Anonymous could begin publicly releasing the names of politicians, journalists, police officers and taxi drivers with ties to Mexico’s violent drug cartels as early as Monday afternoon.
The move by the loose-knit hacker collective to release the names comes as retaliation for the kidnapping of a member of the hacker group in Veracruz earlier this month
It is all but assured to spark more violence in Mexico’s drug war, as cartels target people they believe are associates of rival gangs.
“#OpCartel – The dice are already rolling. It’s not possible -even for us- to stop them. The first strike will be made within the few hours,” Anonymous Hispano warned in a Twitter post Monday afternoon, using the #OpCartel hashtag associated with the effort.
While Anonymous is better known for its information-war attacks on Scientology, law enforcement, and big banks, Anonymous Latin America has taken a role in the Mexican drug war. The group has been critical of the cartels for executing journalists and people who post information about the cartels on social networks, as well as officials who accept bribes from the drug gangs, which move narcotics from South America, through Mexico and into the United States.
“We encourage anyone who is not properly protected to immediately and publicly disassociate themselves from this operation, as it is an extremely risky operation in which there is an imminent and probable loss of a great number of human lives,” Anonymous said in the blog post and on the video. “Nobody will be ridiculed as cowards, or accused of abandoning their Anonymous brethren in the bloodiest battle. We know that many are eager to participate, but we ask you to reconsider.”
The blog post and video came as Anonymous tried to stifle rumors that the operation had been called off entirely. Those rumors started after two people claiming to be members of Anonymous told the newspaper Milenio that the operations against Los Zetas was a hoax.
Since the movement is by definition anonymous, it’s often difficult to tell who’s acting under the Anonymous name: Anyone can claim the Anonymous banner. And members of the movement often disagree on tactics and strategy.
In a video released earlier this month, Anonymous said one of its members had been kidnapped by Los Zetas during street protests in Veracruz. The group said if the member was not released it would begin publicizing the names of politicians, police officers, journalists and taxi drivers that have been working with Los Zetas.
That drew a report from the global security firm Stratfor, which warned the action by Anonymous would almost certainly result in more murders in Mexcio’s drug war, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives in the past five years.
The authors of the blog post, who identified themselves only as the managers of Anonymous Latin America, said they had considered the risks involved before deciding to go forward with the information.
“Are we afraid for our lives? Of course,” the blog post said. “However, we believe it is high time to say enough to the terrible situation caused by the falsehood of the government and lack of scruples of people who do not care about the welfare of their fellow human beings and have resulted in a deplorable state of ruin and disappointment in places like Mexico.”
Anonymous said it would begin investigating tips left on the #OpCartel hashtag on Twitter, which at times has been collecting close to 600 posts per hour. Many of the posts, however, focus instead on the pros and cons of the operation.
It was not clear how Anonymous will verify ties to the cartels, but, as Stratfor noted in its report, simply being named as being complicit to Los Zetas’ activities is enough to be killed. The implication on the thread Wednesday afternoon was that Anonymous will hack email accounts and phone lines of the suspected accomplices to verify their cooperation with drug cartels.
Journalists, politicians and police officers have all been the targets by the cartels with bribes and death threats. Taxi drivers are also forced into service as lookouts by the cartels.
With the mainstream Mexican media largely silenced on the coverage of the drug war, many Mexicans have resorted to crime blogs and the anonymity of social networks to share information about the cartels.
Last month, however, Los Zetas killed three people who had posted information about the cartels on popular crime blogs. In other cases, the cartels have posted false information on social networks and recruited hackers to help identify their online critics.