The Obama Administration has stated publicly that the United States bears much of the responsibility for the flow of firearms into Mexico, and has pledged to work harder to stop it.
"This war is being waged with guns purchased not here but in the United States . . . more than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that lay in our shared border," President Barack Obama said on a visit to Mexico on April 16, 2009. "So we have responsibilities as well."
Obama joins many other U.S. and Mexican officials — from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. — who have cited versions of the 90 percent figure in arguing for greater U.S. intervention. For his part, Obama has pledged to commit more money and resources to stem the flow of guns south of the border. This 90 percent number has proven to be false.
A report drafted in June 2011 by three Democratic senators included traces data from both 2009 and 2010. Of the 29,284 guns seized in Mexico and submitted for tracing during that time, 70 percent came back to U.S. sources.
With that in mind, we have likely heard of Operation Fast and Furious inside the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- allowed U.S. gun dealers over a 14-month period beginning in November 2009 to sell more than 2,000 firearms, including semiautomatic assault rifles, to buyers known to be linked to Mexican drug cartels. The idea being given for such a scheme was the weapons would show up at crime scenes in Mexico, thus enabling Mexican and U.S. officials to link drug kingpins to specific criminal acts. Instead, the weapons are showing up here in the United States where horrendous crimes have been committed. Not one Mexican drug cartelist has been arrested as a result of Operation Fast and Furious.
Of those involved, William G. McMahon, was elevated from ATF's deputy director of operations to deputy assistant director of the ATF's Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations. That just happens to be the ATF division that investigates misconduct by employees and other problems. In recent testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee headed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., McMahon, who championed Fast and Furious inside ATF, admitted that "the advantage of hindsight, the benefit of a thorough review of the case, clearly points me to things that I would have done differently." Also promoted was William Newel, the special agent in charge of ATF's office for Arizona and New Mexico. Newel was promoted to special assistant to the assistant director of the agency's Office of Management in Washington. The third promotion went to David Voth, formerly the program's on-the-ground team supervisor, who is now branch chief for the ATF's tobacco division here.
Kenneth Melson is taking a low-profile position as a “senior adviser” for forensic science issues at the Office of Legal Policy in the Justice Department after being reassigned from his position as head of the ATF.
In congressional testimony, William Newell, former ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division, testified that the Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were “full partners” in the operation.
Investigations into a gunrunning sting gone haywire are creeping closer to the top of the U.S. Justice Department and its head, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
A congressional report reveals that top DOJ officials had knowledge of the sting, known as Operation Fast and Furious, in which U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents allowed more than 2,000 firearms to “walk” across the U.S. border to Mexico and into the hands of Mexico’s brutal drug cartels. As many as 1,700 of those weapons have since been lost and more than 100 have been linked to crimes on both sides of the border, including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December.
Starting in late 2009, ATF officials in Mexico began to notice that many of the weapon recoveries in Mexico traced back to the same Phoenix investigation. ATF personnel in Mexico called the Phoenix Field Division to notify them of what was occurring. The response from Phoenix was that everything was under control and not to worry about the investigation. Because the guns were in the Suspect Gun Database, the case agent in Phoenix received notice of trace requests.
The case agent could limit the information that other ATF officials would receive to merely a notice that the trace results were “delayed,” which effectively kept ATF personnel in Mexico out of the loop.
The report also shows that according to ATF leadership, not only was everything “under control,” but everyone in ATF and DOJ were well aware of the operation. The Department of Justice, and more specifically, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, clearly knew about Operation Fast and Furious. Further, the Department of Justice’s Office of
Enforcement Operations (OEO) approved numerous of the wiretap applications in this case. These applications were signed on behalf of Assistant Attorney General Breuer in the spring of 2010. Instead of stemming the flow of firearms to Mexico, Operation Fast and Furious arguably contributed to an increase in weapons and violence.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who are leading the congressional investigation into the operation, have made it clear that the attorney general — a confidant of President Barack Obama — is a central focus of their probe.
“I do have serious concerns that the attorney general should have known a lot more than he says he knew,” Issa told the Washington Post. “In some ways, I’m more disappointed that he’s saying he didn’t know than if he says he was getting briefings and he didn’t understand.”
So far, the DOJ has stonewalled the Issa/Grassley probe. But recent testimony from the embattled ATF director made the astounding claim that the cartel leaders targeted by Fast and Furious were allegedly paid informants for the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI.
In his secret July 4 testimony, Melson, accompanied by a private lawyer, told Congressional investigators that DOJ officials had told him to keep quiet, and asked him not to cooperate with the House probe. He added that the department seemed primarily concerned with protecting senior political appointees.
Concerned that Holder was looking to make Melson his “fall guy,” Issa and Grassley subsequently wrote a letter detailing Melson's testimony to the DOJ, warning Holder not to fire or retaliate against the ATF director.
To date, Holder and his top deputy, James Cole, have refused to provide the information and documentation demanded by Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley (R–IA) about who approved this operation, although Holder has claimed that he did not know about it. The idea that neither the ATF (a division of DOJ) nor the U.S. Attorney in Arizona would seek the approval of Holder or his deputies for an operation crossing an international border that could potentially affect our foreign relations with another country is highly implausible to those familiar with internal DOJ procedures and policies.
This is particularly true given the tremendous attention that President Obama and other top Administration officials (like Hilary Clinton) gave to the supposed problem of U.S. arms being smuggled into Mexico—including a joint press conference by President Obama with President Filipe Calderon in Mexico City in April 2009. That may explain why the Administration is now trying to stanch the bleeding being caused by the public revelations about Operation Fast and Furious with resignations and transfers.
New emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times appear to show senior Obama administration and White House officials were briefed on the gun-walking operation. The three White House officials implicated by the LA Times’ reporting are Kevin M. O’Reilly, the director of North American Affairs for the White House national security staff; Dan Restrepo, the president’s senior Latin American advisor; and Greg Gatjanis, a White House national security official.
This makes it clear why the Obama Administration has stated publicly that the United States bears much of the responsibility for the flow of firearms into Mexico.