"Broly" and his friends
Cartels also have analysts working for them, monitoring social media "to find out what Mexicans are saying and keeping an eye on the movement of troops in and out of a city," according to Antoine. Doing so means the bosses can direct their own forces appropriately without picking up any unwanted attention on the ground. Cartels are also using encryption techniques like Onion routing to stay one step ahead of the law. "They are aware of the need to cover their tracks in cyberspace," Antoine said.
It's important to note that the cartels' application of this kind of approach, while relatively new, is far from crude. In May of this year, one half of the duo behind Blog del Narco—the most read and influential blog on Mexico's drug war—disappeared. His partner, who goes under the pseudonym "Lucy," told the Guardian he had called her phone, before saying "run" and hanging up immediately. The pair had agreed to use "run" as a codeword for fleeing the country when things got really dangerous, but it's unknown whether Lucy's partner ever made it out as he hasn't been heard from since.
If the cartels did get to him before he made it across the border, they wouldn't have done so easily. "It has been done by advanced means: reverse hacking and finding out the identity of the people who are behind what are often anonymous posts online," Antoine explained. "It takes some technological savvy to find out who's behind them and then to track them down and kill them in real space."
It's similar technology that would account for the rise of a whole new kind of crime: "express kidnappings," which are typically planned and carried out in a number of hours rather than days and usually don't involve anyone being taken hostage at all.
A car filled with weed.
According to Antoine, "New technologies such as smart-phones are leaving people very vulnerable to kidnappings." After hackers have compromised a device belonging to a target, the target receives a call telling them that their relative has been taken hostage—a claim legitimized with location data and other information taken from the phone. They're also told that they're being watched, with the criminals tracking their whereabouts through GPS. The victim is then told that they must not hang up, before being directed to an ATM and getting in a taxi to head to a meeting point where they've been told to hand over the money.
Once they arrive, the criminals can simply take what they want and drive away, all without leaving the comfort of their keyboard. Of course, this technology could also be used by cartels to very easily trace an assassination target, or even for the hitman to take the lazy approach and lure the mark out to wherever they wanted, before putting a bullet between their eyes and driving off without undertaking any of the traditional legwork.
Whatever the outcome, it's achievable with very few resources and was impossible before the increase of cheap, readily available smart phones.
A photo of a cartel member's suped-up 4x4.
However, with the cartels becoming more reliant on the internet, it could also easily become an Achilles' heel. "At the moment it gives them an edge," Antoine told me, "but it could backfire very quickly."