Barrett Brown vs. The Zetas

The Zetas are a murderous Mexico-based international drug cartel. Barrett Brown is a skinny, chain-smoking white kid who lives in a 378-square-foot apartment someplace in Dallas. I’m not going to get more specific than that about his base of operations, because Barrett has gotten himself into a fight of sorts with the Zetas, and I don’t want to see him disemboweled and hung from a bridge. In fact, right now we can see from our server traffic that people in Mexico are reading this story I wrote about Barrett earlier this year.

Here’s the deal, as best as I can understand it: it seems a “member” of the online collective called Anonymous got kidnapped by the Zetas (though some have suggested the kidnapping wasn’t real). So Anonymous revealed that it combed through 25,000 hacked emails from the Mexican government, and Barrett – who is still being identified as a spokesman for Anonymous, even though he has officially renounced his ties to the group – said that 75 names of Zetas collaborators would be released unless the kidnapped Anon was set free. Are you following? The Guardian and others have said that Operation Cartel has been halted, but The Atlantic and CNN say it’s on, that the names will be released tomorrow. This Americas Quarterly story says the operation has been cancelled – but it’s still on.

This is what happens when you have a former unofficial spokesman for a group that doesn’t exist talking to the media about a story that seems to be changing by the minute. In fact, by the time I put up this post, things could have changed again. Check the OpCartel feed on Twitter for updates.

Anyway, I called Barrett to see if I could get my arms around this thing. Barrett mumbles, and he usually has a cigarette dangling from his lips. So I had a difficult time understanding what he said. Making communication more difficult, he had me on speaker phone while he was going to the bathroom. Bottom line is this, though: the kidnapped person was released, and the Zetas have said that for every name of their collaborators that is released, 10 people will be killed. So, yes, Operation Cartel has officially been halted by Anonymous. But nothing can be done officially by Anonymous since Anonymous has no leadership that can officially do anything. Which is why Barrett himself is moving forward with the operation.

He says the 25,000 emails have been sent to Der Spiegel. And he says he’s working with CNN on a story about a district attorney that, from information gleaned from the emails, appears to be working with the Zetas. In fact, Barrett cut our conversation short because the CNN producer was ringing him on his other line.

Here is what I can report with certitude: Barrett Brown is still alive, and his bladder, for now, is empty.


  • Bill Marvel

    Brave man. I’ll pray for him.

  • I once contemptibly viewed Anonymous, WikiLeaks and other technologically savvy, but politically and civilly disobedient groups. But like so many Egyptian, Syrian and Tunisian protesters armed with cell phone cameras and Twitter accounts, they, too, are citizen journalists. (That’s probably demeaning to them. Find out for me, will ya Tim?) They may almost exclusively come by their information in an unlawful manner, and media organizations strike alliances to obtain that information at their own peril. However, it’s clear civilian and military authorities have been humbled by what they can bring to light with comparatively inconsequential means. If justice can be wrought and innocents saved, then a Faustian bargain might be worth it. This wouldn’t be the first time the United States opted for the Machiavellian approach to solving a problem.

  • Other Bill

    Surely a cartel that regularly skins people alive and makes piles of dozens of dead bodies with mismatched parts are quite terrified of bored imbecilic American children with Guy Fawkes masks.

    I’m sure the next time they assault a police station or a military installation (and win) they’ll be thinking of how much easier it is, rather than fighting feminine Gen Y’s Uptown Dallas. Umm yeah.

  • Bill Marvel

    Other Bill,
    Nice to know whose side you’re on.

  • Clay

    Barrett Brown vs. The Zetas: what happens when the kids who always threaten to tell the teacher and the kids who punch them out for their lunch money grow up.

  • ha!

    ^ that made me chuckle clay,
    – Since this started anonymous has realized what power they have and people underestimate how historical this is, to threaten one of the most ruthless cartel to let one of their members go or risk exposure and succeed!!??

    – Not only does this mean the zetas have to watch what they do (kidnap, extort, threaten, etc..) but this will go for all cartels or bad guys…as long as the world has the internet, any coward who continues to harm the innocent is not safe. Anonymous is a global hacker network and can be anyone, even governments can somehow learn to use this idea to their advantage. The idea of spreading valuable information anonymously through the internet to burn someone or a organization is powerful.

  • mhassett03

    This excites me. I can’t wait for the next chapter.

  • Mark

    The only thing saving this dude is that he’s in the States hanging with CNN. Zetas won’t cross into Dallas to kill a gringo because that path leads to Predator Drones.

    They might kill everybody Cartelli he outs, and then the Mexican govt is going to want him extradited.

  • Phil Kaplan

    I think Barrett Brown would love to join my brother Joey Kaplan’s Dance Party!

  • Nice reporting…

  • Good Helper

    Couple of corrections, Tim.

    * Barrett is an admitted heroin user. Say, don’t the Zetas import H into the U.S.? Ironic.

    * I like the Dallas angle, but Barrett no longer lives here full time. Brooklyn, Yes?

  • I’d be very very careful with Los Zetas…I am Mexican-American and also a Muslim (NP) and I taught ESL to some of their children in Michoacan MX from 07-09 this is a very well financed and tightly knit community…and when you befriend people like El Chango y El Chayo (RIP) you learn things…
    Barrett has BALLS and watches too much Nikita…but I know some of these bastards personally you can’t win….but good luck….there main trade is COCAINE not Heroin…

  • Anon

    Liar !
    He is Not anon.