A. Still no mention of U.S. govt. authorized sale of many thousands
of weapons to Mex. govt. Hard to go anywhere in Mexico without
seeing AR15/M16/M4 in hands of Mex. govt. personnel. Will take some
intense staff work to access these records, there is a extensive
paper trail. Also significant is the continuing lack of Mexican made
weapons, in particular the local knock-off of the H&K G36. Italy
and Germany seem to be the other leading suppliers to Mex. govt.
B. Weapons delivered to Mex. govt. all too often end up used by or
delivered to cartels.
Such as police on cartel's payroll, prison inmates released for the
night, given govt. weapons to carry out operations. "Leakage" theft,
C. Pattern of very light sentences for those convicted over last few
D. The Excaliber/Iknadosian case was handed over to former AZ AG
Goddard, problably to help him in another failed run for Governor of
AZ. Think that is and was only gun running case handed to state
D. Hostile regimes such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc. Believe they
will benefit from arms and drug trafficking which could and has
already de-stabilized Mexico, and by extension the U.S.
Also cannot factor out Asian involvement.
E. Rampant corruption in Central America, a major recipient of U.S.
arms aid over many years.
ATF gun probe: Behind the fall of Operation Fast and Furious
Motives, allegiances add to saga intrigue
by Dennis Wagner - Nov. 27, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
When the National Rifle Association launched a TV ad campaign this
month to have Attorney General Eric Holder fired, it culminated a
political frenzy over a once-obscure Arizona gun-smuggling case.
Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed hundreds of weapons to
cross the border in hopes of catching Mexican drug kingpins, wound up
increasing the firepower of cartels without getting any key players.
By all accounts, both the strategy and execution were flawed, leading
to investigations by Congress and the Justice Department's inspector
The initial story line of Fast and Furious was about outrage -- anger
that guns, let out of sight, had been used in crimes. But the
backstory of the investigation is one of hidden motives, curious
contradictions and strange allegiances, both among those who
organized the effort and those who exposed it:
Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives and the Justice Department authorized the investigation to
catch bad guys, stem the flow of guns to Mexico and, presumably,
elevate their own careers. Instead, they failed to arrest drug lords,
helped arm the cartels and damaged their professional reputations.
Rigid defenders of the right to bear arms, who typically assail ATF
for enforcing gun laws, took a polar position on Fast and Furious,
arguing that ATF agents should have arrested suspected straw buyers
and seized their weapons even though the purchases were, in most
ATF agents who were outraged by the gun-walking strategy normally are
proud to enforce firearms laws. But, ignored by superiors when they
raised questions about the strategy, they turned for support to
Second Amendment bloggers who loathe the ATF and its mission.
Key Republicans in Congress welcomed an opportunity to go after the
Justice Department and White House. All of them have speculated that
the Obama administration devised the investigation so that Mexico
would be flooded with U.S. firearms, thereby justifying new gun-
control legislation. But, as it turned out, the Fast and Furious
strategy originated with field agents in Phoenix and was first
employed not under Democratic leadership, but years earlier during
the Republican administration of George W. Bush.
The upshot: Fast and Furious unfolded to America in the form of spin
provided by multiple players with mixed motives.
What follows is a look at those involved, their agendas and their
roles. It's a tale full of complications and nuance from the streets
of Phoenix to Mexico City to Washington, D.C. It's a saga of
violence, intrigue and impassioned politics.
Flaws begin to emerge
The plan seemed simple: Let some weapons go across the border in
hopes of tracing them to drug lords.
And, at least early on, few seemed to question the strategy devised
by Phoenix ATF agents.
A successful case would put big-time narcotics criminals in prison,
enhance ATF's reputation and advance agents' careers. It might also
put a spotlight on American gun laws that enable straw buyers to help
arm the Mexican syndicates.
But as Fast and Furious progressed in 2009-10, obvious and crucial
flaws emerged: Hundreds of high-powered rifles vanished into Mexico
because investigators had no way to follow the guns -- or to develop
criminal cases against those who wound up with them.
Within weeks, firearms began turning up at Mexican crime scenes,
often next to corpses.
