31 August 2011, 18:46

US agents botch big “sting” operation in Mexico

US agents botch big “sting” operation in Mexico

Two US officials had to resign over a failed operation, which let thousands of American guns fall into the hands of Mexican criminal cartels. The acting director of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the US attorney in Arizona left their posts under serious pressure by Congress.

Two US officials had to resign over a failed operation, which let thousands of American guns fall into the hands of Mexican criminal cartels. The acting director of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the US attorney in Arizona left their posts under serious pressure by Congress. The results of the operation had kickstarted a wave of extreme outrage across the US and, especially, Mexico which is suffering from constantly escalating gang violence.

The operation Fast and Furious was meant to track the illegal arms trade leading to the major dealers. During the operation US agents allowed 1765 guns to be smuggled into Mexico over a 15 month period. Because of poor communication between the institutions involved in the operation, US agents lost track of the guns. The effort not only failed to lead to any arrests but literally put the guns, including assault weapons and sniper rifles, into the hands of the most dangerous criminals. Two of the assault rifles were found at the murder scene of the Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry.

The results described by the leaders of congressional inquiry as “a catastrophic failure” led to a huge scandal, which involved the ATF, the FBI and even the Department of Justice. The FBI and the ATF were trying to blame the failure on each other. Kenneth Melson – the acting head of the ATF - claimed that his agency had not been informed about the links the FBI and the 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. During a closed meeting with members of Congress Melson also claimed that the Department of Justice had tried to prevent him from cooperating with the inquiry. Ronal Weich – a senior official of the Department Of Justice, denied the accusations, saying that his department "reject entirely any suggestion that our extraordinary efforts have been designed to limit - rather than facilitate - the committee's access to information".

In the end, the ATF lost in this blame game. Melson had to abandon his post and will be reassigned to the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy as an adviser on forensic science. His place is to be taken by B Todd Jones – the US attorney in Minnesota.

"As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, US Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position," said Attorney General Eric Holder.

The operation Fast And Furious turned out to be one of the most embarrassing failures of the US law enforcement system. It not only questions the creditability of the US authorities, but also risks to seriously strain the already sour relations with Mexico. It is impossible to deny the fact that the US agents literally provided the most dangerous Mexican gangs with modern weapons. This move could only be seen by Mexican authorities, who are hopelessly trying to confront the escalating criminal activities, as a slap in the face. The Mexican government had repeatedly asked the US to implement stricter gun control, since most of the weapons used by Mexican criminals are being illegally trafficked from the US. The reply they received from the sponsors of the operation Fast And Furious could hardly be assessed as positive. The resignation of the ATF head also follows the legal battles over the tougher anti-immigration legislations passed by a number of the US states and the statement of the Mexican president, accusing American lawmakers of racial profiling.

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