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Project Gunrunner

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

by James O.E. Norell, Contributing Editor

As the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives continues to resist congressional demands that it explore its reckless operations on the southwest border, Mexican citizens, and even U.S. federal agents, are paying the price—with their very lives.

Until CBS News first aired correspondent Sharyl Attkisson`s continuing blockbuster series on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives` "Fast and Furious" project, very few Americans had a clue that the agency was reportedly "monitoring" individual criminals as they violated federal firearm and smuggling laws.

Through "whistleblowing" by inside-agency critics and journalists, pro-gun Americans have become increasingly suspicious of the fraudulent international "tracing scheme" in the agency. But it wasn`t until the Dec. 14, 2010, death of a 41-year-old federal agent in Arizona that a conscientious segment of the national media was jarred into action.

In the midst of a near-midnight shootout between U.S. Border Patrol Agents patrolling a remote canyon near Nogales, Ariz., and a group of armed Mexican bandits, agent Brian Terry was shot and killed with a single bullet in a hail of 7.62 x 39 gunfire. The border patrol agents, for their part, initially used beanbag rounds against the illegals.

This loss of a federal agent in a beanbag-versus-AK gunfight would have been hugely controversial by itself. But all of that was eclipsed by the fact that one of the guns used by the bandits was traced to a BATFE criminal-observation scheme named "Fast and Furious."

The program got its name from a Hollywood G-man violence fantasy, but it could more accurately have been called "Gone with the Wind."

Fast, Furious And Deadly
Fast and Furious was part of the larger $80 million BATFE Project Gunrunner, touted as a Justice Department answer to Mexican bloodletting. However, Project Gunrunner was the subject of two scathing Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that concluded the project was a waste of taxpayer funds and manpower, and that it had produced no big takedowns of real cartel criminals. Fast and Furious was launched to show that BATFE`s tracing could, after all, lead to big-time busts in Mexico.

But there were a couple of problems. The Mexican authorities were never in on it, and the U.S. Justice Department had little presence across the border.

According to reports, thousands of firearms were "walked" across the border. Keeping the operation secret from Mexican authorities guaranteed the "walked" guns would be lost until they turned up at scenes of murderous carnage.

The idea was that BATFE could then trace the guns back to the border state licensed retailers, where BATFE had "monitored" illegal gun sales in the first place, thus fulfilling the basis for the Obama administration`s three-year big-lie campaign that gun stores were the source of 90 percent of guns used by the massive criminal network known as the Mexican cartels.

Among direct participants in the remarkable CBS exposé were two BATFE frontline agents: John Dodson, stationed in Phoenix, and Darren Gil, forced to retire as the agency`s attaché in Mexico City.

Like the Mexican government, Gil, the highest-ranking agency official in Mexico, was kept in the dark about Fast and Furious. Gil maintains that authority for the rogue operation came from the BATFE director and the Department of Justice.

Gil told CBS that in early 2010, when he noticed that a "flood of guns" captured by Mexican authorities were traced back to a case in Phoenix, he sought details.

"I, as the attaché, the head agent in Mexico for ATF, did not have access," Gil said. CBS reported that in challenging the secret operation with supervisors, "conversations became screaming matches."

As CBS reported, "he was instructed not to tell his Mexican counterparts about the case … Gil says he also noted `at some point, these guns are gonna end up killing either a government of Mexico official, a police officer or military folks, and what are we going to do?`"

Agent Dodson, who appeared in Attkisson`s first broadcast, said he had attempted to use federal "whistleblower" statutes to put a stop to the gun-walking project, but repeated e-mails and calls were never returned.

Correspondent Attkisson reported, "Senior agents including Dodson told CBS News they confronted their supervisors over and over.

"Their answer, according to Dodson, was, `If you`re going to make an omelet, you`ve got to break some eggs.`

"There was so much opposition to the gun walking that an ATF supervisor issued an e-mail noting a `schism` among the agents. `Whether you care or not, people of rank and authority at H.Q. are paying close attention to this case … If you don`t think this is fun you`re in the wrong line of work. …`"

Dodson, on camera, told America, "We just knew it wasn`t going to end well. There`s just no way it could."

