HomeNewsBriefHow Organized Crime Networks Are Using Drones to Their Advantage

Criminal groups increasingly deploying drones -- for purposes ranging from surveillance to reported armed attacks of rivals -- has provoked a strong government response in Mexico. But will it be enough?

To monitor and disable drones, Mexico’s Defense Ministry (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional -- SEDENA) plans to employ an anti-drone system costing 215.7 million pesos (about $9.6 million), according to a September 21 El Universal report based on documents obtained by the media outlet.

The acquisition of the new technology comes about a month after a striking report that claimed the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación -- CJNG) had deployed drones loaded with military-grade C4 explosives in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán. The drones targeted local vigilante groups.

SEE ALSO: Are Armed Drones the Weapon of the Future for Mexico's Cartels?

While the alleged equipping of drones with explosives by one of Mexico's most powerful cartels may have raised concerns among authorities, drone use by criminal groups is usually limited to surveillance.

In September, indigenous leaders in the Caru area of Brazil's northern Maranhão state said they feared their territory was being continuously monitored with drones controlled by illegal loggers and drug traffickers seeking to plant marijuana in the zone, UOL News reported.

And drug traffickers in Guatemala employed drones to guide drug planes to clandestine landing strips hidden in Laguna del Tigre National Park, the Washington Post reported in July.

Rangers and soldiers in the zone said they could hear drones fly over jungle bases about once a week. The drug planes subsequently arrived after dark, indicating that traffickers had been using the devices to survey the whereabouts of authorities to ensure a problem-free landing for their pilots.

"Their resources are infinite, and we are just trying to keep up," Juan de la Paz, a Guatemalan army colonel based in the area, told the Washington Post.

The Brookings Institute recently predicted that increased restriction of movement associated with the COVID-19 pandemic would only serve to speed up the proliferation of drone use by crime groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Mexico's anti-drone plan comes on the heels of reports that such devices were weaponized by the CJNG, it appears the predominant use of drones by criminal groups is for surveillance, allowing them to monitor patrols near drug trafficking and human trafficking routes.

For example, police in Honduras claimed that the MS13 street gang used drones to escape a raid on a marijuana stash house in San Pedro Sula, La Prensa reported. The gang also employed a video surveillance network in marginal neighborhoods on San Pedro Sula's outskirts.

Human smuggling groups have also deployed such technology to surveil border regions.

SEE ALSO: Drone Use in Latin America: Dangers and Opportunities

In April 2019, a US border patrol agent based in the El Paso sector spotted a drone flying back and forth from Mexico shortly before 10 people were found attempting to cross the border illegally in the same area where the drone had been seen.

For large-scale networks and smaller organizations alike, consumer drones provide a relatively cheap, easily accessible surveillance technology.

Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Centro de Estudios Estratégicos Internacionales -- CSIS), told El Confidencial earlier this year that organized crime groups have been deploying drones that are "commercially available" but "have been adapted for other purposes."

He added that "anyone can go to a shop and buy one," suggesting that drone use by such groups for surveillance purposes will only increase as potential benefits far outweigh costs.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 17 MAY 2012

Messages signed in the name of the Zetas have appeared in Mexico, denying that the group left 49 mutilated bodies…

HUMAN TRAFFICKING / 28 AUG 2013

In another apparent victory against human trafficking in Latin America, 37 women have been rescued from sexual exploitation in…

MEXICO / 8 AUG 2012

Examining the question of whether Mexico's criminal organizations could find a market within US prescription drug abuse, analyst…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…

THE ORGANIZATION

Backing Investigative Journalism Around the Globe

5 NOV 2021

InSight Crime was a proud supporter of this year's Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which took place November 1 through November 5 and convened nearly 2,000 journalists…