Some ATF agents tried to warn that people in Mexico were getting
killed and that a public-relations disaster was inevitable. A few
lawyers in the Justice Department also became alarmed, pressing for
the flow of firearms to stop.
Their complaints were dismissed or ignored. More guns went south.
Gunrunners were not arrested.
The bloodshed in Mexico escalated.
Then, in December 2010, matters got worse: U.S. Border Patrol Agent
Brian Terry was gunned down in a midnight shootout with banditos near
Rio Rico, and two AK-47-style rifles from Fast and Furious were found
ATF administrators and federal prosecutors kept the connection under
wraps. But, within days, whistle-blower agents started leaking
ATF and Department of Justice officials denied that guns were allowed
into Mexico. But congressional inquiries revealed that more than
2,000 guns were sold to straw buyers during the operation and about
two-thirds of them apparently crossed the border.
Most of the weapons were semiautomatic rifles, but the arsenal
included 34 high-powered .50-caliber guns.
Cartels, which operate like quasi-military outfits, were well-armed
before Fast and Furious. It is impossible to say whether the flow of
guns into Mexico increased because of the gun-walking case or has
diminished in the aftermath.
Still, in retrospect, even those responsible for the operation
admitted to a gross misjudgment: In their zeal to catch high-level
cartel members, they overlooked the potential for mayhem when
criminals get weapons. And the death of Brian Terry provided headline-
The once-obscure case in Phoenix blew into a national controversy,
putting a giant bull's-eye on President Barack Obama and the Justice
The case led to the September resignation of Arizona U.S. Attorney
Dennis Burke and the reassignment of ATF administrators, including
acting Director Kenneth Melson and William Newell, special agent in
charge for Arizona.
Members of Congress called on Obama to appoint a special counsel, and
some demanded that Holder resign.
It remains to be seen how high the scandal will reach or how many it
will drag down.
ATF's image problems
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, with about
5,000 employees, has been plagued for decades by leadership problems,
mishandled cases and relentless criticism from staunch defenders of
the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The bureau dates to America's infancy, when Treasury Department
agents enforced taxes on booze and tobacco. During Prohibition, that
role expanded as investigators targeted bootleggers and the mob. When
gangsters armed themselves with machine guns, and laws were passed to
restrict automatic weapons, ATF's antecedent got the oversight job
over firearms and explosives.
Always controversial because of its taxing and regulatory role, the
ATF has been especially troubled over the past two decades.
In 1992, the bureau played a pivotal role in a shootout at Ruby
Ridge, Idaho, which took the lives of a U.S. marshal, a woman and a
One year later, an ATF siege against the Branch Davidian religious
group near Waco, Texas, ended in a gunbattle and fiery deaths of 76
people, including 20 children and sect leader David Koresh.
In 1995, Time magazine described the bureau as "the most-hated
federal agency in America."
To reduce criticism, the bureau was moved from the Treasury
Department to the Justice Department in 2003.
A 2006 Inspector General Office's report found the ATF rife with
mismanagement and employee grievances.
That same year, Mexican President Felipe Calderón began a crackdown
on narcotics syndicates. Under enforcement pressure, cartels went to
war with one another and with law enforcement. Street massacres
became almost commonplace in border towns like Juarez, Tijuana and
Nogales. Assassins, known as sicarios, did the fighting. And they
Gun sales boomed on the U.S. side of the border, especially in
Arizona and Texas. Licensed firearms dealers were selling 10 or more
semiautomatic rifles at once to customers visiting several times
weekly. Some of the store owners reported the phenomenon to ATF
agents. But most buyers were U.S. citizens with clean records,
legally entitled to acquire an unlimited number of rifles.
Based on the volume and pattern of sales, agents were convinced that
the customers were buying guns on behalf of drug lords in Mexico.
But, without proof, what could they do?
Five years ago, the Bush administration launched Project Gunrunner,
an umbrella campaign to combat firearms smuggling along the
Southwestern border. ATF agents conducted surveillance to find legal
grounds to arrest the straw buyers. Over time, they seized more than
10,000 weapons and indicted scores of low-level criminals.
