Anonymous vs. Zetas Amid Mexico's Cartel Violence
MIN READNov 2, 2011 | 17:01 GMT
By Scott Stewart The online activist collective Anonymous posted a message on the Internet on Oct. 31 saying it would continue its campaign against Mexican criminal cartels and their government supporters despite the risks. The message urged inexperienced activists, who might not be practicing proper online security measures, to abstain from participating. It also urged individuals associated with Anonymous in Mexico not to conduct physical pamphlet drops, participate in protests, wear or purchase Guy Fawkes masks, or use Guy Fawkes imagery in their Internet or physical-world activities. Guy Fawkes was a British Roman Catholic conspirator involved in a plot to bomb the British Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. The British celebrate the plot's failure as Guy Fawkes Day each Nov. 5. In modern times, the day has come to have special meaning for anarchists. Since 2006, the style of the Guy Fawkes mask used in the movie "V for Vendetta" has become something of an anarchist icon in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
It was no coincidence, then, that in an Oct. 6 video Anonymous activists set Nov. 5 as the deadline for Los Zetas to release an Anonymous associate allegedly kidnapped in Veracruz. The associate reportedly was abducted during an Anonymous leaflet campaign called "Operation Paperstorm." The Oct. 31 message acknowledged that the operation against Los Zetas, dubbed "Operation Cartel," would be dangerous. It noted that some members of the collective would form a group of trusted associates to participate in a special task force to execute the operation. It asked supporters to pass information pertaining to drug trafficking to the Operation Cartel task force for publication on the Internet via a software tool developed by Anonymous that permits the anonymous passing of information. When discussing Anonymous, it is important to remember that Anonymous is not a hierarchical organization, but rather a collective of activists. Individuals who choose to associate themselves with the collective frequently disagree over issues addressed by the collective and are free to choose which actions to support and/or participate in. With Nov. 5 approaching, and at least some elements of Anonymous not backing down on their threats to Los Zetas, we thought it would be useful to provide some context to the present conflict between Anonymous and Los Zetas and to address some of its potential implications.
ContextThe Mexican port city of Veracruz has been the epicenter of this event. Veracruz has been a busy place over the past few months in terms of Mexico's cartel wars. The port serves as a critical transportation hub for Los Zetas narcotics smuggling. Because of this, STRATFOR has identified Veracruz as a bellwether for determining Los Zetas' trajectory in the coming months. In a major recent development in Veracruz, the Sinaloa cartel began an offensive into the Zetas stronghold using the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), which, under the name "Matazetas" (Spanish for "Zeta killers"), conducted high-profile body dumps of more than 50 alleged low-level Zetas operatives on Sept. 20 and Sept. 22. On Oct. 25, Mexican marines arrested Carlos Arturo Pitalua-Carillo, also known as "El Bam Bam," who was the Zetas' plaza boss in Veracruz. The Zetas in Veracruz thus are feeling pressure from both the Mexican government and the CJNG. The Anonymous Internet collective entered this dynamic in August with its activities in Veracruz. It is common knowledge that members of local, state and federal governments in Mexico support various cartel groups. In the state of Veracruz, it is generally believed that some members of the state government support Los Zetas, the dominant cartel there. In response to this corruption, some who have associated themselves with Anonymous launched Operation Paperstorm. These activists distributed leaflets throughout Veracruz denouncing the state government for supporting Los Zetas. They conducted leaflet distributions Aug. 13, Aug. 20 and Aug. 29. They also released videos on the Internet on Aug. 26 and Aug. 29 condemning the Veracruz state government. Activities outside Veracruz also played a part in setting the stage. On Sept. 13, the bodies of two people who had been tortured and killed were hung from a pedestrian overpass in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. Signs left with the bodies said Los Zetas had killed the pair because they had posted information pertaining to the Zetas on blogs that specialize in reporting on the Mexican cartels. On Sept. 26, the decapitated body of Marisol Macias Castaneda was found in a park in Nuevo Laredo. Macias, who worked for a local newspaper, allegedly posted on cartel blogs using the nickname "Laredo Girl." A message found with her body said the Zetas killed her due to her online activities. Following the death of Laredo Girl, Anonymous claimed responsibility for a distributed denial of service attack against the official website of the state of Veracruz. Although her murder occurred outside of the state, Anonymous said its attack on the Veracruz website was in response to Laredo Girl's death. This indicates that activists understand that Los Zetas are active in both areas and suggests that Veracruz state-based activists are driving the Anonymous campaign against Los Zetas. Significantly, some individuals associated with Anonymous already were unhappy with the state of Veracruz over its decision to prosecute two individuals who had posted kidnapping reports on Twitter on Aug. 25 that proved false. According to the reports, a group of children had been abducted from a Veracruz school. The inaccurate reports allegedly caused some two dozen traffic accidents as terrified parents rushed to the school to check on their children. The so-called Twitter terrorists initially were charged with offenses that could have carried a 30-year sentence. Some associated with Anonymous, which has absolute freedom of speech on the Internet as one of its foundational principles, took umbrage at the prospect of such stiff penalties — especially given the stark contrast with the impunity enjoyed by many cartel figures in Mexico. STRATFOR began to focus on the story following the Oct. 6 release of the video in which Anonymous activists threatened to release information about individuals cooperating with Los Zetas if the Zetas did not release the Anonymous activist kidnapped during Operation Paperstorm. In light of the approaching Nov. 5 deadline, we published an analysis of the topic on Oct. 28; the topic subsequently received a great deal of media coverage. This publicity has generated a very interesting response from Anonymous that emphasizes that it is a collective, not an organization. Some Anonymous activists began to back off the issue, erasing online user accounts formerly associated with the campaign, suggesting the operation against Los Zetas had been a hoax and claiming that no activist had been kidnapped. Other activists suggested that the campaign was dangerous, ill-advised and should be suspended. Still other activists became more strident and determined in their posts, urging that the campaign continue. As noted, Anonymous' collective nature means activists can select the actions they participate in, including Operation Cartel. It would only take one dedicated individual to continue the operation. The will to continue was manifested Oct. 29 with the hacking of the personal website of Gustavo Rosario Torres, the former attorney general of the Mexican state of Tabasco. The site was defaced with a message from Anonymous Mexico stating that Rosario is a Zeta. Rosario has long been accused in the Mexican and international media of protecting Los Zetas, and videos long have circulated on YouTube making the same charge. The hacking of his website thus did not provide any startling revelation; Anonymous will have to uncover and publish original and timely information if it hopes to do much damage to Los Zetas. The determination by some activists to continue the operation against Los Zetas also was reflected in the tone of the Oct. 31 message. Some activists associated with Anonymous clearly feel compelled to continue with the campaign over what they have characterized as an outpouring of public support in the wake of the media coverage. According to their Oct. 31 video statement:
"We received many expressions of support and solidarity as well as the voices of people crying for help. We must remember that we are on the side of the people, and we cannot let down the people, especially in critical moments like the one they currently live in."We therefore anticipate that some Anonymous activists will continue the campaign. We also believe that Los Zetas will respond.