Anonymous vs. Zetas Amid Mexico’s Cartel Violence
Date 2011-11-03 15:27:01
Anonymous vs. Zetas Amid Mexico’s Cartel Violence
November 2, 2011
Readers Comment on STRATFOR Reports
By Scott Stewart
The online activist collective Anonymous posted a message on the
Internet on Oct. 31 saying it would continue its campaign against
Mexican criminal cartels and their government supporters despite the
The message urged inexperienced activists, who might not be practicing
proper online security measures, to abstain from participating. It also
urged individuals associated with Anonymous in Mexico not to conduct
physical pamphlet drops, participate in protests, wear or purchase Guy
Fawkes masks, or use Guy Fawkes imagery in their Internet or
physical-world activities. Guy Fawkes was a British Roman Catholic
conspirator involved in a plot to bomb the British Parliament on Nov. 5,
1605. The British celebrate the plot’s failure as Guy Fawkes Day each
Nov. 5. In modern times, the day has come to have special meaning for
anarchists. Since 2006, the style of the Guy Fawkes mask used in the
movie “V for Vendetta” has become something of an anarchist icon in the
United Kingdom and elsewhere.
* [IMG] Dispatch: Anonymous’ Online Tactics Against Mexican Cartels
It was no coincidence, then, that in an Oct. 6 video Anonymous activists
set Nov. 5 as the deadline for Los Zetas to release an Anonymous
associate allegedly kidnapped in Veracruz. The associate reportedly was
abducted during an Anonymous leaflet campaign called “Operation
The Oct. 31 message acknowledged that the operation against Los Zetas,
dubbed “Operation Cartel,” would be dangerous. It noted that some
members of the collective would form a group of trusted associates to
participate in a special task force to execute the operation. It asked
supporters to pass information pertaining to drug trafficking to the
Operation Cartel task force for publication on the Internet via a
software tool developed by Anonymous that permits the anonymous passing
When discussing Anonymous, it is important to remember that Anonymous is
not a hierarchical organization, but rather a collective of activists.
Individuals who choose to associate themselves with the collective
frequently disagree over issues addressed by the collective and are free
to choose which actions to support and/or participate in.
With Nov. 5 approaching, and at least some elements of Anonymous not
backing down on their threats to Los Zetas, we thought it would be
useful to provide some context to the present conflict between Anonymous
and Los Zetas and to address some of its potential implications.
The Mexican port city of Veracruz has been the epicenter of this event.
Veracruz has been a busy place over the past few months in terms of
Mexico’s cartel wars. The port serves as a critical transportation hub
for Los Zetas narcotics smuggling. Because of this, STRATFOR has
identified Veracruz as a bellwether for determining Los Zetas’
trajectory in the coming months.
In a major recent development in Veracruz, the Sinaloa cartel began an
offensive into the Zetas stronghold using the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva
Generacion (CJNG), which, under the name “Matazetas” (Spanish for “Zeta
killers”), conducted high-profile body dumps of more than 50 alleged
low-level Zetas operatives on Sept. 20 and Sept. 22. On Oct. 25, Mexican
marines arrested Carlos Arturo Pitalua-Carillo, also known as “El Bam
Bam,” who was the Zetas’ plaza boss in Veracruz. The Zetas in Veracruz
thus are feeling pressure from both the Mexican government and the CJNG.
The Anonymous Internet collective entered this dynamic in August with
its activities in Veracruz. It is common knowledge that members of
local, state and federal governments in Mexico support various cartel
groups. In the state of Veracruz, it is generally believed that some
members of the state government support Los Zetas, the dominant cartel
there. In response to this corruption, some who have associated
themselves with Anonymous launched Operation Paperstorm. These activists
distributed leaflets throughout Veracruz denouncing the state government
for supporting Los Zetas. They conducted leaflet distributions Aug. 13,
Aug. 20 and Aug. 29. They also released videos on the Internet on Aug.
26 and Aug. 29 condemning the Veracruz state government.