But straw buyers were easily replaced, the gunrunning continued and
Mexico's mayhem escalated. In four years, more than 35,000 people
died. While Calderón pressed his U.S. counterparts to stem the flow
of weapons, law enforcement struggled to block smuggling operations.
In 2007, acting ATF Director Michael Sullivan told Congress that 90
percent of the criminal firearms recovered in Mexico originated in
the United States. Federal officials now concede the number was
inaccurate because not all guns seized in Mexico get traced, and
those submitted are more likely to have a U.S. connection. But
Sullivan's statistic became a staple of U.S. media reports on cartel
violence, enraging gun-rights advocates who saw it as propaganda to
support anti-gun legislation.
Amid that controversy, Obama was elected president -- prompting
thousands of Americans to buy firearms because they feared a spate of
In 2008, Arizona firearms dealer George Iknadosian was arrested after
authorities said he sold hundreds of weapons to straw buyers. The
case against him was thrown out because prosecutors failed to prove
that he knew the guns were purchased for criminal purposes.
About that time, the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office
began a review of Project Gunrunner to determine whether agents were
wasting resources arresting "minnows" instead of going after drug
lords in Mexico. The inspector general's findings, released in
November 2010: "ATF's focus remains largely on inspections of gun
dealers and investigations of straw purchasers, rather than higher-
Fast and Furious
As the inspector general review was under way, ATF agents in Phoenix
uncovered a network of more than 20 people buying guns at an alarming
rate. A plan was devised to put suspects under surveillance and
conduct wiretaps to identify cartel bosses in Sinaloa. The operation
was named "Fast and Furious."
The strategy was hardly unique: Police have followed contraband for
decades to catch criminal leaders. But guns were different. ATF
agents had been trained never to let a firearm "walk" because of
potentially deadly consequences.
It turns out, however, that Fast and Furious was not the first anti-
smuggling case in which ATF agents used such a technique. Firearms
were allowed into Mexico during two earlier operations, including a
2006-07 Tucson case known as Operation Wide Receiver. Those
investigations were carried out quietly during the George W. Bush
administration, without public controversy.
In Fast and Furious, an agent named John Dodson recognized early on
that allowing guns to travel south could lead to bloodshed and
scandal. What made the strategy especially dubious was the lack of a
plan to follow the weapons. Agents used wiretaps and once installed a
tracking device in the stock of a gun. But, mostly, firearms simply
disappeared. And Mexican authorities, who were pleading with the U.S.
government to prevent the exportation of assault rifles, had no idea.
By early 2010, straw buyers were picking up more than 300 guns
monthly from Arizona firearms dealers, and cartels in Mexico were
killing up to 1,200 people per month. Authorities said one straw
buyer in Phoenix bought a total of 720 guns.
"Although my instincts made me want to intervene and interdict these
weapons," Dodson testified later in a congressional hearing, "my
supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or
arrest but rather to keep the straw purchaser under surveillance
while allowing the guns to walk."
By April 2010, even some ATF administrators were sounding alarms, to
no avail. According to congressional testimony, Dodson and other
agents asked to make seizures but were turned down by prosecutors who
wanted more evidence and by bosses who wanted to catch drug lords.
David Voth, a supervisor over Fast and Furious, warned complainers in
an e-mail that they might wind up working as jail guards if they
continued raising a fuss. He urged them to relish being part of a
major case, writing, "If you don't think this is fun, you're in the
wrong line of work -- period!"
Dodson later told the Center for Public Integrity, a government-
watchdog organization, that massacres were occurring almost daily in
Mexico as gun trafficking escalated. "I even asked them (ATF
supervisors) if they could see the correlation," he said. "With the
number of guns we let walk, we'll never know how many people were
killed, raped, robbed."
On Dec. 14, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Terry was killed. According to
federal records, ATF agents raced to the crime scene only to find
what they feared: two weapons from Fast and Furious. The AK-47-style
rifles had been sold 11 months earlier with ATF blessing at the Lone
Wolf Trading Co. in Glendale to suspect Jaime Avila.
