Cartel Comms: Chasing Down the Clandestine Communication Networks of Mexican Drug Cartels


Right across the border from McAllen, Texas in Reynosa, Mexico exists an integrated, modern, self-contained intelligence network run by the notorious Mexican Gulf Cartel.  Through video surveillance and human eyes, called “hawks”, this intelligence cell monitors social media and reports street-level information to their designated sector’s “Central” via push-to-talk phone radios and clandestine radio networks.  While Central can be a mobile command post vehicle, in most cases it’s the traditional safe house: a nondescript house or apartment. From here, the information is disseminated to the the leaders of each regional area, called Commandantes, and then to their Sicarios, or hitmen, when actionable intelligence is produced.

Breitbart Texas has run a series of articles on the illegal narco-communication network problems in Reynosa; even going as far as to recruit “citizen journalists” to report on newly discovered antenna and repeater locations throughout the city to help the police and military take away the cartel’s eyes and ears.  The history of these narco-clandestine radio networks and how they operate is a fascinating study for the Patriot-Prepper.  As is often the case with most underground networks, the recipe started out very simple, with simple equipment like two-way radio’s and some repeaters, and a fairly even mixture of brains and balls.

There is a nefarious side to this endeavor also, being that’s these clandestine communications are run by a drug cartel, which, because of their lack of depth in the tech department, have resorted to kidnapping  scores of network engineers and technicians to both develop and maintain the various network sites.   As law enforcement is putting the full court press on, trying to take away the cartel’s ability to communicate, these towers are often being dismantled as fast as the cartels can put them up; thus the increased need for more manpower and technical know-how.  The worst part is these people are never held for ransom: they just disappear, often being worked by the cartel for years on end and then discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.

It can be said that, typically, narco-organizations’ tactics change when they reach a “crisis” stage in the frequency and manner of law enforcement interdiction.  This crisis stage typically signifies a need to upgraded equipment and techniques to outmatch law enforcement. Combine this with a virtually unlimited cash flow and operating budget and, in the tech-world, the options are endless, especially when considering what they could develop over the next decade.

Insofar as creating a practical application for a local group of citizens starting up their own self-contained communication network, the notes should be taken into consideration:

  • The network began by using commercially available software, such as digital inversion software, that scrambles radio chatter into garbled non-sense (which is generally legal over MURS frequencies).
  • Radio gear, as opposed to cell phone tech, is cheaper and typically more rugged for field use.
  • Walkie-Talkies are far less susceptible to being traced or tapped (much less than a burner phone, even).  And in the event a field operator suspects his comms are compromised, he can change frequencies or deploy a Voice Scrambler Code.
  • Two-Way radio ranges can be extended by a simple set of repeaters, which can be placed strategically (and can be camouflaged) in the AO.  Camouflaging a repeater won’t do anything to prevent signal direction finding, but it can help prevent its physical discovery.
  • A simple surveillance system of hidden cameras can be deployed and placed strategically throughout the AO to provide real-time intel on a variety of factors.


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Great article. Communications is a vital resource in any event. Even just day to day.

[…] This article was written Steven Frost and originally posted at Forward Observer Magazine. […]

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