Hackers are hoping to pressure the Zeta drug cartel by exposing their collaborators, starting with a former state attorney general An internet assault inspired by Anonymous, the hacking activist network that promised to expose collaborators with the Zeta drug cartel, has targeted a former senior law enforcement official from the Mexican southern state of Tabasco.
Hackers blocked a website dedicated to promoting Gustavo Rosario, the former Tabasco attorney general, with the words "Gustavo Rosario is a Zeta" against a background of pumpkin Halloween candles and signed by Anonymous México.
The internet has become a new battleground in Mexico's drug wars, in which different cartels are fighting both each other and a military-led offensive launched by President Felipe Calderón in December 2006, in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. In some areas, the mainstream regional media is too frightened to cover the violence, leaving anonymous contributors to social media to fill the vacuum partially.
A regular contributor to a site that denounces cartel operations in the north-eastern state of Tamaulipas was killed in September, her body dumped beside a monument in the border city of Nuevo Laredo with a note signed by the Zetas that read: "I am here because of my reports and yours." Headphones had been placed on the victim's decapitated head and a computer keyboard lay nearby. María Elizabeth Macías Castro worked for a local newspaper that did not even report her death.
The Anonymous threat to expose Zeta collaborators was launched in a video in early October featuring a man wearing the movement's trademark Guy Fawkes mask. A voiceover claims the operation is aimed at forcing the Zetas to liberate an unnamed Anonymous participant it says was kidnapped in the state of Veracruz. "You have made a great mistake by taking one of us," it says.
The video created few waves until it was picked up by the mainstream press over the weekend, prompting a frenzied debate on Twitter about the risks involved.
Tweeters associated with Anonymous Iberoamerica, which claims to be the biggest Spanish-speaking Anonymous network, shifted their positions and at one point announced the cancellation of the operation. "#OpCartel is dead. I do not wish to endanger other anons," Sm0k340n tweeted on Sunday night.
Anonymous Iberoamerica posted a blog on Monday announcing the creation of "a special task force" to be formed by invitation only that would continue to execute the plan. It called on insecure hackers not to get involved. "Are we frightened for our lives? Of course. Nevertheless, we believe it is time to say stop," the post said. While the online debate has focused on the dangers to the activists, Stratfor, a US security consultancy that published an analysis of the original video on Friday, underlined the fact that anybody named would be immediately vulnerable to attacks by Zeta rivals, whether or not the information was true.
Gustavo Rosario, the first to be targeted, has been accused of cartel links for years and had been partially rehabilitated as an adviser to Tabasco's governor. His website, seen by some as an effort to clean his image, was launched just two days before it was brought down. He could not be immediately reached, and the Tabasco government declined to comment.
The confusion around #OpCartel deepened with people claiming to speak in the name of Anonymous México denying any connection. "Our struggle is not of this kind and our ideals do not fit with this operation," @AnonymousMexi wrote. Internet becomes a new battleground in Mexico's drug wars kidnap