Drug king pins don’t usually have much time for nerds. Unless, of course, those nerds happen to be incredibly bright engineers able to build out clandestine radio networks.
An alarming report in Wired Thursday (Nov. 1) highlighted the disturbing phenomenon of disappearing Mexican engineers, kidnapped by drug lords like the deadly Zetas to build shadow communication networks, which allow the cartels not only to communicate securely, but also to hack military radio systems.
According to the report, at least 36 engineers and technicians have been kidnapped over the past four years alone, disappearing without a trace and no word to their families.
Hidden in rocky, off-the-beaten-track terrain, powered by solar cells, “Radio Zeta” apparently thrives, despite the best efforts of the Mexican government to shut it down. Even the dismantling of over 167 illegal radio antennas last year alone did not make a dent in the organization’s capabilities.
Like a Medusa, the cartel simply stole more equipment and set up an even wider web.
Horror stories of masked gunmen hijacking radio antenna contractors from Nuevo Laredo, a border town and Zeta stronghold, an IBM engineer snatched from the wrong side of the Texas border and tales of others bundled into cars from outside their workplaces have become almost commonplace.
The Mexican government seems at a loss to help.
It’s an incredibly sorry and scary situation. But of course, kidnapping engineers is not exactly a new phenomenon. After all, weren’t the pyramids –one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world-- built by slaves?
If knowledge is power, by kidnapping engineers, the drug cartels have managed to forcibly enhance themselves from simply being a group of underworld thugs into something much, much more dangerous.
This problem needs a radical, holistic approach, a solution that creates a new paradigm. More of the same simply means an "arms race" as each side tries to gain an advantage over the other - and kidnapping engineers is just one step in that process. Next will be the kidnapping (or bribing) of personnel from high-tech military and intelligence facilities.
The solution: legalise drugs. Prohibition doesn't work. The debate is over, the only question remaining is the details.
Engineers are always very valuable. I actually don't see it weird that drug lords kidnap them, although this is indeed frightening.
But what really puzzles me is that why doesn't the Mexican government recruits engineers and fight back ?
I'm sure that the day of using just a police and guns have gone. There's a need for more sophisticated fight techniques I guess.
There seems to be a lot of corruption in Mexico extending up through the police force and into the government. That may be why the "despite the best efforts of the Mexican government to shut it down" doesn't seem to be working.
Whatever was the case with the ancient Egyptians... I reckon they were probably better employers than the Zetas.... It is indeed super frightening, Dylan.
I wonder if the Mexican government could start recruiting engineers itself, to fight fire with fire, so to speak?
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.