Mexican Drug Cartels Active Nationwide, Obama Administration Officials Say

By Penny Starr | March 1, 2010 | 6:39 PM EST

Some of the cash seized by the DEA in its battle against Mexican drug cartels. (Image courtest of DEA.)

( – A senior Obama administration official said on Monday that Mexican drug cartels are being targeted inside the United States more than along the border with Mexico, echoing remarks last week by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that cartels are operating throughout the country.
Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs David Johnson made the remarks at a State Department press briefing when asked if the plan to combat drug trafficking and money laundering around the world included dealing with Mexican drug cartels in the United States.
Johnson said that U.S. law enforcement agencies are in charge of combating the cartels, but that those agencies have had success targeting those operations on America soil.
“Yes, there’s a broad impact in the United States of cartel operations that are based inland from Mexico,” Johnson said. “I think that illustrates another point that bears some exploring. When people think about, quote end quote, ‘spillover,’ you tend to think of a glass and things that are spilling over right at the border.
“It doesn’t tend to be that way,” Johnson said. “The spillover, if you will, is more broadly in the United States, and some of the border communities would be not nearly as effective than (sic) some of the more inland areas are.”
Testifying at a Feb. 24 hearing on the Department of Homeland Security 2010 budget before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said Mexican drug cartel operations are widespread in the United States.
“I was in Mexico City again just last week,” Napolitano said. “We must continue a concerted and sustained effort against these cartels. Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.5 million people, is right over a bridge from our border, and the rule of law has effectively been lost there.
“The cartels, in essence, have fingertips in the communities across the United States, and so you will see, in different places in the budget, but we are very, very concerned about the situation in Mexico, but we are very, very energized by the effort we are seeing across our federal government and across the Mexican federal government in that regard,” Napolitano said.
According to a May 2009 Congressional Research Service report, 5,630 people died in Mexico from drug cartel-related violence in 2008.
She said that the drug cartels and the violence associated with them are a threat to U.S. security.
“These cartels are big. They're organized. They have fingers that reach into hundreds of American communities,” Napolitano said at the hearing. “And there needs to be a sense of urgency about this if for no other reason than because the presidency of Mexico will expire in another year and a half and also because quite frankly people are dying.”
According to an April 2008 National Drug Intelligence Center report, Mexican drug cartels are operating in 195 U.S. cities.
“Mexican DTOs [Drug Trafficking Organizations] are the most pervasive organizational threat to the United States,” the report said. “They are active in every region of the country and dominate the illicit drug trade in every area except the Northeast.
“Mexican DTOs are expanding their operations in the Northeast and have developed cooperative relationships with DTOs in that area in order to gain a larger share of the northeastern drug market,” the report added.
“Federal, state, and local law enforcement reporting reveals that Mexican DTOs operate in at least 195 cities throughout the United States,” it said.
Johnson held a press briefing at the State Department on Monday to announce the release of the 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. The annual report is given to Congress as mandated by the Foreign Assistance Act.
The report describes the efforts of key countries to attack all aspects of the international drug trade in calendar year 2009. Volume I covers drug and chemical control activities. Volume II covers money laundering and financial crimes.
The countries named in the report as “major illicit drug producing” are Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
Of those, three countries were designated by President Barack Obama, according to the report, as having “failed demonstrably” during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements – Burma, Bolivia and Venezuela.
The report also praises Mexico for its efforts in fighting drug cartels, which were responsible for thousands of deaths in the country in 2009.

“The road ahead will not be an easy one,” the report said. “The drug cartels in Mexico are entrenched and powerful. The broader institutional changes needed to modernize and reform the law enforcement and criminal justice sectors can only take place gradually and over time.
“Carrying through on these changes will require a long-term commitment from both the Mexican government and the people of Mexico,” the report says. “Mexico is on the right path, however, and the Government (sic) has laid out a solid plan for breaking the cartels and protecting public security,” it added.
“The United States will continue to work closely with Mexico to help implement this plan,” the report said.