The level of penetration of Mexican drug cartels into the United States is contested, as this article from the Washington Post reports.

An excerpt.

When Sen. John McCain spoke during an Armed Services Committee hearing last year on security issues in the Western Hemisphere, he relayed a stark warning about the spread of Mexican drug cartels in the United States.

“The cartels,” the Arizona Republican said, “now maintain a presence in over 1,000 cities.”

McCain based his remarks on a report by a now-defunct division of the Justice Department, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), which had concluded in 2011 that Mexican criminal organizations, including seven major drug cartels, were operating in more than 1,000 U.S. cities.

But the number, widely reported by news organizations across the country, is misleading at best, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and drug policy analysts interviewed by The Washington Post. They said the number is inflated because it relied heavily on self-reporting by law enforcement agencies, not on documented criminal cases involving Mexican drug-trafficking organizations and cartels.

The Post interviewed local police officials in more than a dozen cities who said they were surprised to learn that the federal government had documented cartel-related activity in their communities.

“That’s news to me,” said Randy Sobel, chief of police in Middleton, N.H.

“I have no knowledge of that,” said David Lancaster, chief of police in Corinth, Miss.

NDIC’s headquarters in Pennsylvania was closed last year and its personnel folded into the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA officials declined to release a list of the cities, calling it “law enforcement sensitive.”

Privately, DEA and Justice Department officials said they have no confidence in the accuracy of the list.

“It’s not a DEA number,” said a DEA official who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the report. “We don’t want to be attached to this number at all.”