Activities outside Veracruz also played a part in setting the stage. On
Sept. 13, the bodies of two people who had been tortured and killed were
hung from a pedestrian overpass in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. Signs
left with the bodies said Los Zetas had killed the pair because they had
posted information pertaining to the Zetas on blogs that specialize in
reporting on the Mexican cartels. On Sept. 26, the decapitated body of
Marisol Macias Castaneda was found in a park in Nuevo Laredo. Macias,
who worked for a local newspaper, allegedly posted on cartel blogs using
the nickname “Laredo Girl.” A message found with her body said the Zetas
killed her due to her online activities.
Following the death of Laredo Girl, Anonymous claimed responsibility for
a distributed denial of service attack against the official website of
the state of Veracruz. Although her murder occurred outside of the
state, Anonymous said its attack on the Veracruz website was in response
to Laredo Girl’s death. This indicates that activists understand that
Los Zetas are active in both areas and suggests that Veracruz
state-based activists are driving the Anonymous campaign against Los
Significantly, some individuals associated with Anonymous already were
unhappy with the state of Veracruz over its decision to prosecute two
individuals who had posted kidnapping reports on Twitter on Aug. 25 that
proved false. According to the reports, a group of children had been
abducted from a Veracruz school. The inaccurate reports allegedly caused
some two dozen traffic accidents as terrified parents rushed to the
school to check on their children. The so-called Twitter terrorists
initially were charged with offenses that could have carried a 30-year
sentence. Some associated with Anonymous, which has absolute freedom of
speech on the Internet as one of its foundational principles, took
umbrage at the prospect of such stiff penalties – especially given the
stark contrast with the impunity enjoyed by many cartel figures in
STRATFOR began to focus on the story following the Oct. 6 release of the
video in which Anonymous activists threatened to release information
about individuals cooperating with Los Zetas if the Zetas did not
release the Anonymous activist kidnapped during Operation Paperstorm. In
light of the approaching Nov. 5 deadline, we published an analysis of
the topic on Oct. 28; the topic subsequently received a great deal of
This publicity has generated a very interesting response from Anonymous
that emphasizes that it is a collective, not an organization. Some
Anonymous activists began to back off the issue, erasing online user
accounts formerly associated with the campaign, suggesting the operation
against Los Zetas had been a hoax and claiming that no activist had been
kidnapped. Other activists suggested that the campaign was dangerous,
ill-advised and should be suspended. Still other activists became more
strident and determined in their posts, urging that the campaign
continue. As noted, Anonymous’ collective nature means activists can
select the actions they participate in, including Operation Cartel. It
would only take one dedicated individual to continue the operation.
The will to continue was manifested Oct. 29 with the hacking of the
personal website of Gustavo Rosario Torres, the former attorney general
of the Mexican state of Tabasco. The site was defaced with a message
from Anonymous Mexico stating that Rosario is a Zeta. Rosario has long
been accused in the Mexican and international media of protecting Los
Zetas, and videos long have circulated on YouTube making the same
charge. The hacking of his website thus did not provide any startling
revelation; Anonymous will have to uncover and publish original and
timely information if it hopes to do much damage to Los Zetas.
The determination by some activists to continue the operation against
Los Zetas also was reflected in the tone of the Oct. 31 message. Some
activists associated with Anonymous clearly feel compelled to continue
with the campaign over what they have characterized as an outpouring of
public support in the wake of the media coverage. According to their
Oct. 31 video statement:
“We received many expressions of support and solidarity as well as the
voices of people crying for help. We must remember that we are on the
side of the people, and we cannot let down the people, especially in
critical moments like the one they currently live in.”
We therefore anticipate that some Anonymous activists will continue the
campaign. We also believe that Los Zetas will respond.
Mexico’s various cartels long have used the Internet to trumpet their
triumphs on the battlefield and to taunt and even degrade their enemies.
The cartels have posted videos of the torture, execution and desecration
of the corpses of rivals. They also frequently monitor narcoblogs and
sometimes even post on them. As demonstrated by the September blogger
killings in Nuevo Laredo, Los Zetas appear to possess at least some
rudimentary capability to trace online activity to people in the
physical world. They are known to employ their own team of dedicated
cyber experts and to have sources within the Mexican government.
