For the vast majority of us, who don't have access to
high-level law enforcement data, the best way to keep track of Mexican drug
cartel activity is by reading the newspaper. But with information often
dispersed in local sources and reporting on the ground becoming increasingly
dangerous, it can be difficult to get a big picture view of how the drug
war is progressing. But a new tool developed by two Harvard graduate students
could help provide such a broad view.
Rios and Michele Coscia have created
an algorithm they call MOGO (Making Order Using Google As an Oracle) which
processes Google data to track cartel activity. "MOGO does the jobs we could
never do," Rios told me in a phone interview today. "It reads all of the
newspapers that have ever been published in the last 20 years and extracts
information about whether and when a particular cartel is mentioned and where
that cartel is mentioned. We get the organization, the municipality in which it
is supposedly operating, and the year in which the note was published."
That raw data can
then be used to show how a particular cartels area of operation has changed
over time. For instance, here's how the Juarez cartel grew over the last
And the Zetas:
And here's a
picture of how Mexico's various crime organizations have compared in prominence
over the last two decades, with the Zetas, Beltran Levya, and Familia groups
bursting onto the scene, and Juarez seeming to fade in comparison:
these maps give a more nuanced view of cartel activity than existing ones
created by private intelligence firms. "Cartels are not operating all around Mexico,"
she says. On Stratfor's maps it shows every part of Mexico with dominance by
one cartel. That is not true. We analyzed about 2400 municipalities and in
those 2400 we only found presence of drug cartels in 730."
While the data
MOGO gathered may not completely overturn conventional wisdom on cartel
activity -- after all, it's drawn from previously published reports -- it seems
like a powerful new tool for analysis and it's easy to think of applications
well beyond Mexico.