As to the day of reckoning with Border Patrol agent Terry`s death, Dodson recounted, "They said, `Did you hear about the border patrol agent?` And I said, `Yeah.` And they said `Well, it was one of the Fast and Furious guns.` There`s not really much you can say after that. …"

Congressional Concern
As a result of the dogged online media efforts and CBS reports, Congress has been stirred to action, with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., conducting investigations that have been met with near total obfuscation, cover-up and stonewalling by the Obama administration.

Among the many questions is how high up in government this program really goes. Who knew what, and when? Was the White House involved? Rumors abound.

President Obama told a Univision interviewer in late March, "Well, first of all, I did not authorize it. Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it."

When the reporter asked if he had even been informed, Obama replied, "Absolutely not, this is a pretty big government, the United States government. I got a lot of moving parts."

Further, Obama later quipped, "There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that`s the case, then we`ll find out and we`ll hold someone accountable."

What Obama calls a "mistake" looks more like a disaster, if not an outright criminal conspiracy. What about dead or wounded Mexican citizens? What about dead federal officers?

The obfuscation, the refusal by the BATFE director to testify before Congress and the whole BATFE/Justice Department orchestrated spin are all about one thing: protecting a big lie designed to foster support for all manner of gun control.

In Support Of The Big Lie
The big lie about American lawful commerce in firearms and Mexican drug cartel violence is best summed up in an Aug. 11, 2008, USA Today headline crowing, "ATF: most illegal guns in Mexico come from U.S." That statement has now been repeated thousands of times in every medium for three years.

During a late March 2009 visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an American super
mea culpa, expressing collective guilt for the Mexican-on-Mexican drug cartel carnage in that nation:
"Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians," Clinton said.

But, as more is learned about Fast and Furious, the reverse of that statement is proving true. Perhaps Clinton should issue a correction: It is the administration she serves—not the Second Amendment freedom of the American people—that has directly contributed to bloodshed south of the border.

The truth is that after three years and tens of thousands of man-hours, BATFE`s tracing has not produced a single prosecution of a "trafficking organization in Mexico." How could they? BATFE, according to the Justice Department OIG, had virtually no presence in Mexico, and few of the large pool of agents involved in Project Gunrunner had any Spanish language skills. Furthermore, how could leads to Mexican organizations be followed if the Mexican authorities were totally in the dark?

Robert Sanders, an attorney who served as BATFE`s chief of enforcement in the early 1980s, and who has been successfully defending victims of BATFE abuse for more than 30 years, knows as much about the agency`s methods as anyone.

"This is all just insane," Sanders said in an exclusive America`s 1st Freedom interview. "I could see closely surveilling guns to where they`re going to get one-up in the chain. But they didn`t do that. They just let them go. So, the maximum case they could come up with would be a straw purchase. With no jurisdiction in Mexico, they have nothing.

"But then, the BATFE leadership tends to focus on fairy tales like `gun trafficking` and `interdiction` instead of focusing on criminals."

What all this has actually produced in the interim is a whole lot of extra taxpayer funding for BATFE—to the tune of $80 million in tax dollars allocated for emergency "stimulus funding."

In the final analysis, there is indeed something tangible produced by BATFE`s secret operation. Project Gunrunner and its spawn, Fast and Furious, may have stimulated untold violence, death and mayhem for Mexican citizens and for individual federal agents as a result of this Obama administration malfeasance.

Whatever Congress eventually learns about Fast and Furious and the behavior of federal officials involved, there is something else to consider in all of this—a far bigger question.

In Search Of The Truth
Where do the massive network of Mexican narco-multinationals really get most of their guns and other weapons?

It`s important to note that the Mexican cartels are an unprecedented profit center for criminal activity. As a transnational business, cartel methods would humble any legitimate multinational corporation. They have a huge advantage. There are literally no laws they must obey—anywhere.

In many parts of Mexico, the cartels have created a ruthless narco-anarchy supercharged with an unprecedented reign of cold violence. As reported by the BBC, the Mexican government has produced a new database analyzing cartel-related deaths for the past four years. An astounding 34,000 men, women and children are listed as having been murdered execution-style!

