Mexico's cartels build own national radio system

From the El Paso Times - by Michael Weissenstein - MEXICO CITY (AP) - When convoys of soldiers or federal police move through the scrubland of northern Mexico, the Zetas drug cartel knows they are coming. The alert goes out from a taxi driver or a street vendor, equipped with a high-end handheld radio and paid to work as a lookout known as a "halcon," or hawk. The radio signal travels deep into the arid countryside, hours by foot from the nearest road. There, the 8-foot-tall (2-meter-tall) dark-green branches of the rockrose bush conceal a radio tower painted to match. A cable buried in the dirt draws power from a solar panel. A signal-boosting repeater relays the message along a network of powerful antennas and other repeaters that stretch hundreds of miles (kilometers) across Mexico, a shadow communications system allowing the cartel to coordinate drug deliveries, kidnapping, extortion and other crimes with the immediacy and precision of a modern military or law-enforcement agency. The Mexican army and marines have begun attacking the system, seizing hundreds of pieces of communications equipment in at least three operations since September that offer a firsthand look at a surprisingly far-ranging and sophisticated infrastructure. Current and former U.S. law-enforcement officials say the equipment, ranging from professional-grade towers to handheld radios, was part of a single network that until recently extended from the U.S. border down eastern Mexico's Gulf coast and into Guatemala. Read more


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