Game over: geolocating "CJNG Grupo Elite"

When you see something that isn't true, you can often immediately sense that something isn't right

Game over: geolocating "CJNG Grupo Elite"
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On Friday 17 July 2020, a video materialized on social media purportedly showing Cártel Jalisco Nuevo Generación (CJNG) Grupo Elite, a mysterious special forces squad of sicarios in a convoy of 22 vehicles.

A number of things stood out in this video. First, lets take a look at the video:

"CJNG Grupo Elite"

The first step was to watch the video several times looking for small contextual identifiers that could be used to pinpoint a location or general area.

Hunch was wrong
I overlaid several stills into a panorama to get an idea about the shape of hill/mountain we were looking for

The first places I looked were fruitless. I incorrectly guessed maybe it would be on the east side of the Sierra between Guadalajara and the coast. I got a breakthrough by querying Twitter for "Jalisco grupo elite" throughout the day until I found this tweet. The tweet and a Facebook post in the link suggested the location was in Tomatlán on the coastal side of the Sierra, so I posted that on Twitter. This information seems to be based on something posted by a professional security analyst shortly after the video was released on Friday 17 July. For the safety of the individual, that's all I'll say. Another expert also indicated that the information they received was that the video was from somewhere in the Sierra of Jalisco.

The breakthrough came when @bibken, someone who does have experience in geolocation, cracked the whole thing wide open.

Good thinking

We found it but still weren't 100% sure. A mufo, @fucksteve1k posted and messaged with a couple of pictures circulating online about some 4WD vehicles stolen recently that, as it turns out, match some of the vehicles seen in the "Grupo Elite" video exactly save for some new paint. The jeep was stolen in León, Guanajuato.

This was both exhilarating and also concerning. The images circulated on social media could be fake or just someone trolling. But, as far I knew, no influential public figures or journalists had come out publicly saying it was a hoax, so there wasn't really any motive that I could discern for creating phony evidence to discredit anyone influential.

Subsequently, two people sent me an article in which the Secretario de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, Alfonso Durazo, announced publicly that the CJNG Grupo Elite videos were under investigation to determine their authenticity. He later tweeted that the video was a "montage" which essentially means a fabrication. I strongly agree with this assessment.

As far as I know, we didn't have anything to do with the announcement or however government officials determined that the video was fake, but it's nice to see that we arrived at a similar conclusion independently.

If confirmed, the implications of this could be massive. For now, the hypothesis should be rigorously tested by others with expertise in geospatial analysis.

After this was published I decided that it would be better to rule out alternative hypotheses that the video was made somewhere else since the way we arrived at Tomatlán was tenuous. It's certainly possible that whoever identified Tomatlán was simply mistaken, so we decided to look at Guanajuato and Jalisco and several other areas to rule out other possibilities. The physiogeography of Tomatlán is a nearly perfect match to wherever the video was filmed. The plant life, the color of the soil, the shape of the land are all consistent with the location in the video. Nowhere else that we could find was as close of a match. I personally spent about 5 days poring over Guanajuato and Jalisco, and nowhere else in either state had the right combination of elements.

After searching pretty much the entire states of Jalisco and Guanajuato, I believe the only area that the video could have been filmed is somewhere in Jalisco between El Tule, Tomatlán and Campo Acosta.

We still need official confirmation to be certain. It would be very helpful for an expert with access to higher resolution aerial imagery to help test our hypothesis.

We also looked at how the video was distributed on Friday 17 July 2020. The first instance it was posted on social media that we could find was on Twitter at 22:59 UTC or about 6:59 PM EDT. The video was apparently abridged by the limits on the length of videos that users can post on Twitter which cut the video down from 2:50 to around 2:15-2:17. We were unable to find any instances where it was posted earlier than that on Facebook or YouTube. While it's possible the video could have been posted to these sites earlier and subsequently removed, the only evidence we have does not negate the hypothesis that the video originated from private WhatsApp chats, but more evidence is needed to be certain.

I don't claim to show evidence here that this was the military. But if this was filmed in Tomatlán like it appears is the case, why would the group in subsequent videos claim to be coming for El Marro in Guanajuato? Why were images of vehicles stolen in León, Guanajuato circulating virally on social media on Saturday? Why would this group steal at least one of the vehicles in Guanajuato and then take the vehicle to Jalisco to shoot the video if this was supposedly the beginning of an offensive operation against El Marro in Guanajuato?

Image from Google Street View at 19°57'32.82"N, 105°16'8.24"W
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