7 July 2011, 17:59

Hundreds of guns smuggled to drug cartels by the US

Hundreds of guns smuggled to drug cartels by the US

The massive FBI operation, meant to track the illegal gun trafficking to Mexico, faced a complete and embarrassing failure.  According to the head of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the mistakes committed by the agents not only led to no arrests, but also let hundreds of guns fall into the hands of criminals.

The massive FBI operation, meant to track the illegal gun trafficking to Mexico, faced a complete and embarrassing failure.  According to the head of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the mistakes committed by the agents not only led to no arrests, but also let hundreds of guns fall into the hands of criminals. The operation results kickstarted a wave of outrage in the US and especially in Mexico, which is suffering from the escalating gang violence. Now the US authorities have to admit that their plans led to fuelling a massacre in Mexico. The scandal happens after only one month since the Mexican President accused the US arms industry of being the cause of thousands of deaths in Mexico.

“A catastrophic failure” – that is how the leaders of the congressional inquiry described the results of the operation. Operation called Fast and Furious was meant to track the traffic of guns leading to the major arms dealers. 1,765 guns were smuggled into Mexico over a 15-month period, including assault weapons and sniper rifles. The guns should have been tracked, but the agency lost sight of many of them. Since then a lot of the smuggled guns were reportedly used in killings in Mexico. Two US assault rifles were found at the crime scene where Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed.

While the FBI tried to turn Kenneth Melson, Acting head of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, into a scapegoat, he managed to prove that he had not known about the operation until its details became public. Moreover, during a closed meeting with members of Congress, Mr. Melson stated that the Department of Justice had tried to prevent him from cooperating with the inquiry.

The two senators, leading a congressional inquiry - Charles Grassley and Darrell Issa - sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, providing details of the meeting. According to the letter, Mr. Melson was "candid in admitting mistakes that his agency made and described various ways in which, he says, he tried to remedy the problems". The letter also states that Mr. Melson "appears to have been effectively muzzled while the DOJ sent over false denials and buried its head in the sand,” said the inquiry.

Mr. Melson claimed that his agency had not been informed of the links the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had with the Mexican drug cartel. He also outlined the poor cooperation and data-sharing between the law enforcement agencies involved in the operation.

The inquiry also found out that there were "very evident indications" that the gun dealers the ATF was trying to track down had already been known to other US agencies and may even be used as informants.

However, Ronal Weich – a senior official of the Department Of Justice -denies any accusations, saying that he and his department "reject entirely any suggestion that our extraordinary efforts have been designed to limit - rather than facilitate - the committee's access to information".

The failed operation could not only damage the reputation of the US law enforcement system, but also spoil the relations with Mexico. Mexican government has repeatedly asked the US to implement stricter laws on guns, since most of the weapons used by Mexican drug cartels are coming from the US. Less than a month ago, President Calderon accused the US arms industry of being the cause of criminal violence in his country. "Why does this arms business continue?" he asked. "I say it openly: it's because of the profit which the US arms industry makes."

Calderon’s speech was followed by the report, contributed by Democratic senators, calling for new measures to stop the gun flow.

However, it is hard to believe that any significant changes could be applied to the American gun laws. The influence of the arms industry, usually backed up by the so called American traditions, is too strong to be challenged even by the combined efforts of the US democrats and the foreign governments.

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