Mexican drug cartels build their own radio network

Mexico’s drug cartels have proven that all the snooping on State networks just drives criminals elsewhere.

According to Associated Press, the drugs barons are so miffed at coppers trying to listen into their conversations that they have built their own dark radio network with an associated internet connection.

The Zetas know that the military is moving against them thanks to the fact that its many eyes and ears on the street can phone them with a high-end handheld radio.

The signal goes onto a network of concealed radio towers powered by solar panels and repeated across Mexico.

Mexico’s army has begun attacking the system, and have been stunned by just how large it is. They have seized hundreds of pieces of communications equipment in at least three operations since September. Earlier this month, the Mexican army said it had seized a total of at least 167 antennas, 155 repeaters, 166 power sources, 71 pieces of computer equipment and 1,446 radios.

The gear ranges from professional-grade towers to handheld radios, and had been recently extended from the US borders down eastern Mexico’s Gulf coast and into Guatemala.

The signal was encrypted and meant that it did not need the official cellphone network. It also offered a better signal when you went deep into the Mexican countryside.

The brains behind the network was Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, a communications geek who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine in federal court in Houston, Texas, two years ago.

It was based around millions of dollars worth of legally available equipment. He paid communications specialists to maintain and run the system and research new technology.

The Mexican coppers insist that the network is not that big and say that it is made up of smaller local systems that were not connected to each other due to technical limitations. Their argument was Del Toro was talking up his own importance as part of US plea bargaining.

But AP said that hacks have heard cartels using radio equipment to broadcast threats on soldiers’ frequencies, and the whole system was controlled by computers that enabled complex control of the radio signals. This allowed the cartel to direct its communications to specific radios while bypassing others.

The whole lot was done on the cheap and is surprisingly effective. It might be time that BT and other telcos had a look at how it was done as they claim they cannot connect parts of Wales to the network for anything less than a few million pounds.