Authorities in Mexico are using photos posted on social networking websites to track the movements of drug lords and their families, highlighting the growing importance of the internet for both conducting and monitoring criminal activity.
Photographs on the Twitter account of Serafin Zambada helped US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents capture the son of famous drug trafficker Ismael Zambada, alias "El Mayo," in Arizona on November 20, reported Animal Politico. The images included bags of marijuana, AK-47 assault rifles and exotic pet wildcats (see images below). The Twitter account also revealed he was in contact with various members of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Authorities in the state of Sinaloa have in their possession photographs put on Twitter by the sons of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman, alias "El Chapo," and one Knights Templar hitman has posted pictures of people tied up and gagged on Facebook, reported Spanish newspaper El Pais.
According to Guillermo Valdes, the former head of Mexican intelligence agency CISEN, "El Chapo, El Mayo and other drug lords are terribly discreet, but not so much those who surround them, mainly their children and nephews," reported El Pais.
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Social media has become an important player in the world of organized crime, with the sites used not only for show, but also to conduct business. The DEA reported in 2012 that Mexican cartels used social networks to collect intelligence on recruits and on potential extortion targets. In Peru, hired assassins use Facebook to promote their services.
These sites can be dangerous to criminals for the same reasons they are useful, especially when inadequate security precautions are taken to hide content. According to El Pais, the CISEN used photos of former Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z3," at the wedding of one of his commanders as information that helped lead to his downfall.
It is clear that some drug traffickers recognize the threat posed by social media: the Zetas killed three victims in 2011 in Nuevo Laredo for being "Internet snitches" and a man was murdered in February as an apparent warning to social media users.
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This raises the question of why drug traffickers' family members would risk exposing their location to Mexican intelligence agents and incriminating themselves by posting sensitive content online. It is possible that the younger generation see themselves as untouchable, or perhaps they simply do not care.