According to ATF records, Avila was a U.S. citizen with no criminal
record, legally eligible to purchase as many rifles as he wanted.
Avila was not under surveillance when he bought the weapons, and
investigators did not learn about the buy until days later.
Still, the public-relations implications were devastating: An
investigation had allowed criminal suspects to walk with guns, two of
which were used during the murder of a federal agent.
Avila was arrested hours after the shooting, and he is accused of
being the leader of an Arizona smuggling ring. He has pleaded not
guilty and is awaiting trial. But his link to the Terry homicide --
and to the gun-walking strategy -- went undisclosed for weeks.
Operation gone haywire
Dodson's fears were compounded by guilt after Terry's death and by
outrage at what he perceives as a cover-up.
He turned for advice and support to colleagues who were not assigned
to the case, Jay Dobyns and Vince Cefalu, two agents so disgruntled
with management that they help operate an Internet site,
cleanupatf.org, assailing ATF leaders with accusations of corruption,
cronyism and incompetence.
Dobyns is an undercover investigator who gained national celebrity
several years ago for penetrating the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
during an Arizona sting operation. In civil-court filings, he alleges
that bureau bosses failed to provide proper protection for his family
when death threats were made, retaliated when he complained, then
sabotaged the investigation of an arson fire at his Tucson home.
Dobyns says the agency he loves is run by arrogant and dishonest
managers. "Fast and Furious is a prime example of that," he adds.
"They refused to listen to anything from the field employees."
Cefalu, a special agent for 24 years, was notified by ATF in June
that he is being fired and is accused of giving false testimony in a
criminal case and making unauthorized disclosures. He has challenged
the allegations and contends that his termination is retaliation for
efforts to expose Fast and Furious.
When Terry was killed, Dobyns says, Dodson sought advice about
becoming a whistle-blower. "I told him, 'You are going to be train-
wrecked because that's what they (ATF managers) do,' " Dobyns recalls
Dodson did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Seven days after the border shootout, cleanupatf.org posted an
anonymous message advising that ATF bosses in Arizona had allowed
criminal suspects to get away with hundreds of AR-15-type weapons,
and "one of those rifles is rumored to have been linked to the recent
It was the first public inkling of a federal operation gone haywire.
Efforts by mainstream media to verify the information were met with a
government shield of silence. But gun-rights advocates on the
Internet picked up the tip and embellished it with speculation.
A growing number of ATF employees wanted to expose Fast and Furious.
The question: How?
Dobyns and Cefalu began networking with two of the most prominent and
prolific Second Amendment bloggers in America.
David Codrea, an Ohio-based writer, is field editor for GUNS Magazine
and an author on a website known as "The War on Guns: Notes From the
Mike Vanderboegh runs a website, Sipsey Street Irregulars, which he
identifies as a gathering place for the 3 percent of Americans
willing to fight for the right to bear arms.
Vanderboegh and Codrea, longtime friends, this year received Soldier
of Fortune Magazine's Second Amendment Freedom Award and the David
and Goliath Award from Jews for Preservation of Firearms Ownership.
Dobyns says he turned to the bloggers because of a shared animus
toward ATF administrators. "Do they have an agenda? Of course they
do," he said. "But it's my experience that they're not anti-ATF;
they're anti-bad ATF."
Codrea and Vanderboegh began churning out essays on Fast and Furious,
even giving the operation its sardonic nickname, "Project Gunwalker."
They joined forces with other bloggers, government employees and gun
dealers in what Vanderboegh calls "a coalition of willing Lilliputians."
Their reports, frequently quoting anonymous sources, exposed the
dubious investigative strategy but went much further, speculating
that the White House was involved. A typical posting by Vanderboegh
carried the headline, "... Obama's Gunwalker Was a Deliberate
Conspiracy Vs. the 2nd Amendment."
That hypothesis has gone viral in the gun-rights blogosphere.
Proponents, noting that Obama was endorsed by the Brady Campaign to
Prevent Gun Violence during the 2008 campaign, claim that high-placed
officials in Washington, D.C., devised a plan to flood Mexico with
firearms as justification for a crackdown on gun ownership.
