A frequently quoted report by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), a former division of the Justice Department, made exaggerated claims about the activity of Mexican drug cartels in the United States, reported the Washington Post on Sunday.
The crime report was released in 2011, and claimed that Mexican cartels were active in more than 1,000 American cities. A number of prominent news outlets cited this figure, as did Senator John McCain in a speech at an Armed Services Committee meeting on security in the Western Hemisphere.
However, government officials and drug law analysts told the Post that the number is exaggerated due to unsound research methods. The report was based largely on self-reporting rather than documented cases.
Said one Justice Department official, "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,'"
In more than a dozen cities, police officials expressed surprise that their districts were named as having cartel infiltration. The list included remote areas of Montana, Idaho and Arkansas, where cartel activity seems unlikely.
When confronted with the report, Randy Sobel, chief of police in Middleton, N.H. said “That’s news to me.”
According to Peter Reuter, a University of Maryland professor who once co-directed drug research for the Rand think tank, “They say there are Mexicans operating here and they must be part of a Mexican drug organization … These numbers are mythical, and they keep getting reinforced by the echo chamber.”
Despite the report’s inflated claims, there is no denying that Mexican cartels have their hands in drug distribution in the U.S. An estimated 90 percent of illegal heroin, cocaine, speed and marijuana comes from Mexico, reports the Post.
And increasingly, cartels are hiring U.S. military personnel to commit murders, according to Business Insider. A cartel may pay a serviceman triple their normal monthly salary to take out one hit.