“Narco-antennas”: how and why the telecommunications cartels in Mexico have been appropriated


Illustrative image of electricity pylons (Photo: REUTERS / Siphiwe Sibek)
Illustrative image of electricity pylons (Photo: REUTERS / Siphiwe Sibek)

When convoys of federal soldiers or police advance through the bushes, the narcos know they are coming.

A “hawk” – or watchman – issues the alert, equipped with a high-tech portable radio and paid to work as a sentry. The radio signal travels deep into the arid countryside, an hour’s walk from the nearest road. There the dark green branches 2.4 meters high of the rockrose hide a radio tower so that it goes unnoticed.

The narco-antennas have become a headache for the authorities, because through them, the drug cartels have installed a hidden telecommunications system that allow you to coordinate the delivery of drugs, carry out kidnappings, extortion and other crimes with the immediacy of a modern police agency.

Also known as “parasite antennas” they are an indispensable tool for criminal organizations, as they are often encrypted and, unlike ordinary cellular networks, the location cannot be easily identified.

According to the UK news agency, ReutersFor this system, drug traffickers use the cell towers of major companies in Mexico, many of them installed in rural areas. At the foot of the tower, the cartels station a base station, which generates radio waves, usually hidden in a suitcase or in a refrigerator for protection from the sun. Above they install stray antennas to project the signal.

In this type of facility, the bosses are particularly cheeky, since the suitcases or refrigerators they use often have the initials of the criminal group to which they belong. “This antenna belongs to Los Zetas …. if any problem arises call [número telefónico]”Is one of the messages that a former worker at Huawei Technologies Co remembers finding, according to Reuters.

Telecommunications companies have recognized the silence of the authorities on the narco-antennas, where the theft of electricity material by criminal cells also permeates.

The Zetas, a bloody Mexican cartel that took control of the Mexican states in 2005, have used radio equipment to broadcast threats on the frequencies of the balances, as has the Sinaloa Cartel, on October 17, during the liberation of Ovidio Guzmán.

Until recently, the cartels control their people by computers that allow them to exercise complex control over radio signals, allowing them to direct their telecommunications to specific radios without others listening.

The radio system is a low cost network, easy maintenance and expansion.

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