A dead federal agent and a flow of guns into Mexico have created a furor on both sides of the border, and now Mexican officials are calling for hearings into the so-called “Project Gunrunner” operation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaco, Firearms and Explosives.
Project Gunrunner is the operation that is alleged to have encouraged gun shops to sell guns to questionable customers so the ATF could track the weapons as they were smuggled into Mexico.
WND columnist Jeff Knox reported this week how the BATF “knowingly allowed the guns used [in an attack on U.S. officers] to be sold to a suspected arms trafficker and smuggled into Mexico.”
Months ago, he reported that Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot and killed in a firefight with bandits near Nogales, Ariz., on Dec. 14, 2010, and it was confirmed that two AK-47 style rifles found there were among the “hundreds – possibly thousands – of rifles allowed by AFT to ‘walk’ from U.S. dealers’ shelves into the hands of known and suspected firearms traffickers and across the border into the service of Mexican drug gangs.”
Now one Mexican lawmaker is outraged by the reports that guns smuggled into Mexico from the U. S. have been used in the killing or wounding of more than 150 Mexican citizens.
Chamber of Deputies Justice Committee Chairman Humberto Benitez Trevino is demanding an investigation into the smuggling operation.
A report from Associated Press also confirmed yesterday that Mexican officials are infuriated “that U.S. agents allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico as part of investigations into drug traffickers.” Officials there want investigators to get answers.
The AP reported the Mexican Senate plans to call U. S. Ambassador to Mexico Arturo Sarukhan to testify and the lawmakers want Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza to demand answers from the U. S. government.
Mexican government officials did not respond to WND’s requests today for comment.
But there are calls stateside for hearings as well.
Officials with Gun Owners of America are calling on the U. S. House of Representatives hold hearings. The organization alleges that the BATF allowed more than 3,000 guns to be smuggled into Mexico and wants the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the issue.
Alarmed at the reports that a federal agency would be involved in gun trafficking into a foreign country, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley also has sent a series of letters to acting BATF Director Kenneth Melson and Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that the Justice Department take action to bring Project Gunrunner to a halt.
The thought that the ATF would attempt to carry out that type of operation doesn’t surprise Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, whose clients reportedly were in the middle of the operations.
“My own experience with the ATF is that I wasn’t surprised at all by their conduct. It’s also another example of the ATF, which I think has always been a rogue agency … I’ve had experience with them all my legal career,” DeGuerin told WND.
He said he’s also not surprised by the fact that there are calls for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to be investigated for the Project Gunrunner operation.
He has what he believes is a good reason for his opinion on the issue.
Long-time Houston gun dealer Carter’s Country was one of the gun shops that the ATF allegedly used, and as it turns out, also came under investigation by federal authorities.
DeGuerin represents the four-store Houston chain and he said the gun dealer was asked to let some questionable purchases take place.
“What the ATF asked them to do was complete lawful but suspicious transactions, even though they might otherwise not have, so the ATF could track the guns, and to report promptly when those transactions took place and to give them all the information right away,” DeGuerin explained.
“That’s what Carter’s Country did. They did it for several years,” DeGuerin said.
The Houston attorney describes the type of scenario the federal agency asked them to report.
“For instance, if some young Hispanic male came in and wanted to buy several
assault type rifles or several 9 mm handguns, or both at the same time, and it was a cash purchase, even though that person had no criminal background and it was a legal transaction, sometimes Carter’s Country would just say well, ‘I don’t know about that,’” DeGuerin explained.
“What the ATF did was ask them to go through with those transactions and to report them,” DeGuerin added.
“Carter’s Country did exactly that. And on occasion they would do what the ATF called ‘Stall and Call,’ stall the purchaser and call the ATF and have an agent come out there. That happened several times,” DeGuerin detailed.
The ATF asked the shop to go even further.
“Sometimes the ATF asked Carter’s Country to follow the purchaser out to the parking lot, get a license number and a description of the car. And even look into the car and see if they see anything suspicious,” DeGuerin added.
The attorney adds that this part of the process was beyond the gun shop’s expertise.
