Mexican criminal syndicates, including the notorious Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, establish sophisticated “intelligence bunkers” to closely monitor activity along the U.S.-Mexico border. This revelation came from statements made by Mexican officials and insiders within the cartel.
In a recent instance, the local authorities of Tecate, a border city in Baja California, discovered numerous unauthorized security cameras throughout the city, suspected to be properties of the Sinaloa cartel. Leopoldo Tizoc Durán, the city’s top police officer, stated in a press release, “These cameras were not affiliated with any municipal or state security agencies, which prompted their removal to thwart the activities of these criminal entities.”
According to an insider from the Sinaloa cartel, in Tijuana, residents and business proprietors receive monthly payments in exchange for hosting these surveillance cameras. “We compensate individuals anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pesos ($25 to $50) for placing a few cameras around their premises,” disclosed the informant. He further revealed that these footages are directly relayed to a concealed location for analysis.
Screenshots or snippets of videos, especially those of competing cartels or incoming police forces, are disseminated among cartel members through encrypted platforms like WhatsApp. “Our surveillance network is so extensive that tracking down someone who owes us or is hiding becomes a straightforward task,” the insider shared.
While several illicit cameras, particularly those along major highways, have been confiscated by the authorities of border regions like Baja California and Sonora, many others remain active. Cameras on private land, in particular, pose a legal challenge. A Tijuana police representative, who opted for anonymity, mentioned, “For us to remove cameras from private properties, we require a judicial warrant.”
Beyond camera surveillance, cartels utilize a vast network of sentinels, known locally as “halcones” (or hawks). These informants, stationed at city entrances or elevated terrains, provide real-time data on specific vehicles, license plates, and unusual visitors. Additionally, drones are employed to monitor U.S. border agents and their operations.
Urban areas such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez witness these cartels operating rudimentary “dispatch hubs,” coordinating backups during skirmishes or ordering assaults on foes or law enforcement officers. Detailing their modus operandi, a member from a Tijuana-based cartel said they’ve divided the city into sectors, with designated hitmen ready for quick action. This tactical approach significantly reduces the chances of their arrest post-operations.
Despite the continuous efforts by Mexican law enforcement agencies, the technological adeptness and the evolving strategies of these criminal groups seem to outpace their efforts. As Insight Crime, a security analysis agency, recently highlighted, “The incorporation of surveillance technology is just a recent addition to the vast array of tools used by these criminal factions to perpetuate their illegal deeds.”