In fact, the president talked about resurrecting a ban on assault
weapons during his campaign, and the NRA predicted he would become
the most anti-gun president in history. But, once in office, Obama
failed to fulfill his pledge, and he has not pushed any bills
impinging on the right to bear arms since taking office. The Brady
Campaign was so disappointed it gave him an "F" for his performance.
But Second Amendment defenders see Obama's inaction as a ruse. During
a speech last month to the Conservative Political Action Conference,
Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the NRA, acknowledged that the
president "hasn't pushed for new gun controls," but said that was "a
big, fat, stinking lie" designed to mislead Americans.
"It's all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and
hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our
country," LaPierre said.
Pressure to investigate
At a news conference in late January 2011, federal authorities
announced indictments against 20 gun-trafficking suspects, including
the man who bought weapons found at Agent Terry's death scene.
Newell, then the special agent in charge for Arizona, said those who
arm the cartels "have as much blood on their hands as the criminals
that use them."
Asked if the ATF knowingly let guns "walk," Newell answered, "Hell, no."
Codrea, the anti-ATF blogger, says outrage swelled because of that
response, plus a growing sense of urgency: People were getting killed
on both sides of the border, and ATF whistle-blowers were risking
their careers by criticizing an agency that has a reputation for
retaliation. But mainstream media -- lacking on-the-record sources --
resisted publication of undocumented claims about Fast and Furious.
Bloggers turned to politicians, making calls and e-mailing members of
Codrea wrote an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee,
begging for an inquiry. "We had to bang pots and pans because we were
small fry," he says.
Vanderboegh sent e-mails to politicians for two weeks, with no
success. Finally, he says, he wrote to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.,
threatening to publish an accusation that the senator was "complicit
in the cover-up." Within hours, Vanderboegh says, he heard from
Sessions' staff and was channeled to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa,
ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.
A congressional investigation was under way.
"We were the midwives of this scandal because nobody else would touch
it and the agents were out there, twisting in the wind, willing to
tell the truth at great risk to themselves," Vanderboegh boasted in a
subsequent Internet post.
In interviews, Vanderbeogh and Codrea chuckle at the irony of
government agents relying on their critics to find a congressional
"It's so improbable that ATF guys would come to us, the Second
Amendment advocates," Vanderbeogh says. "But we realized we did have
common enemies in the ATF hierarchy."
Vanderbeogh says politicians were hesitant, unable to believe whistle-
blowers, afraid to go after the Obama administration with such a
"They were hunting some very, very dangerous game," he says of
congressional investigators. "This was something that could turn on
them and eat them."
As more agents came forward, some with corroborating records,
Republican lawmakers became attentive -- and more assertive in going
after an executive branch run by Democrats.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Government
Oversight and Reform, began working with Grassley. Both men had
received A grades from the NRA for Second Amendment positions. A
longtime Grassley friend and campaign officer, Kayne Robinson, is a
former NRA president who now serves as the organization's executive
director for operations.
Issa, R-Calif., and Grassley demanded documents from the Justice
Department. They started calling agents and administrators to testify
On July 15, Dodson appeared before the House Oversight Committee. His
message: "During this operation known as Fast and Furious, we, ATF,
failed to fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations, to
caretake the public trust; in part, to keep guns out of the hands of
criminals. ... This was not a matter of some weapons getting away
from us, or allowing a few to walk so as to follow them to a much
larger or more significant target. Allowing loads of weapons that we
knew to be destined for criminals -- this was the plan."
"We were giving guns to people to kill other humans," added Peter
Forcelli, another whistle-blower agent in Phoenix. "This was a
With government records and sworn testimony, mainstream media ran
with the story. And, day by day, Issa and Grassley issued news
releases exposing new details about Fast and Furious -- a tactic
known as "death by a thousand cuts."
Grassley, speaking to CNSnews.com in June, speculated that the White
House had intended to use the case as an excuse to push for new
firearm regulations: "My suspicion is they don't like the Second
Amendment the way it is, and they want to do everything they can to
hurt guns and restrict guns," he said. "So they could have been
building a case for that. But I can't prove that."
