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Standing Guard: BATFE Set Sights On Wrong Target

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has gotten slim returns out of the $80 million or more spent on its Project Gunrunner--a mission largely based on the phony claim that armed violence committed by Mexican drug cartels on Mexican soil is fueled by guns obtained from federally licensed retailers in border states.

That’s the conclusion the American public should draw from two scathing reports conducted by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

In its first report, the OIG determined BATFE had only four agents inside Mexico and most of the personnel involved in the border state operation had no Spanish language skills whatsoever.

In November 2010, OIG issued its full report, which condemned BATFE’s total lack of success in penetrating Mexico’s arms acquisition networks.

OIG found that “ATF has not focused its enforcement on complex conspiracy investigations with multiple defendants.” Virtually all of BATFE’s efforts involved “straw purchasers and corrupt dealers, not those who organize and command the trafficking operations.”

There is a reason there are no kingpin arrests--the whole premise of the BATFE war on border-state federally licensed firearm dealers is false.

Further, the OIG report concluded “tracing of guns seized in Mexico [is] not producing usable investigative leads” and that Mexican law enforcement officials considered ATF tracing a bust.

Yet tracing is still the self-promoting holy grail of BATFE, the media and the entire gun-ban establishment.

The OIG missed the obvious question: What if U.S. gun stores are not a primary source of firearms for the $40 billion (yearly U.S. profits alone) Mexican cartels” Note that the brutal violence in Mexico is committed by cartel paramilitaries--mostly renegade ex-military. And they are armed with machine guns, grenade launchers and RPGs--none of which are sold at U.S. retail stores.

For starters, consider the scale of the Mexican drug operations.

In a remarkably detailed July 7, 2010 Bloomberg Markets magazine report on the involvement of U.S. banks in ongoing laundering of billions of U.S. dollars in Mexican cartel drug profits, the article described one small example of the breathtaking scale involved. On April 10, 2006, Mexican officials commandeered a DC-9 jetliner at an airport near Mexico City. “They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million.”

Other sources chronicle individual cartels operating whole fleets of obsolete air cargo planes, moving thousands of tons of drugs in a complex global smuggling network. One cartel is reported to operate a fleet of 60 such airliners.

So, the obvious question never asked of BATFE’s mission on the border is this: What if the combined drug cartels--with yearly profits equaling one tenth of the Mexican gross national product--are meshed with another set of global criminal cartels with an equal profit center--ruthless black market arms traders?

All of this, drugs included, is beyond the reach of the hapless U.N. with its treaties to “regulate” criminal conduct--a mission as pointless as BATFE’s border war on federally licensed dealers. “Gun control” is never “criminal control” on any scale.

All of this gets back to the truly absurd claim that the cartels are buying their armaments from federally licensed retailers--one felony straw-sale at a time.

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.”

That scenario is as nonsensical as waging war on border state retailers.

In reality, other federal agencies are doing the job BATFE claims to do.

Within days of the release of the OIG investigation, CBS” “60 Minutes” reported on an international undercover operation by the Drug Enforcement Agency that resulted in the arrest and extradition of a former Soviet military officer deemed to be among the world’s major criminal figures.

In the indictment of Viktor Bout, federal prosecutors described a sting operation under which Bout was to provide mines, grenades, surface-to-air missiles and thousands of AK-47s to Colombian narco-terrorists. CBS sources described Bout as a merchant who provided murderous African civil wars with hundreds of thousands of fully automatic small arms, grenades and RPGs and who armed Islamic terror organizations and who was “courted by drug lords.”

Oh, yes, as CBS put it, “Bout had a unique selling point when it came to weapons trafficking: “a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons” anytime, anywhere.”

Wouldn’t you think that the Mexican cartels might just use a black market global air-fleet operation like this to arm themselves?

Reality says yes. But BATFE has doubled down.

MSNBC reported recently that at the climax of the OIG investigation, the BATFE had devised a “new strategy.” The headline said it all: “ATF targets gun dealers to stem sales to Mexican cartels.”

It will never change unless this new, bold Congress takes action as it considers the critical oversight and reform of BATFE.

There is a reason there are no kingpin arrests--the whole premise of the BATFE war on border-state federally licensed firearm dealers is false.

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