Author Biography

James Halverson is a researcher for the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). His researched is focused on non-state nuclear and radiological weapon adoption and the vulnerability of civilian and military RN sources. He holds a BA in Military and Diplomatic History from the University of Maryland College Park.




The years from 2006 through 2011 were very active years for a number of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. However, the group that probably saw the most meteoric rise in this period, Los Zetas, had a unique and innovative tool at their disposal. It was during these years that the group constructed and utilized a proprietary encrypted radio network that grew to span from Texas to Guatemala through the Gulf States of Mexico and across much of the rest of the country. This network gave the group an operational edge. It also stood as a symbol of the latitude the group enjoyed across vast areas, as this extensive illicit infrastructure stood, in the face of the government and rival cartels, for six years. This investigation explicates the process by which Los Zetas constructed, concealed and utilized this network and attempts to draw conclusions about the motivations and organizational dynamics that brought the network to be, with attention paid to what this case says about the complex engineering capabilities of non-state entities in general.


Editor’s Note: This article forms part of a series of related case studies collected in this Special Issue and should be viewed in the context of the broader phenomenon of complex engineering by violent non-state actors. Readers are advised to consult the introductory and concluding papers for a full explanation and comparative analysis of the cases.


This work was supported by Sandia National Laboratories, Contract #1525332. Any opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations in this issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of Sandia National Laboratories or the U.S. Department of Energy.