Members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous who threatened to post identifying information online about the civilian associates of Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most powerful and violent drug cartels, have backed down just days before the November 5 target date for their operation.
The sudden withdrawal comes by way of a report in Mexican newspaper Milenio, published online Sunday night, which features comments from two self-identified Anonymous Operation Cartel participants, Skill3r and Glyniss Paroubek.
“We didn’t want irresponsible administrators to condemn participants [in the Operation] to death,” the two Anonymous spokespeople are quoted as saying (translated). “We’ve discussed it extensively and and we all decided to remove it.”
The pullback comes not a moment too soon. Los Zetas has reportedly begun hunting down the hackers. As global intelligence firm Stratfor reported on Tuesday:
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.
Stratfor earlier sounded a similarly dire note in its first report on the Anonymous campaign on October 28, writing: “Loss of life will be a certain consequence if Anonymous releases the identities of individuals cooperating with cartels… The validity of the information Anonymous has threatened to reveal is uncertain, as it might not have been vetted. This could pose an indiscriminate danger to individuals mentioned in whatever Anonymous decides to release.”
The firm’s analysis echoes warnings given by former Drug Enforcement Agency international chief Mike Vigil, who told the Houston Chronicle on Saturday that if the hackers went ahead with their plans, those identified as Los Zetas operatives would almost certainly be targeted by rival cartels.
A self-identified member of Anonymous Veracruz first issued the threats against the cartels in a YouTube video posted on October 6 in Spanish, then later in English, claiming that Anonymous members were sitting on personally-identifying information of taxi drivers, journalists and police officers who had worked with the cartel. The masked speaker in the video threatened to release the information unless the cartel released an Anonymous member that the speaker said had been kidnapped in Veracruz during another Anonymous Operation, dubbed “Paperstorm.”
Milenio also references a pre-emptive text disclaimer by Anonymous floating around the Web saying that any information published about alleged cartel supporters should not be credited to the group.
The disclaimer appeared to be similar in content to one posted on October 30 on the Anonymous Mexico Facebook page, which reads (translated via GlobalVocies):
Dear Followers of this page. Through this medium Anonymous Mexico denies all responsibility about the news of the hacking of one page allegedly related to a cartel. [..] Our fight is not of this kind and our ideals are not in tune with that operation. The note published in many electronic media is completely false. We ask for your support in distributing this communique.
Milenio also cites various Anonymous Twitter handles as calling for the Operation’s cancellation, including a user under the name “@Sm0k34n0n.” At the time of this posting, the account appeared to be deleted.
At the same time, Milenio points out that other Anonymous members in the English-speaking world have not thrown in the towel and are still planning on releasing incriminating information about Los Zetas collaborators on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, as originally planned.
The newspaper quotes another Anonymous Twitter account, “@AnonymouSabu,” reportedly belonging to notorious Anonymous hacker Sabu, as tweeting the following: “# 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!”