Note: is now the time for "we told you so"? Remember also that
this is just the "direct commercial sales", there are also the other
routes of U.S. govt. for arms and munitions aid. That and the
thousands from other governments similar sales. Good work by Ms.
Attkisson, but the Mexican govt. does know the details. The
"tracking program"? A joke.
Legal U.S. gun sales to Mexico arming cartels
By Sharyl Attkisson
Selling weapons to Mexico - where cartel violence is out of control -
is controversial because so many guns fall into the wrong hands due
to incompetence and corruption. The Mexican military recently
reported nearly 9,000 police weapons "missing."
Yet the U.S. has approved the sale of more guns to Mexico in recent
years than ever before through a program called "direct commercial
sales." It's a program that some say is worse than the highly-
criticized "Fast and Furious" gunrunning scandal, where U.S. agents
allowed thousands of weapons to pass from the U.S. to Mexican drug
CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson discovered that
the official tracking all those guns sold through "direct commercial
sales" leaves something to be desired.
One weapon - an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle - tells the story. In
2006, this same kind of rifle - tracked by serial number - is legally
sold by a U.S. manufacturer to the Mexican military.
Three years later - it's found in a criminal stash in a region
wracked by Mexican drug cartel violence.
That prompted a "sensitive" cable, uncovered by WikiLeaks, dated June
4, 2009, in which the U.S. State Department asked Mexico "how the
AR-15" - meant only for the military or police - was "diverted" into
And, more importantly, where the other rifles from the same shipment
went: "Please account for the current location of the 1,030 AR-15
type rifles," reads the cable.
There's no response in the record.
The problem of weapons legally sold to Mexico - then diverted to
violent cartels - is becoming more urgent. That's because the U.S.
has quietly authorized a massive escalation in the number of guns
sold to Mexico through "direct commercial sales." It's a way foreign
countries can acquire firearms faster and with less disclosure than
going through the Pentagon.
Here's how it works: A foreign government fills out an application to
buy weapons from private gun manufacturers in the U.S. Then the State
Department decides whether to approve.
And it did approve 2,476 guns to be sold to Mexico in 2006. In 2009,
that number was up nearly 10 times, to 18,709. The State Department
has since stopped disclosing numbers of guns it approves, and
wouldn't give CBS News figures for 2010 or 2011.
With Mexico in a virtual state of war with its cartels, nobody's
tracking how many U.S. guns are ending up with the enemy.
"I think most Americans are aware that there's a problem in terms of
the drug traffickers in Mexico, increases in violence," said Bill
Hartung, an arms control advocate with the Arms and Security Project
at the Center for International Policy. "I don't think they realize
that we're sending so many guns there, and that some of them may be
diverted to the very cartels that we're trying to get under control."
The State Department audits only a tiny sample - less than 1 percent
of sales - but the results are disturbing: In 2009, more than a
quarter (26 percent) of the guns sold to the region that includes
Mexico were "diverted" into the wrong hands, or had other
The National Shooting Sports Foundation's Larry Keane, who speaks for
gun manufacturers, said he understands the potential for abuse.
"There have been 150,000 or more Mexican soldiers defect to go work
for the cartels, and I think it's safe to assume that when they
defect they take their firearms with them," Keane told CBS News.
But Keane said the sales help the U.S.
"These sales by the industry actually support U.S. national security
interests," Keane told Attkisson. "If they didn't, the State
Department wouldn't allow them."
"Do they need better oversight?" asked Attkisson.
"It's certainly for the State Department and the Mexican government
to try to make sure that the cartels don't obtain firearms that way,"
he replied. "But that's really beyond the control of the industry."
Mexico is now one of the world's largest purchasers of U.S. guns
through direct commercial sales, beating out countries like Iraq. The
State Department office that oversees the sales wouldn't agree to an
interview. But an official has told Congress their top priority is to
advance national security and foreign policy.