Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“Operation Gunrunner” Nets ATF 17 Arrests – IG Criticism

Draft report cites “significant weaknesses” in agency's intelligence, gun sales reporting system

Phoenix – Top federal gun cops announced 17 arrests following a 53-count indictment of area gun runners accused of making straw purchases of more than 700 firearms such as AK-47 assault rifles and shipping them to Mexico – often as many as 40 at a time. The indictment also details the purchase of “cop killer” 5.7 mm handguns that shoot projectiles able to pierce body armor.

Authorities are seeking an additional 3 named in the indictments.

At the same time, the U.S. Attorney and a draft report of the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General leveled harsh criticism at the agency for its lack of reporting of multiple gun sales from the region's 8,500 gun dealers spread out across Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

“From our perspective...you have this incongruity in the law, where for handguns there's a reporting requirement for multiple purchases, but for long guns...no. There no sense to that. It's arbitrary,” said Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Arizona.

In the IG report, the inspectors wrote, “We found that ATF does not systematically exchange intelligence with its Mexican and some U.S. partner agencies. In addition, some ATF field agents reported that they do not find investigative leads provided to them by ATF's Field Intelligence Groups to be timely and usable. We also determined that intelligence personnel in ATF's Southwest border field divisions do not routinely share firearms trafficking intelligence with each other. ATF could better implement its Border Liaison Program to improve information sharing and coordination between its U.S. and its Mexico personnel.”

Last week, fed-up ATF field agents operating in Mexico came forward with confidential information for Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, seeking whistleblower status in exchange for their testimony about top ATF officials approving “Operation Gunwalker.” In this alleged scheme, they say, guns under ATF control have been smuggled across the Mexican border to “pad” the record.

Some reports allege that the gun used to kill Border Patrolman Brian Terry was one such.

It's all part of an ongoing hassle with Senate Judiciary Committee members over an NRA-backed bill titled “Reform and Modernization Act” that would oppose an emergency ruling requiring the reporting sales of 2 or more semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines to the same person within any 5-day period.

Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence operatives have also criticized the Obama Administration's lack of enforcement of gun sales laws and blame the perceived lax treatment for the deaths of some 34,000 people inside Mexico during the past 4 years of the Felipe Calderon Administration's war on drug traffickers.

The Obama Administration has failed to nominate a permanent director of ATF for consideration by the Senate.

Said Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, “With respect to not having a permanent head of ATF, that issue has not been raised to me as an issue – of course ATF is not in DHS, it's one of the departments that isn't.” She added that ATF is a partner with DHS in “some areas.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is on record blaming Texas and Arizona gun dealers for the firearms violence south of the border. She met with President Calderon Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa in Mexico yesterday afternoon.

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