Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wikileaks Documents Reveal U.S. Trade In Rifles, Grenades

Fully automatic rifles and modern grenades recently manufactured were sold to Mexican military and other nations under a direct sales program operated by the U.S. government, according to newly leaked documents tracing sources of weapons used in drug cartel attacks

State Department cables recently made public by WikiLeaks confirm that the U.S. government is very aware that much of the heavy firepower now in the hands of Mexican criminal organizations isn’t linked to mom-and-pop gun stores.

The result of blowback from U.S. arms-trading policies, under such programs as Direct Commerical Sales (DCS), both current and dating back to the Iran/Contra era, that put billions of dollars of deadly munitions into global trade stream annually, it's all part of a Pentagon program that sells arms to military departments in foreign nations.

Two separate diplomatic cables that came out of the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, in early 2009 discuss drug war-related attacks on the U.S. consulate in that city as well as on a Monterrey TV station — with each incident involving the use of U.S. military grenades – confirm that the grenades came from lots of modern munitions manufactured for the government long after the Vietnam war.

From a State Department cable created on Jan. 12, 2009, by the American Consul General in Monterrey and sent to the Secretary of State, U.S. Northcom and other U.S. consulates:

On January 6 the Televisa TV station in Monterrey was attacked by unknown assailants, who shot eight .40 caliber rounds into the station wall and threw a grenade over a fence into the parking lot, which exploded but did not injure anyone.

… The Consulate [in Monterrey] was attacked in a similar manner on October 11, 2008, and is located approximately one mile from the Televisa station.

… The investigators recovered the grenade fuse spoon, which appears to be from a US military M67 fragmentation grenade. ATF is investigating if any M67 grenades from this lot were exported to foreign militaries. The M67 grenade is different than the M26 grenade [an older U.S.-made grenade from the Vietnam era] used to attack the Consulate on October 11, but five M67 grenades were recovered during a raid several days after the Consulate attack in a Gulf Cartel warehouse. [Emphasis added.]
So the State Department cable makes clear that the attacks on the TV station and on the consulate itself involved military grade explosives made in the USA that somehow found their way to Mexico. A second cable issued in March 2009 lays out the plausible path those grenades followed on their journey to Mexico’s drug war.

From a cable issued by the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey on March 3, 2009, and sent to the Secretary of State, the FBI as well as various other consulates:

AmConsulate General Monterrey's ATF Office, the ATF Explosives Technology Branch, and AmEmbassy Mexico DAO have been working with Mexican law enforcement authorities to identify the origin of various grenades and other explosive devices recovered locally over the past few months, including the unexploded M26A2 fragmentation grenade hurled at the Consulate itself during the October 11, 2008 attack. Other ordnance recovered includes 21 grenades recovered by Mexican law enforcement on October 16, 2008 after a raid at a narco-warehouse in Guadalupe (a working class suburb of Monterrey), and twenty-five 40mm explosive projectiles, a U.S. M203 40mm grenade launcher, and three South Korean K400 fragmentation grenades recovered the same day in an abandoned armored vehicle that suspected narco-traffickers used to escape apprehension.

Local Mexican law enforcement has recovered a Grenade spoon and pull ring from an exploded hand grenade used in a January 6, 2009 attack on Televisa Monterrey, a Monterrey television station. Based upon ATF examination, it appears that the grenade used in the attack on the Consulate has the same lot number, and is of similar design and style, as the three of the grenades found at the narco-warehouse in Guadalupe. On January 7, 2009, the Mexican Army recovered 14 [U.S.-made] M-67 fragmentation grenades and 1 K400 fragmentation grenade in Durango City, Durango. ....

The lot numbers of some of the grenades recovered, including the grenade used in the attack on Televisa, indicate that previously ordnance with these same lot numbers may have been sold by the USG [U.S. Government] to the El Salvadoran military in the early 1990s via the Foreign Military Sales program.

In these cables, the U.S. state Department confirms that it suspects U.S. military munitions sold in the 1990s to a foreign military were subsequently diverted to Mexican narco-traffickers.

Sources indicate that it is likely some of the U.S. military weapons now being used by Mexican narco-trafficking groups may be from a past era, but they also contend it is likely a number of those weapons, such as the guns, have been rebuilt for the current drug war.

According to a former CIA asset, "There was some talk among [U.S.] task force members about a ... gun-making operation ongoing in or around Oaxaca, Mexico, more like a “refurbish” type operation from old stored weapons from the old Contra days (1980-‘90 era). [There’s] a lot of those weapons still around Panama and El Salvador. I was told most of those old weapons were “burned out" and of not much value. However, if there was a supplier or someone who could retrofit these weapons [they] could be fixed and moved just about anywhere...."

And as food for thought on that front, a former U.S. Customs Inspector, who asked that his name not be used, brought media attention to a federal criminal case now pending in a U.S. court in Nashville.

Five top officials with a gun manufacturer called Sabre Defence Industries LLC stand accused of illegally trafficking gun parts, such as gun barrels and components, on an international scale. Sabre, now shut down in the wake of its run-in with the feds, made and marketed assault rifles and machine-gun components for military, law enforcement and civilian use worldwide.

In fact, its biggest client was the U.S. military, which had awarded it contracts worth up to $120 million “for the manufacture of, among other things, M16 rifles and .50 caliber machine gun barrels,” according to the indictment returned in mid-January of this year against the company and its officers.

“The indictment unsealed today alleges a nearly decade-long scheme to thwart U.S. import/export restrictions on firearms and their components,” said Lanny A. Breuer, an assistant attorney general with the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, in a press statement released on Feb. 8. “The defendants allegedly went to great lengths to conceal their activities and evade U.S. laws – mislabeling packages, falsifying shipping records, and maintaining a fictitious set of books and records, among other things. The illegal trade of firearms and their components poses serious risks and, as this case shows, we cannot and will not tolerate it.”

Federal authorities have not released any details on where the Sabre-made gun parts ended up, though the indictment alleges many of the parts were shipped overseas.

As a note of caution, however, the former Customs inspector points out that once a criminal group has a supply of parts, setting up a gun-making operation is not a complicated matter.

“For the small arms, and I would include, for simplicity, everything up to and including M2 .50 BMG machine guns, and even the 40 mm grenade launcher, M19, you can put them together on the kitchen table, or on the workbench in the garage,” the former inspector says.

It simply is not known whether any of Sabre’s weapons parts ended up in gun-making chop shops south of the U.S. border, or elsewhere, or whether any of the M16s it made for the U.S. military were later provided to the Mexican government — via Pentagon programs such as Direct Commercia Sales (DCS) — and subsequently diverted by corrupt officials to narco-trafficking groups.