Obama and Holder offered terse disclaimers, saying they were not
aware that guns were being allowed into Mexico until after Terry's
death, and they would never have authorized such a strategy. Obama
called the tactic "bad judgment." Holder described it as
Grassley told The Republic that his objective is to identify and
remove the top government official responsible for Fast and Furious
so that mistakes are not repeated. He said he has a reputation for
neutral oversight and any suggestion of political motives would be an
insult. He added that Democrats, who have demanded further
investigation of Operation Wide Receiver under President Bush, are to
blame for partisanship.
Grassley said that he still believes Fast and Furious began in
Washington, D.C., as a ploy "to get more gun-control legislation,"
but he has yet to uncover smoking-gun proof of that theory.
Using whistle-blower testimony and records obtained by subpoena,
Grassley and Issa proved that high-level officials in the Justice
Department were aware of the gun-walking strategy, failed to stop it
and then issued false denials to Congress.
One example: In February, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative
Affairs Ronald Weich sent a letter to Grassley insisting that guns
were not purposely allowed to walk: "ATF makes every effort to
interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent
their transportation to Mexico."
Earlier this month, Lanny Breuer, chief of the Justice Department's
criminal division, admitted in sworn testimony that Weich's assertion
Even under siege from Grassley and Issa, Holder continued to blame
weak U.S. firearms laws for gunrunning on the border.
In a letter to Congress last month complaining about "political
posturing," Holder said authorities are "severely impaired by a lack
of effective law enforcement tools." The penalty for straw purchases
is so weak, he argued, that trafficking is not deterred and agents
have no leverage to flip suspects into informers. Holder also
lamented the lack of laws restricting multiple rifle purchases.
Gun-rights advocates point to such statements as evidence that Fast
and Furious was part of a gambit to justify gun control.
But Operation Wide Receiver seems to challenge that assertion. That
investigation, based in Tucson during 2006-07, allowed nearly 300
guns to be smuggled into Mexico. The objective, according to federal
records: catch cartel kingpins.
The problem for those who see gun-walking as a conspiracy of the
Obama administration: Operation Wide Receiver was carried out during
the Bush administration, under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Even Dobyns, one of the agents behind cleanupatf.org, discounts
notions that the gun-walking tactic originated in Washington, D.C. He
says Fast and Furious was concocted by an Arizona field agent and
endorsed by ATF bosses up the line from Phoenix.
"I think it was a ploy at self-glorification," he said. "When the OIG
report came out and said, 'Hey, ATF, you're failing miserably,' I
think they decided to prove him wrong. They said, 'I'm going to get
the big fish, and how do you like me now?' "
As controversy swirled, so did media coverage: Right-leaning news
outlets sought to show a scheming, dishonest White House. Left-wing
press sought to blame a system that allows unlimited purchases of
semiautomatic rifles. Mainstream journalists struggled to separate
truth from propaganda.
Lara Brown, a Villanova University professor of political science who
focuses on scandals in Washington, D.C., says a pattern of mistakes
commonly ensues when something goes wrong in government: Those
responsible try to cover up. Critics try to gang up. Concealment
efforts smack of a plot, fueling suspicions of conspiracy.
"I think it was Napoleon who said, 'Don't attribute malice to
incompetence,' " Brown says.
The endgame remains unclear.
Some gun-rights advocates are calling for the impeachment of Obama.
The NRA and others want Holder fired, even airing commercials calling
for his ouster.
Many have suggested that the ATF should be abolished.
Codrea and Vanderboegh say that last option would be a mistake
because firearms enforcement might become the province of a larger,
more powerful agency such as the FBI -- difficult to attack politically.
"I very much prefer the devil that I know in rehab to the devil that
I don't know," Vanderbeogh says.
Dobyns says the ATF is filled with good agents, and he's hoping the
new acting director, B. Todd Jones, will clean house by removing all
of the top management.
Cefalu sees major reforms. "Change is coming," he wrote in a recent
blog. "THAT IS EXACTLY what we have been asking for. ... Take a deep
breath and let's see where they are going to take our bureau."
