Anonymous vs. Zetas: is #OpCartel a flop, hoax, or honeypot?

[Video Link] Over the last few days, word has spread of a purported #antisec operation by Anonymous against the most brutal of all Mexican drug cartels, Los Zetas. One element in the story is this video, above. Weeks after it came out, George Friedman's Austin Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor issued this report, and media gobbled it up. A story was born: "Anonymous is taking on the most feared drug cartel in the world, for great justice."

What was unusual about the way this story spread was the speed at which it was amplified by credulous reports from larger media outlets, despite a dearth of confirmable facts. This op got lots of press, fast. Faster, in fact, than it got support from Anons.

Geraldine Juarez and Renata Avila were two of the earlier voices I read expressing doubt about the prevailing storyline—a report by Juarez is here. Some I spoke to within Mexico wondered if the Mexican government (no bastion of purity) might be involved.

Over at Wired News, a must-read piece by Quinn Norton that cinches the deal for me (and in it, she references the aforementioned Global Voices item). Quinn's been covering Anonymous extensively for some time, and I trust her spidey sense on this one.

"Everyone, Anonymous and not, seems to agree that going after the Zetas, who are known for hanging people by their own intestines, would be a new level of ambitious, and might even be the point where Anonymous would bite off more than they could chew," Quinn writes. "But there’s some nagging problems with the video that proposes the op."

Read the rest at Wired.

Charles Arthur at the Guardian covers the story here, asking smart questions.

Is it possible that the kidnapping was a hoax? And was the video a hoax? It doesn't feel consistent with previous, legitimate "Anonymous" videos to me. White balancing? Good lighting? An all-white backdrop? Looks like a hired actor in a quasi-pro production. What other forces could stand to benefit from this sort of thing, if it were staged? State? Private contractor?

As Damien Cave replied to this post just now, "Boing Boing is right to doubt #opcartel, but remember the Mexican context of fear. If it doesn't happen, it may not be a hoax. It may be that people have been scared off."

And that's the one thing Anonymous and the cartels have in common: the truth about their activities can be really hard to figure out.


    1. Compared to some of the missives by Anon that have been posted to Youtube in the past five years (including the infamous Chanology training film narrated by GLaDOS)?  Yes.  It could be said that this is either work of a relatively new member of Anon who hasn’t been jacked into the hive-mind for long, or someone acting entirely on their own without being part of the Anon hive-mind.

  1. You know, I generally like Anonymous overall.  I think they are actually a force of social action and they have gone after folks deserving of their special kind of love. 

    However, while it is nice to see them fight for my right to copy a video game, it would be nice to see them help people who REALLY need help.  I mean, folks like the Los Zetas are flat out evil on a level that sort of dwarfs Sony or Visa.  If this call to action is fake, I am a little disappointed.  I would love to see their brand of justice applied to someone really deserving of that and more.

  2. Good analysis, as someone who has been covering this more from a drug war and social media angle and may have downplayed some of the credibility issues once Anonymous got into it. But is it fair to call this spread fast? The original video was posted Oct. 6 and didn’t get any attention until the Stratfor report came out on Friday.

    Take a slow news weekend in Mexico (as compared to last week’s drug war coverage), do a few canned newspaper articles about the report in the mainstream Mexican press and suddenly everyone is going back and forth about whether #OpCartel is legit or not.

    I also think it’s beside the point now to discuss whether or not it’s a legitimate operation or not: if journalists who cover the issue are second guessing themselves and questioning the authenticity, how is the regular Anonymous member — or anyone for that matter — going to differentiate?

    In any case, more or less me thinking out loud. Love your coverage of this issue….

    – Dave Copeland

  3. The more production value that goes into an ‘Anonymous’ video, the less I am likely to trust it.  I’m pretty sure the hackers who call themselves Anonymous are more interested in -you know- hacking. 

    Sitting down with Final Cut, posing with masks, and superimposing flying logos doesn’t really fit the Anon M.O.  When you see the mask, you can usually bet it’s just kids posing as their internet heroes.  Look at the hands, it’s a boy who likely doesn’t know a damned thing about hacking.

    1. Because Anonymous isn’t primarily sourced from a social group consisting mainly of boys in their late teens? Because when all these hacking groups start going for ‘the dox’ on each other it doesn’t seem to include an awful lot of fairly central people who aren’t  old enough to drink? Because leathery and grizzled hands are the sign of the hacker?

       I’m not saying you’re wrong because that is pretty much how the internet works with these things. I have my doubts the ‘propaganda’ arm of anon actually has that much to do with the hacking arm or if the hacking arm is actually aware they have a propaganda arm until it looks like they’re going to be shot by mexican gunmen but none of these things really disqualify it from being Anon.

  4. To add up to the great production value (and great lighting as Rob points out) of this “amateur” video,  the discourse in there is really awesome and completely unbelievable, specially the bit of “we are sick of journalist attacking honest authorities like military and marines”.  Say WUT?

  5. This seemed bizarre to me from the beginning. What was the plan, LOIC How exactly does one determine by hacking who is corrupt and who isn’t? Do you look at their facebook friends?

  6. OOPS! that was supposed to be sarcasm but it appears the link actually goes somewhere. Sorry about that Mr. Zeta whoever you are. :-0

  7. “And that’s the one thing Anonymous and the cartels have in common: the truth about their activities can be really hard to figure out.”

    And also is very hard to difference the narco from the government…… Corruption wouldn´t be so rampant without all the opacity around it. They are also Anonish. 

    Anon can´t fight Anon, they neutralize each other. A la Pokemon Style.

  8. Maybe I’m a bit of a technology dumdum compared to the folks on the Boing, but I’ve never been all that impressed with what Anon has done.  DDOS on somebody’s homepage?  Maybe it’s fabulously impressive from a hacker point of view(?), but I don’t see much of an affect in the outside world.  It seems to me indeed perhaps Anon overestimates their clout?  Zetas kill folks.  Actual people made dead, not temporarily shut down websites.  Also these types of narco fellas, they have shit-tons of money, do they not?  Perhaps they have a smart guy or two on their payrolls?  It seems if the Zetas thought the assorted Anons were a threat, they perhaps have the means to find them and end them, with much malice.  I hope that’s not the case!

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