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March 08, 2011

ATF Let Guns "Walk" Into Hands Of Mexican Drug-Gangs?

That seems to be the case.

Project Gunrunner" deployed new teams of agents to the southwest border. The idea: to stop the flow of weapons from the US to Mexico's drug cartels. But in practice, sources tell CBS News, ATF's actions had the opposite result: they allegedly facilitated the delivery of thousands of guns into criminal hands.


Jaime Avila was one of the suspicious buyers [at American gun stores]. ATF put him in its suspect database in January of 2010. For the next year, ATF watched as Avila and other suspects bought huge quantities of weapons supposedly for "personal use." They included 575 AK-47 type semi-automatic rifles.

ATF managers allegedly made a controversial decision: allow most of the weapons on the streets. The idea, they said, was to gather intelligence and see where the guns ended up. Insiders say it's a dangerous tactic called letting the guns, "walk."

One agent called the strategy "insane." Another said: "We were fully aware the guns would probably be moved across the border to drug cartels where they could be used to kill."

2,500 such weapons flowed to Mexican gangs while being "watched" by this program. The weapons were used in gun-battles against Mexican government agents as well as against US border patrol -- one agent in a special border squad, Brian Terry, was killed with a weapon traced back to a US shop.

Interestingly, some of the shops actually asked the ATF to intervene; the ATF told them to keep selling to the suspicious buyers.

Supposedly this is part of some sting. Supposedly the ATF is "watching" to see where the guns end up. Supposedly, then, this will involve, at some point, a massive bust, the impact of which exceeds the costs accrued along the way, like dead Mexican cops and dead American border patrol officers.

I'm having trouble imagining how the moving parts work together in this case. I know that drug cases are often made by allowing drug sales and tracking them (or even being part of the drug sale, as a buyer or seller). But I don't see how you keep your eyes on guns, given that they're going to be widely distributed in a large number of hands. (Drugs are too, when large bulk quantities are broken up for individual sale, but usually the DEA doesn't care about that last step; they're looking at making busts at the higher levels when the narcotics are in bulk and in fewer hands.) Usually in these sorts of stings, the drugs are seized (and all of the conspirators arrested) before the drugs are sold on the street. That's the point.

But here, the guns are all on the street, so if there's a big bust coming -- what's the hold-up?

There is always a good chance that we don't know enough to understand this program, that there is some information we're missing so that we don't see how the ultimate payoff will come about. Who knows, maybe each gun has some kind of tracking bug hidden in the stock or something. Well, not that. That seems technologically un-doable. But something.

Based on the information we have, though, this seems crazy.

Senator Chuck Grassley is requesting documents from the ATF explaining and justifying this supposed sting. He has agents screaming about the craziness of this program, effectively ending their careers to act as whistleblowers. But the ATF is not complying with these requests.

Sources and Methods: I understand if the agency is running a covert mission and wants to keep its methods secret. Perhaps there's a technological component which is secret. Perhaps their plan is sophisticated and novel and they don't want to tip their hand to the targets.

But that's a reason to keep the information from the public, not from a senator with a high security clearance.

It's okay if this information is kept from me, as there is no way to get the information to me while keeping it away from the narcotics gangs. But you can get the information to Grassley.

I'd like to know from an outside, independent authority that this whole scheme s not in some way corrupt, is, in the full plan, plausible, and has a fair chance of actually working. I don't want to just hear from the ATF that, in their conclusion (and Eric Holder's) we shouldn't worry about it.

One scenario hits me: Maybe this is being done to curry favor with some narco-criminals in order to develop a relationship with them, so they are incentivized to rat on jihadist terrorists attempting to buy passage from Mexico into the US.

Maybe that's it. Maybe we're trading guns for tips.

But if that's the case, it seems to me that we are trading an awful lot for these tips, and further, this would just be a way to avoid the need for just sealing the border. That is, the Obama Administration may have decided for political reasons it doesn't want to seal the border, but they also want to have some control of the border as far as terrorists (any terrorist coming into the US from Mexico would almost doom Obama's chances of reelection). So this may be their corrupt method of having it both ways, with the occasional dead cop as the cost.

If that's the case, I want to know. I think that's a corrupt, self-serving, politically-motived plan in that case.

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posted by Ace at 12:38 PM

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