Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Senator Grassley Steps Up the Pressure on the ATF

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has released the letter that he wrote to Kenneth Melson, the Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives (BATFE – otherwise known by its historically popular initials ATF), concerning new questions about the ‘Fast and Furious’ (otherwise known as ‘Gunwalker’) operation which involved agents of the ATF providing weapons to Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) in Mexico through classified and illegal means, with the purported goal of tracing the firearms through the cartels.  While the tracing capability quickly fell apart, the sale of the firearms did not.

The press and the administration have been selling the story that the violent drug war between the cartels in Mexico has been fueled by a vast number of weapons from the US, amounting to 70% of the arms, and this was cited as further impetus to curtail gun sales here at home.   Now though, we see that many of the arms were provided through the ATF.  Licensed gun dealers in the US involved in some of these sales were telling the ATF about their suspicions, but the ATF told them to continue.

I already introduced the topic on these pages here and explained how that percentage was greatly exaggerated.  Now Senator Grassley (working with Rep. Darrell Issa), using data obtained in some cases from other federal agencies, attacks the recent release of data by the ATF, both in the numbers that are presented, and the manner in which they were released.   Some choice examples:
The implication made by the ATF and various press reports is that the firearms come directly from U.S. manufacturers or U.S. Federal Firearms Licensees selling guns to drug trafficking organizations. Not only does this paint a grossly inaccurate picture of the situation, but it appears that the State Department disagrees with this portrayal. . . .
Astonishingly, nearly 78 percent of firearms traced in 2009 and 66 percent of firearms traced in 2010 were not traced to a United States licensed gun dealer. Grassley points out that these guns instead are likely sold to foreign countries or militaries requiring approval of the State Department and Homeland Security. . . .
The ATF needed a distraction before last week’s hearing. Unfortunately, nobody looked closely at the numbers to determine that this was a very selective release of information intended to distract people from the disastrous policy to let guns fall into the hands of straw purchasers, only to be often found on the other side of the border. . . .
I understand that agents working on tracing weapons in Mexico back to the U.S. routinely instruct GOM [Government of Mexico] authorities to only submit weapons for tracing that have a likelihood of tracing back to the U.S. . . .
Data indicates that the top source dealer for illegal firearms traced in Mexico for 2009 was “Dirección General De Industria Milita[r]” or the Directorate General of Military Industry in Mexico. They provided 120 firearms that were later traced back, likely after a crime. Why does this entity have a U.S. Federal Firearms License? Are sales to this and other foreign entities with U.S. FFL’s included in the numbers the ATF provided as being a gun from a “U.S. Source”. If so, why?
This promises to be a bigger scandal still.  Not only should we trace the start of this operation (reckless even if executed perfectly) and how it fell apart, but now there is more than a whiff of a cover-up.

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