Harry L. Wilson, director of Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke
College, says political motivations in a scandal often generate
unsupported conspiracy theories and unwanted results.
"It was botched incredibly badly," he says of Fast and Furious. "But
I can't imagine anybody was intentionally putting guns into Mexico as
a ploy to regulate firearms in the U.S. To me, that is just beyond
paranoia. ... The issues are always more complicated than what they
appear to be, and than how partisans on both sides make them out to be."
Wilson, who wrote the book, "Guns, Gun Control and Elections: The
Politics and Policy of Firearms," says attempts at secrecy
undoubtedly conflated the controversy over Fast and Furious.
"Cover-ups often are worse than what you were trying to cover up,
whether it's Watergate or 'I did not have sexual relations with that
woman,' " he said. "You can never separate out political motives. If
you look at Watergate, were Democrats after Richard Nixon? Yeah, but
there was a reason to be after him. It's the perfect scenario: Go
after the bad guy and do yourself good at the same time.
"At the end of all this, where does it stop? Nobody knows."
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/
About this story
Reporter Dennis Wagner spent weeks reviewing congressional testimony,
court documents and records from the Justice Department and Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about Operation Fast and
Furious. The congressional testimony includes sworn statements by ATF
Agent John Dodson and other whistle-blowers, as well as Attorney
General Eric Holder, then-acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson and
other agency administrators. His story also includes information from
dozens of interviews with federal agents, congressional
investigators, prosecutors and other sources.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/
Firearms advocates, the GOP dispute claim that US dealers are major
Mexico gun stats spark backlash
Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2011
12:00 am | Comments
The investigations into Operation Fast and Furious have sparked an
underlying debate: Are Americans really the main source of weapons
used by Mexico's mafias?
Since President Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. government has
intensified efforts to cut gun trafficking to Mexico from border
states like Arizona. The government noted that 90 percent of guns
seized in Mexico and successfully traced by the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were from the United States.
But increasingly, Republicans and gun-rights advocates are
questioning that figure and how big the U.S. trafficking problem
really is - and they're pointing to other possible sources of
armaments in Mexico's drug war.
"At the root of Fast and Furious, and a lot of rhetoric surrounding
gun control legislation, has been the gun-trafficking statistics
provided by ATF," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a Nov. 15
congressional hearing. "These unclear statistics have fueled the
debate and contributed to undertaking such a reckless operation as
Fast and Furious."
In that 2009-2010 operation, ATF agents facilitated firearms sales
from Phoenix-area dealers to suspected smugglers, and about 2,000
guns were loosed on the community.
But critics of Grassley and the American firearms industry say his
argument is a smoke screen to protect U.S. manufacturers from
scrutiny. Yes, they say, the exact proportion and number of U.S.
firearms seized in Mexico is unknown, but that doesn't mean it's
Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, has
described the U.S. civilian gun market as "an ideal system for
smuggling." That's because a vast, loosely regulated firearms
industry, increasingly selling military-style weapons, sits next to a
country with a huge demand and a limited supply of those weapons .
What we supply
It was the "90 percent myth" that galvanized some gun-rights
advocates, who felt the Obama administration was manipulating
statistics to justify a crackdown. Some administration officials,
especially in 2009, misstated ATF statistics by saying they showed
that 90 percent of all firearms seized by the Mexican government in
2008 came from the United States.
The truth was, Mexico seized about 30,000 firearms that year, and of
those, the ATF successfully traced about 4,000. Of that subset, 87
percent came from the United States. Mexico asks U.S. officials to
trace only those guns likely to have a U.S. nexus.
The 90 percent figure was misleading, said Scott Stewart, a vice
president at Stratfor Global Intelligence, who wrote a report this
year titled "Mexico's Gun Supply and the 90 Percent Myth."
Still, Stewart said in an interview, the U.S. is a key supplier -
especially of the assault rifles often used in drug-war battles.
"Clearly, there are certain classes of guns that it's probably true
for," said Stewart, a former special agent for the State Department.
