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Anonymous hackers declare war on Mexican drug cartel

Two medals of the Zetas drug cartel are on display at the Museum of Drugs in Mexico City, on August 18, 2010.

Las Zetas are known as an especially brutal Mexican drug cartel even by the standards of other Mexican drug cartels. Damien Cave, Mexico-based correspondent for The New York Times, says, "Their modus operandi has been to intimidate people with really gruesome horrific violence: beheadings, messages on bodies saying don't mess with us, killing women, they're accused of killing children. They're really a very intense group. They're led by people who were former special forces for the Mexican military. They don't have the same supply routes that some of the other cartels have so they have a different business model in which intimidation and violence are part of it."

And that's the group that some members of Anonymous are now taking on. They claim that one of their group was kidnapped by the Zetas and in response to that, and as part of an effort to strike back against the drug cartel system in general, they plan to release information on people they claim are connected to the cartel.

Barrett Brown is a former Anonymous member who has been working with the group again on what's called Operation Cartel. He says the information was obtained from the Mexican government. "These emails among other things," he says, "provide names of known supporters of Zetas, including taxi cab drivers, police officers, journalists and others who do the work of Zetas."

But inclusion on that list doesn't necessarily mean the person is a willing participant in Zetas operations, says Cave. "One of the things that's not really realized until you go to one of these places is these cartels rely on everyone in order to succeed. They have lookouts everywhere. They have police officers who give them tips on when the police are investigating them. They have business owners they have to extort that also give them information. So it's a really wide network that they have and one of risks here is people who might be identified as collaborators of the Zetas may not be collaborating on their own will."

The publication of these names could lead to these people being killed, possibly by rival gangs or by vigilante citizen groups. Brown says he can accept that in the cause of the greater war against the cartels. "I think I'm just as comfortable," he says, "as both of my grandfathers were when they dropped bombs on targets in World War II knowing that they were going to kill civilians and enemy troops alike. Or my brother was in the first Iraq war. I have no problem with it whatsoever."

Anonymous members are good at remaining anonymous. But even if the Zetas don't find them, they could go after another group online, says Cave. "You have this underground social network-based citizen journalism movement that's risen up to take the place of the intimidated press corps. So the fear is that those people who are less able to protect their anonymity -- they're going to be the ones who are vulnerable. They're going to be all thrown in with Anonymous and the hackers. So that's one of the real concerns is that the little bit of freedom of the press Mexico now has through blogs or social networks could be in danger because of this."

Also on today's program, Amazon has a new augmented reality app called Amazon Flow. You point it your camera at a book cover or DVD in a store and it will tell you what the same thing would cost at Amazon. So should you save the money and get it mailed to you or just buy it at the store you've already gone to?

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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