Mexican drug cartels now operate in more than 1,000 US cities. It's a statistic quoted constantly in rhetoric in the war on drugs—last year John McCain and the House Homeland Security subcommitee were among the many to cite it. And it's almost certainly bogus, law enforcement officials tell the Washington Post. It was generated by the now-defunct National Drug Intelligence Center based on self-reporting from law enforcement, rather than by actual criminal cases. "We don't want to be attached to this number at all," a DEA official says.
"I heard that they just cold-called people in different towns, as many as they could, and said, 'Do you have any Mexicans involved in drugs?' And they would say, 'Yeah, sure,'" one Justice Department official says. The Post identified some of the cities, and found law enforcement there shocked by their inclusion in the count. But the former head of the NDIC says he stands behind the number, and isn't surprised the DEA disavows it. "Agencies don’t like to be told they are not entirely successful," he reasons.