The Truth About Mexican Drug Cartels’ Arsenal: Follow the Grenades

The Gunwalker scandal proceeds apace. Senator Grassley’s still fighting the Department of Justice for a full accounting of the ATF Gunrunner program. That’s the anti-gun smuggling interdiction effort that allowed indeed enabled illegally-obtained weapons to “slip through the net,” into the hands of men who used them to murder U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry. The truth about the ATF’s extra-legal bungling and the subsequent government cover-up—which likely extends to Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder–has yet to ping the mainstream media radar. Meanwhile, it’s important to note that northern Mexico continues its descent into lawlessness. And that the real problem of the drug cartels’ weapons supply remain unaddressed . . .

For the last ten months, I’ve been trying to gather hard facts about the weapons used by Mexican drug cartels. The infamous 2008 ATF trace data, used by the ATF to justify Project Gunrunner, is thoroughly unreliable. All it tells us: how many weapons that the Mexicans submitted to the U.S. for tracing were traced to the U.S. As I’ve pointed out before, our neighbors to the South are hardly likely to ask for a weapons trace on firearms marked “property of the Mexican military.” Or any other military, for that matter.

But they might. But I can’t find out. Despite a FOIA request, the data is not available to jobbing journos. So far, the Mexicans haven’t honored my requests for ANY raw data on the non-ATF trace guns their country’s law enforcement officers have confiscated in the course of their work. So all I have is anecdotal evidence. News reports. Stories that tend to flag examples of American modern home defense sporting rifles found at Mexican crime scenes or stopped at the border. ‘Cause that’s what’s important, apparently.

I’m left with only two ways to analyze the Mexican drug cartels’ armory: the application of common sense and the contemplation of grenades.

Obviously, the drug cartels don’t get the majority of their weapons from Bob’s gun store. Sure, they might get a few rifles that trickle across the border one way or another. But why would drug barons go to all the trouble and risk to smuggle a handful of semi-automatic rifles or FN Five-seveNs from Uncle Sam when they can get fully-automatic weapons from Mexican police and army suppliers? It’s not like the people providing drugs to eager Americans are hurting for cash. If there’s a domestic premium for a hot shit Mexican gun, they’ll pay it.

Saying that, there are drug cartels and there are drug cartels. Los Zetas is a highly disciplined organization comprised of former Mexican military men; criminals who know their way around a rifle and understand the importance of a clued-in quartermaster. For them, nothing but the best. The gangs at the lower end of the drug cartel food chain could well be making a living using the ballistic crumbs falling off America’s table. But the really bad guys are not depending on American guns smuggled and sold in ones or twos. No way Jose.

Remember that the drug cartels are, increasingly, international criminal syndicates. They sell stolen oil, for example. And extort foreign businesses operating in Mexico. They can reach out to fellow gangsters across the globe, especially their “friends” in the Eastern Bloc countries. How do we know this? Grenades. Bob’s Gun Store doesn’t sell grenades. Mexican drug cartels use grenades. ID the source of that ordnance and chances are you’ve fingered the source for all their other weaponry.

And here’s the thing: the ATF knows from whence cometh the cartels’ firepower. Proof of their savvy arrived in the form of a recently released Wikileaked secret cable, dated the third of March, 2009. For those of you afraid of black helicopters (should you click on that link), here’s the relevant text:

CLASSIFIED BY: Bruce Williamson, Principal Offficer, Consul
General Monterrey, State.
REASON: 1.4 (a), (b), (d)
1.  (SBU)   During recent months Mexican narco-traffickers have
directed a series of grenade attacks directed against, inter
alia, Mexican law enforcement and military facilities, civilian
crowds, and U.S. consular installations.  The escalation in the
strength and power of the weapons used by the narco-traffickers
has not only cost lives, but has taken its toll in terms of the
damage done to local civil society. 

2. (S)  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. 

3.   (S/NF) 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 M-67 fragmentation
grenades and 1 K400 fragmentation grenade in Durango City,
Durango.  Finally and perhaps most disturbing, on January 31,
2009 three men tossed a K-75 grenade into a night club near
Pharr, Texas -- an East Texas border town --but the grenade did
not explode.  The attackers may have been targeting three
off-duty police officers who were in the club at the time. 

4.   (S) 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 to the El Salvadoran military in the early
1990s via the Foreign Military Sales program.  We would like to
thank AmEmbassy San Salvador for its ongoing efforts to query
the Government of El Salvador as whether any of its stocks of
grenades and other munitions have been diverted or are otherwise
unaccounted for. 

5.   (SBU)  AmConsulate Monterrey requests that Department
instruct AmEmbassy Seoul to discreetly query the Korean
government regarding the whereabouts, disposition, and the
possibility of any missing stocks of South Korean-made: 

---  40mm High Explosives Cartridges K200, with Lot numbers
HWB95L615-012; HWB95L615-014; EC-87E615-061;  EC-88G615-071,
EC-84D610-096, EC-83H615-012, and EC-83H815-012. 

---  K400 Fragmentation Grenades, with Lot numbers
EC-89E605-063, HEB96H605-033, HWB96H605-033, HWB96H-609-003,
KG94DK400002-017, KG94D002-017, HWB89S605-063, ME183D, and
HWB95K605-029. 

---  K402 Fragmentation Grenades, with Lot numbers HWB96H605-063
and HWB96H605-033. 

MONTERREY 00000100  002 OF 002 

--- K75 Fragmentation Grenade, with Lot numbers EC-85E605-031
and EC89E605-073. 

6.   (SBU)  Any information as to the destination of this
ordnance and to whom it may have been sold would be most
appreciated.  This information will be used in an U.S. ongoing
criminal investigation.
WILLIAMSON

So we know that military supplies, including grenades produced in the good old US of A have fond their way into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. What’s the bet that rifles sold to Mexico or other South American allies in U.S. government sanctioned deals are also in the hands of the drug cartels? Thousands and thousands of them. How do we know that the weapons we’re still selling Mexico and South American armed forces—hundreds of millions of dollars worth—aren’t filtering into criminal hands? We don’t.

We do know that Heckler & Koch recently stopped selling their guns in Mexico for that very reason. The American government isn’t even looking at this problem. Officially, that problem doesn’t exist. But the “Iron River” from U.S. gun dealers to Mexican drug cartels does, apparently. Enough so that the ATF can ignore the reality of the situation, and lobby for increased manpower, funding and power (gun registry anyone?).

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Mexican are being slaughtered, Mexican democracy is fast disappearing and America is doing nothing effective to seal its porous border; allowing drugs to flood our streets and illegal immigrants to tap into the debt-ridden public purse. (I wonder how many journalists smoke Mexican dope?) Make no mistake about the first casualty of this drug war: the truth. Which TTAG will continue to defend in the face of the ATF’s obvious obfuscation, lies, stonewalling and deceit. Watch this space.