In addition to technical intelligence, the Zetas can use old-fashioned
human intelligence to track down their online enemies. People sometimes
discuss their online identities with family and friends, and such
information can be overheard and passed to Los Zetas in return for
money. This danger was recognized in the Oct. 31 video from Anonymous
that urges participants in their campaign not to discuss their
activities with anyone.
In past Anonymous actions, like the December 2010 attack against PayPal
after the WikiLeaks scandal broke, the U.S. and British governments
arrested numerous individuals associated with Anonymous who allegedly
participated in the attacks. In June 2011, Turkey arrested dozens of
activists associated with Anonymous actions conducted against the
Turkish government in response to its plan to establish a national
Internet-filtering system. This indicates that some activists associated
with Anonymous are not nearly as anonymous as they would like to be.
Every action on the Internet leaves some sort of trail, making it very
difficult to be truly anonymous.
Like other Mexican cartels, Los Zetas do not take affronts lightly. Even
if Anonymous cannot provide information that damages Los Zetas smuggling
operations, the very fact that the collective has decided publicly to
challenge Los Zetas will result in some sort of response. The big
question is whether the Zetas possess the capability to trace the
organizers of the Anonymous action?
One challenge with tracking an entity such as Anonymous is that it is
intentionally amorphous. It is also as transnational as the Internet,
and it would be unsurprising if many of those chosen to participate in
the operation against Los Zetas are located in the United Sates, Europe
and other areas that are outside the Zetas’ immediate reach.
The amorphous nature of Anonymous can also cut the other way, however.
If Los Zetas abduct and execute random patrons at an Internet cafe,
behead them and place Guy Fawkes masks on their heads, it will be very
difficult to prove that they were not associated with Anonymous. Los
Zetas also could execute random people and claim they had provided
Anonymous with information in order to intimidate people from actually
cooperating with Anonymous. As Anonymous noted in its Oct. 31 video,
this is dangerous business indeed.
The Big Picture
How the Mexican public reacts to the Anonymous operation must be
watched. The criminal cartels and their violence have deeply affected
many people in Mexico’s middle and upper classes. STRATFOR talks to many
people in Mexico who fear that they or a family member will be
kidnapped. In many communities, especially places like Ciudad Juarez,
Torreon, Monterrey and Veracruz, businessmen find themselves in a
terrible bind. They face ever-increasing extortion demands from the
cartels while their business revenues dwindle because the violence
associated with those same cartels has frightened people into not going
out. This is forcing many small businesses to close. It also is creating
a great deal of frustration and resentment.
At the same time, Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries
in the world for journalists, and many media organizations practice
heavy self-censorship to protect themselves. In the wake of the
September blogger killings, some of the narcoblogs, like Blog del Narco,
have exhibited strong signs of self-censorship inspired by fear. As a
result, many Mexicans believe the mainstream media are not of any real
assistance in the face of cartel violence.
Mexican citizens also are frustrated with their government, which, as
noted, is well-known for corruption. This sentiment is feeding
Anonymous’ original campaign in Veracruz. This frustration even has led
some people to begin discussing the creation of vigilante groups to
fight the cartels – though this has been attempted before in Mexico. As
we saw in the case of La Familia Michoacana, which began as such a
vigilante group, vigilantism frequently does not end well.
This is where Anonymous may fit in. With Mexican citizens unable to rely
on their government, the media or even armed vigilante groups for
assistance, they may embrace Anonymous, coming to view its form of
cybervigilantism as an outlet for their frustration. If Anonymous is
perceived as a safe way to pass information pertaining to cartel
activities, we may see people from all over the country begin to share
intelligence. Such human intelligence could very well prove to be far
more damaging to the cartels than any information Anonymous activists
can dredge up electronically. As this operation is becoming more widely
publicized, the pool of people outside Mexico who might wish to
participate will likely grow. The number of people inside Mexico who
wish to provide information might grow as well.
Anonymous has taken on many powerful entities in the past, such as major
transnational corporations and governments. But the repercussions from
participating in such operations were never as grave for online
activists as they are in this case. Being identified and detained by
Scotland Yard or the FBI is a far different situation than being
identified and detained by Los Zetas.
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