The different cartels operating in Mexican border cities are setting up their own “intelligence centers” equipped with cameras, communications and a rudimentary dispatch office from where they send information gathered by their cameras, lookouts or sources to their operators.
Criminal organizations like the Sinaloa cartel or the Jalisco New Generation cartel are setting up proper “intelligence bunkers” from where they keep a tight watch on authorities, citizens and “enemies” along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Mexican officials and cartel members speaking with Fox News Digital.
In July, the local authorities of the Mexican border city of Tecate, Baja California, found over a dozen “illegal security cameras” around the city allegedly owned by the Sinaloa cartel.
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“After an investigation we found these cameras didn’t belong to any of the city or state security forces and decided to remove them in an attempt to combat the criminal organizations operating here,” Tecate’s chief of police, Leopoldo Tizoc Durán, said in a press release.
In Tijuana, the cartel pays a monthly rent to home or business owners to install security cameras on their properties, according to a Sinaloa cartel operative speaking with Fox News Digital anonymously.
“We pay from 500 pesos to 1,000 ($25 to $50) for installing a couple of cameras around their property,” the operative said. “Those images go straight to a safe house where we have people sending out reports.”
The cartel receives screenshots or clips via WhatsApp on private groups of cartel operatives regarding rival cartels or members of a police force entering a city or a neighborhood.
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“This is also how we find people easily around a city. When someone owes us money or a rival is hiding, it doesn’t take too long for his face or vehicle to pop up on one of these cameras,” the operative said.
Authorities in border states like Baja California and Sonora are seizing illegally installed security cameras mostly at border cities’ main highways, but according to a Tijuana state police official who asked to remain anonymous, the cameras installed on private property are still operating.
The security cameras draw power from electric lines over the city’s streets and are connected to the internet, according to officials.
“We can’t remove those cameras that easily, we need an order from a judge to enter the property and uninstall those cameras that we know are owned by the cartels,” the official told Fox News Digital.
The cartel’s intelligence centers also gather information from the hundreds of lookouts settled at the entrance of various cities or on the top of the mountains around.
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The lookouts, known as “halcones” (hawks in Spanish) send information regarding vehicles, plate numbers and or untypical visitors like non-Mexican nationals or flashy cars, according to the cartel operative.
“On the border we also use drones to watch over the gringos (Americans). We write down the shifts of the Border Patrol or if they catch some of the migrants we were smuggling,” the operative in Tijuana said.
In cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, the local cartels also have a makeshift “dispatch center” from where an operator can send for back up in case of a fire fight or place a hit against a rival or police.
A cartel member in Tijuana detailed how they have mapped the city by different sectors and settled hitmen on each sector to be ready to attack a target.
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“Tijuana now has a lot of policemen around the city, so if a sicario moves far from where the hit is made, the probabilities of him being arrested are high, but if we call one of the hitmen at a certain sector and he goes and do the work and then gets back to his hideout on by only a couple of blocks away, it is very hard that he would get caught,” the cartel member told Fox News Digital.
Although Mexican authorities are actively trying to combat the cartels in Mexico, the sophistication of the criminal organizations in Mexico are overwhelming the security forces.
“The use of security cameras are only the latest example of how criminal groups in Mexico are taking advantage of the technology to keep committing crimes,” security analyst firm Insight Crime noted in a recent article.