Kidnapped radio engineers forced to build comms networks for the Zetas, never seen again

On Wired Danger Room, Robert Beckhusen tells how Mexican drug cartels, notably the Zetas, kidnap skilled radio engineers and force them to build out elaborate communications networks -- one comprised 167 antennas. The engineers are kidnapped and usually never seen again, and are presumed to have been murdered.

For at least six years, Mexico’s cartels have relied in part on a sophisticated radio network to handle their communications. The Zetas hide radio antennas and signal relay stations deep inside remote and hard-to-reach terrain, connect them to solar panels, and then link the facilities to radio-receiving cellphones and Nextel devices. While the kingpins stay off the network — they use the internet to send messages — the radio network acts as a shadow communication system for the cartels’ lower-level players and lookouts, and a tool to hijack military radios.

One network spread across northeastern Mexico and dismantled last year included 167 radio antennas alone. As recently as September, Mexican marines found a 295-foot-high transmission tower in Veracruz state. And while the founding leadership of the Zetas originated in the Mexican special forces — and who might have had the know-how to set up a radio system — relatively few of the ex-commando types are still active today.

One engineer, named Jose Antonio, was kidnapped in January 2009 while talking on the phone with his girlfriend outside a mechanics shop. He worked for ICA Fluor Daniel, a construction company jointly owned by U.S.-based Fluor Corporation and ICA, Mexico’s largest construction firm. Antonio’s family contacted the authorities, but were instead visited by a man claiming to be an ICA employee along with two Zetas. “They said they were going to help us, and that our contact would be ICA’s security chief,” said the kidnapped engineer’s mother. But the group’s message was implicit: Don’t pursue this, or else. The cartel members were later arrested, but Antonio never returned.

Mexican Cartels Enslave Engineers to Build Radio Network

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      1. Legalizing most or all illegal drugs would mean these asshole would compete with legally produced and sold cocaine, marijuana, etc. As the legal products would be cheaper and safer to acquire and consume, they would destroy their market and their livelihood.

        Of course, the problem (and one of the main reasons why legalization hasn’t happened yet, I suspect), is the aforementioned asshole’s short-term reaction.

      2. WOD increases scarcity. Scarcity increases prices. increased prices increase profits. Increased profits increases competition increases thuggery increases violence increases law enforcement involvement. Increases cool factor.

        Without the WOD there is less scarcity, less profit, less thuggery, less cool.

      3. Pretty much what pKp says below.  Legalizing drugs would drastically reduce prices and profits for the black market suppliers.  

    1. Yes, but immediately stopping the purchase of drugs until they become legal would be action we can actually take now. Not to generalize too much, but I assume most of the “Legalize it!” crowd outside of medimarijuana zones are supporting the kidnapping and murder of people around the globe by buying drugs illegally from these very same types of people (or once removed.) It is a bit infuriating when the privileged don’t see their role in the problem. 

      More importantly, if we can boycott Starfish to save the dolphins, international corporations to end Apartheid, and Chick-fil-A to end homophobia, why won’t people stop “partying” to end murder and kidnapping? 

      Stop buying illegal drugs. Do it.

      1. Agreed.  Policy change isn’t the only way to make this happen.  Broad action on a personal level could also have an significant impact.

        But I wonder if an appeal to personal responsibility would shrink the market enough to reduce violence.  It the criminal parts of the drug trade ended up competing for a smaller pie, then I suppose it could actually backfire and increase violence.  I wonder where the tipping point falls.

      2. I assume most of the “Legalize it!” crowd outside of medimarijuana zones are supporting the kidnapping and murder of people around the globe by buying drugs illegally from these very same types of people (or once removed.)

        And you’re supporting children and innocent adults being burned alive from the sky when you pay taxes that support war. How can you live with yourself when you know that you personally are providing support to people who torture and murder innocents? You must be the most evil person in the universe. Or possibly just the biggest hypocrite.

        1. False equivalence aside, if I could actually choose where my paltry tax dollar contribution was spent, I would, but mandatory taxes are outside of my control. That is not true for recreational drug use. If you need it for medical purposes, I guess what can you do, everyone else needs to check their conscience.

          I guess we aren’t allowed to challenge the logical ramifications of our own side’s position on this issue without open hostility; apparently it’s our version of “KEEP YER GUBBERMENT HANDS OFF MAH GUNS!”

        1. I support legalization as well, just not use BEFORE legalization since groups like the Zetas are where much of the supply comes from. Decriminalization is the end goal for fighting the drug trade and the associated horrendous violence, but so is personal responsibility until then when it comes to our side of the border.

          When it comes down to continuing illegal recreational use, can you think of a more irresponsible action when you see how much suffering it brings?

          Image source: http://media-3.web.britannica.com/eb-media/84/146584-004-F24EB400.jpg

          1. When it comes down to continuing illegal recreational use, can you think of a more irresponsible action when you see how much suffering it brings?