“But you know these sales people aren’t trained law enforcement officers and they felt like they were putting their personnel in potential danger although they did that a few times and gave the information over,” DeGuerin continued.
DeGuerin details how the ATF rewarded the gun shop for their service.
“After they had cooperated for several years and after several criminal cases were filed against some of the purchasers, then the ATF or the U. S. attorney’s office told us that Carter’s Country and their personnel were under investigation for making the sales,” DeGuerin stated.
“The ATF wasn’t telling the prosecuting authority that they had approved of the sales and encouraged them to go forward. They were flatly lying to the prosecutors and we had to stand up and fight and confront them in order to convince the prosecutors that we were correct about this and did only what the ATF had asked us to do,” DeGuerin said.
“The ATF denied their part of the investigation,” DeGuerin asserted. “We tried to convince them that Carter’s Country and their sales people did what the ATF asked them to do.”
The attorney says his clients have been cleared of any charges and are no longer the targets of a U. S. attorney’s office investigation.
But there still are unanswered questions about Project Gunrunner, questions that Grassley still wants answered.
WND obtained copies of Grassley’s correspondence to Holder and Melson from Grassley’s website.
A Feb. 9, 2011, letter was accompanied by 12 pages of investigation and firearms trace records indicating that the ATF knew the names of the suspected traffickers.
A Jan. 13 document says that 42 people were being added to the “Suspect Person Database.”
The March 3 letter from Grassley to both Holder and Melson included 16 pages of investigation records and memoranda.
A March 2010 memorandum from Phoenix Group VII Supervisor David Voth to group members acknowledged disagreements among the team members about the operation and urged the team members to stick together.
The senator’s March 3 letter also includes a copy of Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich’s Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Grassley in which the assistant AG denies that the ATF “‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico.”
Grassley’s office says they believe both Melson and Holder are stonewalling but spokeswoman Beth Levine says Grassley’s not giving up.
“Senator Grassley is still looking for answers to the questions that he asked of the various agencies. He continues to ask questions as he learns more about the actions of the ATF and the Department of Justice,” Levine stated.
In the search for answers, the Houston attorney says he knows the ultimate solution to the Project Gunrunner question: End the war on drugs.
DeGuerin believes the war on drugs is the issue driving the entire Project Gunrunner problem, because the drugs provide the incentive for criminal activity.
“There’s no question in my mind about that,” DeGuerin asserted. “I’ve been in the legal profession for almost 50 years.”
“The anti-gun people versus the anti-freedom people, that’s not the issue in my mind,” DeGuerin commented. He adds the simple solution is to legalize marijuana.
“We need to legalize marijuana and quit making a tremendous profit motive for those who would smuggle drugs across the border and encourage the terrible drug wars. This isn’t about guns,” DeGuerin stated.
He adds the problem isn’t new.
“The investigation started a long time before the Obama administration was in. This isn’t an Obama administration deal. It’s not a Bush administration deal. It’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s the anti-gun people against the gun stores I think,” DeGuerin observed.
“I know that the anti-gun people are taking advantage of the terrible unrest in Mexico and of the use of violence in Mexico and they’re using it to their advantage,” DeGuerin continued.
“I think there’s going to be violence in the drug wars in Mexico no matter what methods they use whether it’s an assault rifle that they buy lawfully in the United States or whether it’s a machete they use to cut someone’s head off,” DeGuerin added.
Knox’s report confirmed AFT “tracked purchases of numerous firearms” including those involving an ATF informant “who made it clear … he was trafficking them into Mexico.”
“While ATF and politicians have tried to spin the tragic deaths of these two federal agents as proof of the need for stricter gun-control laws in the U.S., mounting evidence indicates that the largest arms trafficker from the U.S. into Mexico is the ATF itself,” he wrote.
He noted the Obama administration’s plans include an internal investigation.
“The Mexican government is at last questioning why they had to learn from Internet blogs such as David Codrea’s ‘War on Guns’ about ATF’s intentionally allowing guns to be bought and smuggled into Mexico and seems poised to issue a formal complaint even as Attorney General Holder seems prepared to sweep the whole thing under the rug,” he said.