Skip to navigationSkip to content

Drones would make the perfect drug mules

Confiscated weapons from drug wars
AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini
Be careful what you wish for: If drones get into the wrong hands, governments have a new set of problems.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The mistake that privacy advocates make about drones is their assumption that no one will have drones, if drones are outlawed or their use restricted.

Of course, that is not true.

The first real commercial application of drones may be their use to replace “mules” in the drug importation business and money launders in the cash export business.

People who invest in narco submarines and tunnels underneath the US/Mexican border will likely be investing in computer programmers and autonomous drones. The business case for such an investment starts with costs, but will be driven by strategy and tactics.

A drug exchange that didn’t work out as planned


  1. Use of drone decoys will distract law enforcement from the real “mule.”
  1. Banzai charges of numerous small drones—only a few will need to penetrate our defenses.
  1. No more opening scenes from No Country for Old Men, for drones will eliminate the need for face-to-face exchanges. Exchanges can be made smaller with less personal risk to the participants. Trust will become the currency of the trade.
  1. Money laundering and border controls on currency will no longer be of use. One need merely launch a cash-laden drone to a trusted ally in either Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.
  1. Blackmail will become an important added tool in the criminal arsenal, as dopers learn to use drones to video and identify retail buyers.

Monster Job Posting: Wanted, DNA Drone Wiper

The skill most in demand will likely be the DNA Drone wiper, for as the public learned from the Boston Marathon Bombings: “authorities discovered female DNA on a piece of pressure cooker used to construct a homemade bomb.”

Other Skills

Look for private entrepreneurial efforts using radar to intercept narco drones. The important skills may be hacking to seize control of someone else’s narco drones or designing, building, and operating armed, fighter interceptor drones.

We are not making this up

It is at least rumored that a Mexican gang is using workers from aircraft assembly plants in Mexico to build drones. From a blog post titled, “Drug Cannons and Drones:”

Working from US, European and Israeli designs, aeronautical engineers in Mexico and Latin America have been hard at work to find a drone that can be transported quickly by truck, launched and recovered and subsequently moved and has enough payload weight to meet the needs of their employers (Sinaloa Federation).
Anyone who can build a hobby aircraft successfully has all of the tools to ramp up the dimensions and integrate control technology to build a workable drone. In the case of Cartel Drones, the wings need to fold up so that it will fit in a semi-truck both before and after flight so that it can be serviced, reloaded and flown from another site.
One narco that I spoke to who is familiar with this program said that it’s a lot easier and less expensive than running a drug submarine – but the submarines carry a much more substantial narcotics load than the drones do. However, you can build and operate two dozen drone aircraft for the price of one submarine. The swarm effect also makes it unlikely that more than one at most will be apprehended by American law enforcement at any one time. The assembly line for narcotics drones is located in the Santa Fe District of Mexico City and near the Bombardier factory at Queretaro where aircraft factory workers can moonlight and double their money

In September 2010, a security agency in Mexico warned against cartel use of drones.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.