Just four days before Christmas 2009, a young Mexican Marine, Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, was laid to rest with great honor and fanfare. He had been declared a national hero after being killed by a grenade during a successful government raid against a major drug lord.

But only hours after the young officer`s funeral, where his grieving mother had been presented a flag, cartel assassins stormed her home, murdering her in a hail of gunfire, along with Ensign Córdova`s brother, sister and aunt.

Big, Big Business
We keep hearing the term "too big to fail" when it comes to our government bailing out American conglomerates. So how big are the drug cartels?

Consider that the combined drug cartels in Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia deal in illegal commerce on a world-class scale—hundreds of billions of dollars in product and profits are moved internationally.

In fact, for business acumen, accolades have been given by Forbes magazine to a cartel kingpin for joining the ranks of world financial leaders as a "self-made" billionaire, among the most powerful people in the world. In reporting this, CNN declared: "Joaquin `El Chapo` Guzman, who authorities say heads the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, is believed to have shipped $6 billion to $19 billion in cocaine to the United States over the past eight years, Forbes says in the listing."

The cartels move their drugs in huge quantities. They operate complex ever-changing transportation systems that run the gamut from thousands of poor individual illegal alien "mules" carrying drugs on their backs and in their bodies, to fleets of vessels including surplus submarines, to operating clandestine airline fleets flying vintage jet cargo liners that haul tons of cocaine to disparate locations all over the world.

Some flights are one-way, with perfectly serviceable obsolete air-cargo aircraft flown to one-time landing sites in North Africa. Those planes are off-loaded then burned. It takes a lot of profit to torch a DC-10 jumbo-liner as disposable transportation.

Just how big are the cartels in terms of multinational business? A July 7, 2010, Bloomberg Markets magazine investigative report cited a deal cut between a single U.S. bank and federal prosecutors involving the bank`s failure to verify illicit funds in three years` worth of handing of $378.4 billion for Mexican exchange houses. The article said it was the biggest violation of federal anti-laundering statutes in history.

If unreported electronic transfers are huge, what about cash crossing the border? Bloomberg Markets quotes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sources, "In the U.S., couriers take the cash from drug sales to Mexico—as much as $29 billion a year … That would be about 319 tons of $100 bills."

As for their operations in the United States, the article said, "The cartels have built a network of dealers in 231 U.S. cities from coast to coast, taking in about $39 billion in sales annually."

As an example of the breadth of cartel operations, Bloomberg Markets described a Ciudad del Carmen seizure of a single DC-9 cargo liner carrying a shipment of 178 suitcases filled with 5.7 tons of pure cocaine. The profits from that shipment alone could arm a sizable paramilitary force. One cartel is reported to run a 22-airliner flotilla moving tons of drugs worldwide.

This raises another key question: In terms of illegal world commerce, who else uses surplus aircraft to move highly profitable illegal cargo across the face of the globe?

Of Drugs And Guns
If you guessed international arms smugglers, you`d be on the money.

Ironically, the very same media outlets that keep pushing the gun store-to-cartel idea have published stories about the supermen of the criminal arms trade—the arms smuggling ultra-bosses who are as big as the drug bosses. Mr. Drug Kingpin, meet Mr. Gun Kingpin.

While the BATFE leadership has been hell-bent on proving that guns can be illegally bought at U.S. retailers and smuggled to Mexico by actually allowing it to happen and "monitoring" a whole series of felonies all the way to the border crossing, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been prosecuting real gun running. In fact, that agency bagged the gun smuggler`s gun smuggler, a former Soviet officer known as the "Merchant of Death."

The retired Soviet Air Force officer turned premier international gun trafficker is named Viktor Bout. Bout is widely credited with having moved literally millions of small arms, fueling genocidal conflicts on the African continent and supplying huge numbers of full-automatic AKs from former Soviet and satellite state arsenals to anyone with the cash.

The DEA arrest of Bout was the subject of a Nov. 21, 2010, "60 Minutes" broadcast in which Michael Braun, former operations chief for DEA, said the Tajikistan-born world-class arms smuggler "has a unique selling point … `a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapon and military equipment, anywhere. With more than 60 planes in all, it was his own private air force.`"

Braun told CBS, "These Russian aircraft were like flying big dump trucks. He could move this stuff with pinpoint accuracy to any desert, to any jungle, to any remote place in the world."

