Note: for those who may have missed it
Another ATF weapons operation comes under scrutiny
Members of Congress want to see whether White Gun, like Fast and
Furious, lost track of firearms that ended up with Mexican criminals.
Dennis K. Burke and White Gun
Dennis K. Burke, the former U.S. attorney in Phoenix, said
convictions in the ATF's White Gun operation "put a stop to a well-
financed criminal conspiracy to acquire massive destructive
firepower." (Matt York, Associated Press / March 4, 2011)
By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
January 12, 2012, 4:35 p.m.
Reporting from Washington—
In the late summer of 2010, the ATF agent leading the failed Fast and
Furious gun-smuggling operation in Arizona flew to Mexico City to
help coordinate cross-border investigations of U.S. weapons used by
Mexican drug cartels.
Hope A. MacAllister wanted access to police and military vaults for
American weapons recovered by Mexican authorities in raids and at
crime scenes. She especially was interested in firearms from another
ATF investigation, code-named White Gun, that she was running.
Now members of Congress who have spent months scrutinizing the Fast
and Furious debacle are seeking to determine whether White Gun was
another weapons investigation gone wrong.
"Apparently guns got away again," said one source close to the
investigation, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Sen. Charles E.
Grassley (R-Iowa). "How many got into Mexico, who knows?"
Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives declined to comment on whether any firearms were lost in
White Gun. But unlike Fast and Furious, they vigorously defended the
previously unreported White Gun operation as a well-managed
investigation that produced three arrests and convictions.
The three men "were looking to acquire military-grade weapons for a
drug cartel," said an ATF official, who asked for anonymity because
the case involves an undercover operation. "This was a classic
example of bad guys showing up at a location to get the weapons they
desire but getting arrested by law enforcement instead."
In Fast and Furious, more than 1,700 firearms were lost after agents
allowed illegal gun purchases in U.S. gun shops in hopes of tracking
the weapons into Mexico. In White Gun, the ATF ran a traditional
sting operation with undercover agents and confidential informants
trying to snare suspects working for the Sinaloa drug cartel.
According to internal ATF documents, including debriefing summaries
and border task force overviews, White Gun and Fast and Furious both
began in fall 2009, and the same ATF officials ran both cases.
MacAllister was the lead agent. Her supervisor, David J. Voth, was
head of the ATF's Group VII field office in Phoenix. His boss was
William D. Newell, then the special agent in charge in Phoenix.
According to documents that the ATF sent to the Organized Crime Drug
Enforcement Task Forces, an umbrella group of U.S. agencies that
seeks to disrupt major drug trafficking and money laundering, White
Gun targeted nine leaders of the Sinaloa cartel. The list included
Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, who heads the cartel and is Mexico's most
wanted drug suspect.
In ATF reports, MacAllister wrote that U.S. intelligence showed
cartel members were setting up military-type training camps in the
Sierra de Durango mountains, near Guzman's northern Mexico hide-out,
and wanted to bolster their arsenal with grenade launchers and .50-
caliber machine guns.
The agents focused first on Vicente Fernando Guzman Patino, a cartel
insider who was identified as one of their weapons purchasers and who
often used code words and phrases, saying "57" for "OK," for instance.
In fall 2009, the ATF team sent an undercover agent posing as an arms
dealer to Guzman Patino. Photos of weapons, including a Dragon Fire
120-millimeter heavy mortar, were emailed to his "Superman6950"
According to the ATF documents, Guzman Patino told the undercover
agent that "if he would bring them a tank, they would buy it." He
boasted he had "$15 million to spend on firearms and not to worry
about the money." He wanted "the biggest and most extravagant
The two met again outside a Phoenix restaurant, and the undercover
agent showed Guzman Patino five weapons in the trunk of his vehicle,
including a Bushmaster rifle and a Ramo .50 heavy machine gun. The
undercover agent said he could get that kind of firepower for the
Just as Guzman Patino seemed ready to buy, according to the ATF
records, the investigation into his activities abruptly ended. The
documents do not explain why, and they don't indicate whether he
obtained any weapons.
A second case involved cartel members who were seeking shoulder-
launched antiaircraft missiles and antitank rockets, according to the
The same undercover agent met the pair in February 2010 at a Phoenix
warehouse. David Diaz-Sosa and Jorge DeJesus-Casteneda brought 11
pounds of crystal methamphetamine to trade for weapons. The
undercover agent showed them shoulder-launched missiles, rocket
launchers and grenades before ATF agents moved in and arrested them.
Diaz-Sosa, 26, of Sinaloa, Mexico, pleaded guilty in April to gun and
drug charges. DeJesus-Casteneda, 22, also of Sinaloa, pleaded guilty
to drug charges. A third suspect, Emilia Palomino-Robles, 42, of
Sonora, Mexico, pleaded guilty to delivering drugs as a partial
payment for military-grade weaponry.
None of the three was included on the list of nine cartel leaders who
were targeted in the operation.
The U.S. attorney in Phoenix at the time, Dennis K. Burke, who later
resigned over Fast and Furious, called the White Gun convictions "a
tremendous team effort that put a stop to a well-financed criminal
conspiracy to acquire massive destructive firepower."
By that summer, MacAllister had gone to Mexico City to check the
police and military vaults. The ATF documents don't detail what she
found, but they note she discovered "weapons in military custody
related to her current investigations."