3, 2012

The violence in Mexico related to drug trafficking has continued over the past year, even though it hasn't been in the headlines in the US in recent months. While in some cases there has been a lull in the violence, such as in Ciudad Mier, a small border town that was largely abandoned because of drug cartel violence and is now recovering from the destruction it had suffered, the carnage still continues.

For example, the entire police force of the city of Veracruz was recently fired because of infiltration by the Zetas drug gang. Also, reports of discoveries of mass graves still come in on a regular basis. Fortunately, spillover violence into the United States has largely not occurred at the level many have feared.

Some recent news is disconcerting, however. According to an article by Michael Weissenstein from the Associated Press, It appears that Mexico's drug cartels have been building their own sophisticated communications infrastructure, to aid with both command-and-control operations and early warnings about police or military interventions.

This gives the cartels a better communications base than simply relying on cellular phones or other social networking technologies. As the Weissenstein article states:

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."

Such increased sophistication perhaps should come as no surprise, particularly in the case of the Zetas cartel, whose founders were members of the Mexican military and its elite special forces. But it does increase the challenges faced by the Mexican government in its struggle with the cartels. Further, there are reports about Mexican ranches being purchased or seized by cartel members near the US border (note - I am referring to seizure of ranches in Mexico, not to the largely unfounded rumors of such activity in the US) and such ranches can provide an obvious land network for advanced communications equipment.

The drug war in Mexico is far from over and the cartels are still spending resources to increase their footprint, particularly in Northern Mexico. The United States and Mexico will be conducting Presidential elections in 2012 and this issue is one that the leadership of both nations will need to face in the coming years.