Braun emphasized that Bout represents a special threat to the United States because he is "arming very powerful drug trafficking cartels around the globe."

In fact, in the DEA sting, which closed with his arrest in Bangkok in 2007, Bout had agreed to sell and deliver 5,000 full-automatic AKs, fragmentation grenades and 100 anti-aircraft rockets, in addition to heavier weapons, to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist terror organization that has morphed itself into the largest producer of cocaine in the world, and which has close ties to the Mexican cartels. All of this for a paltry price tag of $15 million. Does anybody suppose the multibillion-dollar Mexican cartels can spare that kind of chump change for arms?

The Gun Shop Connection?
Yet the administration and the media would have you believe the cartels buy their guns from u.s. gun shops, one background check transaction at a time.

Compare the retail price for a semi-automatic version of the AK-47 in the u.s. to the price on the black market—about $55 per rifle. A Bout competitor commenting on AKs told PBS "Frontline," "It`s a cheap weapon. Go to Lebanon and you can buy it everywhere. Go to Yemen, the world`s biggest stock is in Yemen … maybe 10 to 12 million."

And still the theory is our Second Amendment supplies guns to Mexico?

Mexico is a country with large swaths of territory under absolute control of the cartels. Geographically, it is perfect for a smuggling operation of any kind, with 577 miles on its southern border with Guatemala guarded by no more than 125 Mexican officers. It has many thousands of square miles of isolated countryside. And it has 5,797 miles of unguarded Pacific and gulf coastline.

What is so bizarre about this is the confluence of news articles between coverage of Bout and the 90 percent myth. The same Washington Post that has parroted the gun store-to-cartel lie has given remarkable, though scant, coverage to the Bout arrest and extradition, referring to him as the "FedEx of arms dealers." The Post repeated the DEA concerns that "FARC would use the weapons to protect its cocaine business."

Look at it this way: The Washington Post and The New York Times don`t buy their newsprint from local stationery stores, so why do they keep telling the American people that multi-billionaire Mexican drug cartel bosses obtain firearms from retail gun dealers? It`s like suggesting that Citibank uses payday-check-cashing windows at corner liquor stores as its primary source of cash.

Nobody has shone the light of truth on this more succinctly than NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre did in his February 2011 "Standing Guard" column:

"Imagine the head of the Sonora cartel—riding in his multi-million dollar bomb-proof armored humvee—fresh from inspecting a dc-10 loaded with eight tons of cocaine. He turns to his drug smuggling logistics expert and says, `I want you to go to Bob`s Bait and Sporting Goods in Pima, Ariz., and obtain for me a TEC-9. I understand Bob is lax with his federal paperwork.`"

The End Game
The government`s whole thesis is not only phony, but it`s that goofy.

Why can`t most of the media connect even the obvious dots between big illegal drugs and big illegal guns?

Most likely, it`s because they don`t want to, since to pursue the obvious would obscure their manufactured crisis, and their manufactured solution—additional domestic gun control. It is a big government/big media fantasy. And it goes this way:

If you can convince the American people that gun store sales are fueling the murderous cartels in Mexico, and that the "favorite weapon" of your run-of-the-mill Mexican mass murderer is available to law-abiding Americans at those retailers, then you can claim that peaceable Americans should not be able to buy those kinds of firearms. The logic? We sacrifice our freedom to force Mexican criminals to stop murdering people in their country and selling drugs in ours.

In the long, sordid history of gun control, there is an eternal verity: For every manufactured action, there is always a manufactured solution.

Remember "Saturday Night Specials"—those little, dangerous, self-destructing, poor-quality, foreign-made, easily obtainable, easily hidden guns that criminals preferred in the 1970s? They were purely a creation of the batfe. The same goes for "assault weapons." Or the "gun show loophole."

In the end, if you want logic, consider an inescapable truth.

What all of this is about is what gun control is always about—money and power to those in government who would disarm individual Americans.

As NRA`s LaPierre has long said, "It`s all about making the innocent pay the price for the guilty."

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