Controversy erupts after ATF allows illegal arms shipments to Mexico

ATF agent John Dodson — CBS News photo

[Translations of two articles from Mexican newspapers on revelations that the ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious” had permitted assault rifles to be smuggled from the United States into Mexico, where they were used by drug cartels.]

United States allowed illegal arms shipments to Mexico
Traffickers sent 1,765 weapons, one of which killed border guard

[Translation of an article from El Universal of Mexico City for March 5. See original here.]

by J. Jaime Hernández

Washington – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) carried out an operation that allowed the shipment of thousands of weapons into Mexico over a period of more than a year and the death of a border patrol agent shot with one of those weapons last December. The operation, named “Fast and Furious,” was carried out without notifying the Mexican government.

Through an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles Times, in which ATF internal documents disclosed the failure of an operation attempting to dismantle the chain of smuggling that permitted Mexican drug cartels to arm themselves, the director of operations of the agency, Kenneth E. Melson, was moved to announce the creation of a panel of experts and professionals to review strategies following the spectacular failure of Operation Fast and Furious.

“This review will allow us to maximize the effectiveness of ATF in the most complex cases of weapons trafficking and the prosecution of those responsible. At the same time, it will support our efforts to reduce the illegal flow of arms to Mexico and to combat trafficking networks within the United States,” said Melson in the midst of a barrage of criticism from Congress and demands for an investigation.

According to ATF reports that have surfaced during the investigation, approximately 1,765 weapons were sold to presumed smugglers during a period of 15 months. Of the total, 797 were recuperated on both sides of the Mexico-US border, including 195 linked to crimes committed on Mexican soil.

Collateral damage

“With the number of arms we have allowed to pass into Mexico, we will never know how many people will be killed, assaulted and raped… These weapons will be used to increase the crime index on both sides of the border,” John Dodson, one of the ATF agents who opposed allowing cases full of AK-47 and precision [.50 caliber] Barrett rifles to cross into Mexico in an attempt to learn their final destiny, told the Center for Public Integrity.

“The more weapons they buy (and we allow to cross), the more violence there will be” in Mexico, Dodson warned in another interview on the CBS network, revealing the revolt staged by several ATF agents against the strategy, authorized since September, 2010, by Mark Chait, in charge of Operation Fast and Furious.

According to a statement by David Voth, the idea of allowing weapons to cross the border in order to discover the ultimate recipients in the chain provoked serious disputes and divisions within the ATF unit in the city of Phoenix, which is now being investigated by Congress,

Only last Thursday Attorney General Eric Holder asked the department’s inspector general to review the tactics of ATF agents who have attempted to dismantle arms trafficking networks operating along the border with Mexico through dangerous strategies.

Smuggling and murder

Holder’s instructions were delivered in the midst of a scandal provoked not only by the delivery of thousands of weapons into Mexico but by the killing in December of border patrol agent Brian Terry as well.

The agent was killed with a weapon that had been part of a shipment of AK-47s that crossed the Mexican border with the knowledge of the ATF.

According to the investigation, which is still in progress, the objective of this failed operation was to learn the final destiny of a weapon that, in the end, was turned against one of their own agents.

Some members of Congress, like Senator Chuck Grassley, point out that this type of operation risks the lives of peace officers.

According to Senator Grassley, the Justice Department has denied a request for copies of messages between ATF headquarters in Washington and the agency’s office in Phoenix following the killing in southeastern Arizona, near the Mexican border.

“We are not in a position to hand over documents related to an investigation in progress,” said a letter from the department to Grassley, one of the main detractors of ATF strategies on the border.

Grassley’s campaign against this kind of ATF operation has been linked by several media to Republican Party and National Rifle Association efforts to try to exert more control over an agency that has declared itself in favor of establishing more control over multiple arms sales along the border with Mexico.

In Mexico, the Foreign Office undersecretary for North America, Julián Ventura, said in a telephone interview that the Mexican government had no knowledge of this operation. “It is a subject that moves us to view it with serious concern,” he said.

Mexico requests report on arms trafficking, Washington is unresponsive
Foreign office had already sought data on shipment of 2,000 weapons with ATF knowledge

[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for March 6. See original here.]

By Gustavo Castillo García

The Foreign Office has declared that it has already asked for “detailed informtion from the United States government” on Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed criminal groups to introduce 2,000 weapons into Mexican territory with the knowledge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

Meanwhile, officials in the national security cabinet have indicated that only after receiving a formal request from the Untied States government will Mexican intelligence units collaborate in the search for supposed members of the network of traffickers under surveillance by ATF in its Fast and Furious plan.

At press time, officials of the Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada (SIEDO – Organized Crime Investigation Unit of the Justice Department) indicated that no Mexican authority has begun an investigation into this matter.

The Mexican Foreign Office stated in a press release that it has proceded to “request detailed information from United States authorities in this matter” and indicated that “the government of Mexico will continue with special interest the investigations announced by both the ATF and the Justice Department [of the United States].”

According to the Mexican agency, “the objective of the Mexican and United States governments is to stop arms trafficking on the basis of the principle of shared responsibility and both are working to strengthen bilateral cooperation in this matter. This priority was ratified by the presidents of Mexico and the United States in Washington last March 3.”

This case is related to revelations made in the past few days by ATF agent John Dodson, who declared that his superiors ordered him to allow the passage of assault rifles and other weapons, which ended up in the hands of Mexican criminals.

Dodson told CBS News that in 2010, during his tenure in the ATF office in Phoenix, his superiors ordered him to permit the illegal passage of weapons from the United States to Mexico, since they were supposedly carrying out Operation Fast and Furious and a decoy sale had been finalized in which members of Mexican criminal groups involved in arms trafficking would be found.

The operation was kept secret from Mexican authorities and to date they have not been informed of the results nor has the Felipe Calderón administration been notified that some 2,000 weapons had been transferred.

In the face of his bosses’ refusal to acknowledge what had happened, the ATF agent declared, “We have been doing this every day as long as I’ve been here. Here I am. Tell me that I did not do the things I did. Tell me that you did not order me to do the things I did. Tell me it did not happen,” he declared in a television interview on CBS News.

The newscast mentioned that documents show the weapons transferred turned up later in connection with crimes committed in Mexico. “And while ATF stood by and observed how thousands of illegal arms were reaching the streets, the supervisor of Fast and Furious took note of the escalation of violence in Mexico.”