Mexico's drug trafficking organizations have taken to the Internet to gather intelligence, intimidate the public, and find recruits, according to a report by the US anti-drug agency, presented at a recent security conference.
According to the AFP news service, a report by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that drug cartels used social networking sites to spy on their recruits, obtaining information such the identities of their family members, to be used if they tried to desert.
El Universal reported that the agency said drug cartels recruit youths in the United States to work as spies, hitmen, and human smugglers, among other jobs.
In addition to recruiting and tracking personnel, the DEA report said groups like the Zetas employ "hackers" to find the personal information -- addresses, phone numbers, even financial information -- of potential targets for kidnapping and extortion, the AFP noted.
The DEA's report was presented at a regional security conference in Cancun, Mexico, attended by representatives from 20 countries. The goal is to begin drafting a coordinated strategy to combat organized crime by the end of 2012, as agreed at the Cartagena Summit of the Americas.
Colombia's national police chief, General Oscar Naranjo, told the conference, "Criminals take advantage of their international networks and connections, and we should take advantage of our superiority as governments," according to the AFP.
InSight Crime Analysis
As the AFP notes, Mexico's drug trafficking organizations have for some time used the Internet to intimidate their rivals with videos of gruesome executions. On its own, this does not represent a major threat; traffickers spread terror more effectively with mass killings and billboards, known as "narco-mantas," which are far harder to ignore than an unpleasant video posted to the Internet.
However, if Mexico's drug traffickers are indeed using social networks to recruit and spy on their members, as well as to research potential targets, this could afford them access to a new depth of information. In one recent example, the Zetas were able to track down and murder a contributor to a security blog in Nuevo Laredo, leaving a notice threatening others who used the Internet to report on crime (see image, above).