Plans by Anonymous to expose members and associates of a Mexican drug cartel have reportedly been abandoned, at least locally, amid doubts whether a member of the hacking collective was ever really kidnapped by the group.
In an ultimatum posted on YouTube on 6 October (and much later in English), Anonymous threatened to publish data on cartel members and affiliates in Veracruz unless an unnamed male kidnap victim was released by 5 November. The kidnapping supposedly happened during a street protest in the Mexican state of Veracruz or a leafleting campaign (reports vary). The hackers threatened to expose journalists, taxi drivers and corrupt cops that have collaborated with the cartel.
Los Zetas - a ruthless gang of drug traffickers known for kidnap, mass murder and hanging bloggers by their own intestines - reportedly responded to the ultimatum by hiring computer experts to track down individuals involved in the online anti-cartel campaign, dubbed #OpCartel.
Two self-identified OpCartel participants, Skill3r and Glyniss Paroubek, told Mexican newspaper Milenio on Sunday that the operation had been abandoned (following an internal debate) as "too risky" because it placed even those outside the hacker group in danger.
This might be just as well because security analysts warned that if Anonymous exposed details of the Zetas' operations this would almost certainly result in further bloodshed. Outing cartel members would act as a motive for reprisal attacks against bloggers. Meanwhile rival gangs might target those named on the list, regardless of its authenticity or accuracy.
"If Anonymous is able to increase the effectiveness of online operations seeking to expose cartel activities then that makes them and other anti-cartel bloggers in Mexico much higher profile targets than before," security analyst firm Stratfor warns.
"We have seen reports that Los Zetas are deploying their own teams of computer experts to track those individuals involved in the online anti-cartel campaign, which indicates that the criminal group is taking the campaign very seriously. Those individuals involved face the risk of abduction, injury and death — judging by how Los Zetas has dealt with threats in the past," it adds.
Anonymous members in the English-speaking world may still continue the campaign to release the details of Los Zetas collaborators, even without the involvement of their compadres in Mexico. Notorious Anonymous hacker Sabu, for example, tweeted: “# OpCartel is more alive than ever and as I told others in private, the war against corruption is on both sides of the spectrum. We are going to WAR!”
Conflicting statements from within the Anonymous camp have prompted the re-examination of #OpCartel more generally. Many have begun questioning whether an Anonymous member was ever kidnapped in Veracruz, the Guardian reports. For one thing issuing an ultimatum demanding the release of an unnamed person makes no sense. And why isn't there any mention of a date of the supposed kidnapping or police reports of a missing person associated with PaperStorm, the Anonymous-organised event in December and March, referenced in the YouTube videos?
Some have begun describing the kidnapping pretext - if not Operation Cartel itself - as a hoax.
Purported organisers of #OpCartel posted on the website called Anonymous IberoAmerica. "The Anonymous IberoAmerica site is now soliciting anonymous tips on cartel collaborators," the Guardian concludes. "That suggests that, if the promised revelations materialise, they could be nothing more than common rumours or gossip sent in by tipsters or foes of those named." ®