            A ridiculous argument that shifts blame from the real perpetrators to innocent people, many of whom end up in jail for doing something which is IN AND OF ITSELF harmless.

          2. Normally you are pretty insightful Antinous, but this time for some reason you are pretty off base. Again, this isn’t an discussion of whether or not it should be legal (we both agree on that.) No one should be in prison for personal drug use per se. 

             I (and ironically you) am highlighting the disconnect that we have in our appreciation of the amount of damage we are doing when we participate in the drug trade from our side of the border. This story is about the abduction and disappearing of innocent engineers, we sit here in the U.S and go “my, isn’t that tragic? Someone should really do something about that…” when we are the ones supplying the money for these murders as the illicit drug consumers. Personal drug use may be relatively harmless, the drug trade that supplies personal drug use definitely is not.You are no dummy, but I don’t believe your previous statements in this discussion would be very persuasive to the people who are actually losing friends and family. 

          3. I don’t believe your previous statements in this discussion would be very persuasive to the people who are actually losing friends and family.

            People are dying because there’s a war on drugs, not because somebody wants to smoke some dope or take a hit of acid.

          4. People are dying because there’s a war on drugs, not because somebody wants to smoke some dope or take a hit of acid.

            I’m sorry but that doesn’t even begin to be an argument, that’s just willful denial of reality. I won’t goad you anymore on it, at least I raised the point, it’s up to you how you rationalize it.

  1. I am more worried when the US customs form asks me to confirm that I am NOT bringing anything obscene to the US. Seriously, have you (foreigners like me) ever read the back of that form?

  2. I am more worried about the line on the US customs form that says “…obscene articles… are generally prohibited entry.” Seriously, have you (foreigners like me) ever read the back of that form?

  3. Is anyone else kinda creeped out by the black voids where the faces of those soldiers should be? Are they wearing masks/balaclavas/facial armor? Or is it just REALLY bright sunlight and a quirk of the deep shadows of their helmets?

    1. Faces of military personnel are registered trademarks of the Mexican government, so they must be blacked out on all footage.

      Then again, they might just be concerned about being identified dismantling equipment belonging to a particularly dangerous and well connected paramilitary group with a history of murdering anyone who stands in their way.

    1. “The radio network acts as a shadow communication system for the cartels’ lower-level players and lookouts, and a tool to hijack military radios.”

  4. I would think that radio transmitters even if heavily encrypted would be very easy to detect, jam and destroy using air power, unless you had a human shield like placing it on a house or beside a legal antenna.

    why doesnt the USA loan an old electronic warfare pod to the mexican air force to make it easy to detect?

    1. SD —

      Neocons don’t want your sort, SD. 

      Why Shouldn’t we put a stop to threatening  terrorist organizations? Lets cut the head from the serpent. It worked very well with Osama — his al-Qaeda terrorist gang is in shambles now that President Obama okayed our guys taking him out. You mention Neocons. Well…David Frum would would eat your lunch, or rather eat you for lunch. Well, I guess Mr. Frum wouldn’t give you the time of day ITFP. 

      Your carcass is not fit to feed the grass growing on Bill Buckley’s grave, or the grave of Mr. Buckley’s dog, Fred.

      Margaret Thatcher (זצ״ל – zekher tzadik livrakha)  fought against fools like you. Unfortunately, she lost, as seen by the current state of the UK Tory party.  That Mitt Romney dares to mention Lady Thatcher makes me retch!

      Tea-Baggers like you are not fit to shine Jimmy Carter’s shoes.

      People like you, Sedan Chair, are irrelevant to President Obama or any other person with a brain, conscience, or a soul.

      Go back to your wife-swapping, child-abusing, serpent-handling, closet-cottagey, Bransony, anus-licking Tea-Party folk-ways.

        1. Well, hello to you too. I think my id (you know, the Freudian construct) made you into a strawman. Apologies, thanks for your civil response. 

          I guess I was trolling, but I was trying hard not to.

          hope I got some sort of a laugh, but I my post does reflect my thinking, except for trolling another commenter. Sorry – I think ;)

  5. Interview:

    Manager: “I see you have experience in radio engineering, that’s perfect you’re just the man for the job. What do you say, interested?”

    Interviewee: “I guess I am, what are the job benefits and salary?”

    Manager: “We provide full occupation however we’ll not pay you. We’ll promise to keep you alive while you do your job, but when you’re done, we’ll most likely kill you. What do you say, is that an offer or what?!”

    Interviewee: “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m interested and if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just need to use the restroom.”

    Manager: “That’s unfortunate, the offer is binding, non negotiable and compulsory. Welcome to the team!”

    — Excerpt from the book “Bosses from hell”

  6. Abducting and enslaving skilled craftsmen is an ancient tradition. 

    Enslaved craftsmen were sometimes crippled — a repeatedly cut tendon, an open wound deliberately kept open — to deter escape.

    Hephaestus, crippled smith of the gods, reflects this practice.

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