"If you have an AK-47 variant that was semiautomatic then converted
(to fully automatic), or an AR-15 that was semiauto and converted, it
probably did come from the U.S."
You shouldn't imagine truckloads of guns moving south, though,
Stewart said. A July 2010 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City
described it this way: Rather than an "iron river" of weapons flowing
south, the flow is more like "thousands of small streams."
That cable, along with others released by WikiLeaks earlier this
year, shows U.S. diplomats grappling with the issue of firearms
traffic to Mexico, not all of it from the north. A cable dated March
25, 2009, says "at least 90 percent of military origin weapons (such
as grenades and light anti-tank weapons) are traced to Central
American military stocks."
Rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and hand grenades
likely come from other countries, especially in Central America,
Stewart said. The grenades seized from criminal groups in Mexico are
typically made in South Korea, he said.
A Jan. 25, 2010, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City described
an international meeting on gun-trafficking in Mexico's southernmost
state, Chiapas. During the meeting, attendees heard about the
countries' gun laws and visited three ports of entry at the Guatemala
border, witnessing unfettered illegal crossings at two of them.
"Our visit to three border crossings between Guatemala and Mexico in
Chiapas revealed neither country presently works seriously to enforce
these laws," the cable said.
Why couldn't Mexico's organized criminal groups, which are
multibillion-dollar enterprises, easily import large loads of weapons
from corrupt officials or businesses in Latin America or Asia, asked
Todd Rathner, a Tucsonan who is on the board of the National Rifle
Another source of weapons is Mexico's military. Mafias in Mexico have
recruited soldiers and otherwise got hold of some of the army's arsenal.
American gun dealers
Grassley and others point out that relatively few guns seized in
Mexico have been traced to federally licensed firearms dealers in the
United States. In the years 2009 and 2010, he wrote in a June letter
to the acting director of the ATF, 8,976 of the 36,256 firearms
recovered in Mexico were traced to licensed dealers in the United
That's 25 percent of the total, but Grassley didn't note that some of
the other 75 percent may have been manufactured in the United States
or transferred by an American who was not a federally licensed dealer.
Rathner, the NRA board member from Tucson, said two factors
discourage licensed firearms dealers from selling weapons intended
for trafficking to Mexico. One is that most dealers want to do the
right thing, he said. The other is that if caught, they could lose
their license, or worse.
"There are scrupulous and unscrupulous people in each industry,"
Rathner said. "If they (gun dealers) are unscrupulous, they risk
But Robert Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control," said
Grassley and others are just trying to limit scrutiny of gun dealers.
"Following gun-trafficking patterns is invariably complicated," said
Spitzer, a State University of New York-Cortland political science
professor, via email. "And while the Mexican drug gangs get guns from
multiple sources, including the Mexican military, it is pretty well
beyond dispute that U.S. gun dealers, especially the nearly 10,000 or
so found along the US-Mexican border, are a major source."
Stewart, of Stratfor, said whatever the proportion of firearms in
Mexico coming from the United States, the problem is undeniable.
"Absolutely, it is a problem and it does need to be addressed," he
said, adding: "The sad reality is even if we were to close the
border, they would still get weapons. It's just going to increase
On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at
How you slice the statistics
Opposing sides in the debate over gun trafficking to Mexico use the
same statistics in contrasting ways to bolster their arguments.
Democrats and Republicans both use data from the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which regularly traces a portion of
the guns seized by the Mexican government.
Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley says bureau data show a
minority of the traced weapons come from U.S. dealers. He noted that
of 36,256 firearms recovered in Mexico and traced by the ATF in 2009
and 2010, 25 percent had been sold by U.S.-licensed dealers. In other
words, he argued, Americans may not be responsible for much of the
Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein parsed the same data
differently: During the 5 3/4 years ending Sept. 30, she said, ATF
traced the origins of 93,895 firearms recovered in Mexico. Of those,
64,112, or 68 percent, were manufactured in or imported into the
United States. In other words, she concluded, Americans are a major
source of Mexico's smuggled guns.
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or at email@example.com
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/news/local/border/mexico-gun-stats-