ATF Death Watch 100: Feds Fed Fast and Furious Firearms to the Sinaloans

Not to coin a phrase, but the ATF Gunwalker scandal is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma shrouded in mystery. We don’t know the exact motivations for Operations Fast and Furious and Castaway; they must be multiple given the alphabet soup of federal agencies involved (by the ATF’s own admission). Nor are we clear as to why the U.S. Attorney’s Office let a machine gun modifier and bomb-maker (caught red-handed) walk from custody back into Mexico. But one thing we do know: the guns that the ATF let slip from surveillance ended-up in the hands of the Sinaloa drug cartel. latimes.com provides the latest revelation on that score, which dates all the way back to April . . .

High-powered assault weapons illegally purchased under the ATF’s Fast and Furious program in Phoenix ended up in a home belonging to the purported top Sinaloa cartel enforcer in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, whose organization was terrorizing that city with the worst violence in the Mexican drug wars.

In all, 100 assault weapons acquired under Fast and Furious were transported 350 miles from Phoenix to El Paso, making that West Texas city a central hub for gun traffickers. Forty of the weapons made it across the border and into the arsenal of Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, a feared cartel leader in Ciudad Juarez, according to federal court records and trace documents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“These Fast and Furious guns were going to Sinaloans, and they are killing everyone down there,” said one knowledgeable U.S. government source, who asked for anonymity because of the ongoing investigations.

Mislead much? The Sinaloans may have been terrorizing Cuidad Juarez, but it was all business baby. The ATF-enabled Sinaloans weren’t killing “everyone.” Just their rivals: members of the Los Zetas drug cartel and their allies.

So the fact that the vast majority of ATF-enabled arms ended-up in the hands of one group of narco-terrorists to fight another is either a coincidence, a geographical quirk or part and parcel of Uncle Sam’s plan.

As this series has maintained for some time, the Gunwalker scandal can only be even partially understood when viewed in the context of U.S. foreign policy towards Mexico. Specifically, Uncle Sam’s support for the Sinaloan drug cartel. It’s Iran – Contra redux: support the weaker criminal mob to against the stronger criminal mob to gain control/influence over a country in crisis.

In this case, it’s the Sinaloans over Los Zetas.

Just so we’re clear [via CBS]: ”The Sinaloa and the Zetas have emerged as Mexico’s dominant drug cartels and appear locked in a nationwide battle for territory.” Strike the word “appear” and replace with “are” and add in unfathomable, unconscionable, unbelievable brutality.

The ATF “botched sting” wasn’t the only way Uncle Sam armed the Sinaloans. But it was, by foreign policy standards, a success.

By law enforcement standards, F&F was an abject failure. During ten months of operation, the ATF didn’t arrest a single “big fish” gun smuggler. Not one. Sure, there were a flurry of arrests after drug thugs wielding ATF-enabled weapons murdered U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. They are all, to a man, low-level players.

In fact, ATF bosses specifically instructed Agents in the field NOT to arrest criminals higher up in the food chain. What are the odds that the ATF knew about Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo’s weapons cache? Like so much about the Gunwalker scandal, there’s no “good” answer to that question.

Despite the hot mess that is the Gunwalker scandal—involving as it does the ATF, IRS, DHS, DOJ, NSS, FBI, CIA, CPB, ICE, State Department and White House—it really isn’t all that confusing. We helped “our” bad guys get guns. Someone ought to tell the latimes.com:

In the U.S., intelligence officials consider the Sinaloa cartel the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world. Weekly reports from U.S. intelligence authorities to the Justice Department in the summer of 2010, at the height of Fast and Furious, warned about the proliferation of guns reaching the Sinaloa cartel.

Interesting. ‘Cause in July 2009, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control included four Los Zetas leaders in its Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. But not a single Sinaloan.

And while the authorities have nabbed the low-level gun smugglers in this Juarez case, for some reason the “kingpin” remains at large.

Torres Marrufo, also known as “the Jaguar,” has been identified by U.S. authorities as the enforcer for Sinaloa cartel chieftain Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The Fast and Furious weapons were found at one of Torres Marrufo’s homes April 30 when Mexican police inspected the property. It was unoccupied but “showed signs of recent activity,” they said.

The basement had been converted into a gym with a wall covered with built-in mirrors. Behind the mirrors they found a hidden room with the Fast and Furious weapons and dozens more, including an antiaircraft machine gun, a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher.

“We have seized the most important cache of weapons in the history of Ciudad Juarez,” Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte said at the time, though he did not know that many of the weapons came from the U.S. and Fast and Furious.

Torres Marrufo has been indicted in El Paso, but authorities have been unable to locate and arrest him.

Odd that. No word, as well, which of these weapons came from sales enabled by the ATF and which came from U.S. military and law enforcement sales to Mexico and/or other Latin American countries. As far as I know you can’t buy an anti-aircraft machine gun at Bob’s Gun Store, even with the ATF’s assistance.

The Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious has U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama in its sights. Fair enough. To his credit, Representative Issa told Fox News that he wants to know who authorized Fast and Furious and why.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear more from Vicente Zambada-Niebla. The captured Sinaloa jefe claims the U.S. was turning a blind eye to the narco-terrorists’ drug business to target Los Zetas. That his homies depended on military weapons.

If that’s true, why would the ATF let piss-ant straw buyers feed the Sinaloans dribs and drabs of U.S. gun store guns? A gun control agenda within a foreign policy agenda?

This mystery that needs solving—if only to provide some answers to the bereaved families of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata. Oh, and over 200 Mexican families whose loved ones were tortured and/or slaughtered by narco-terrorists equipped with ATF-enabled firearms.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

21 Responses to ATF Death Watch 100: Feds Fed Fast and Furious Firearms to the Sinaloans

  1. avatarTexan says:

    Legalize drugs already, for crying out loud – 40,000 people would still be here. And not just because we would be giving in/giving up – but because it’s the right thing to do in 2011 and “Who The F* cares anymore or has the right to dictate what someone wants to put in their very own body???”

    Put our tax dollars fighting yet another un-winnable “War against something” towards education and rehabilitation for those who want it. For those who don’t want help, prosecute crimes against other people – not crimes against themselves.

    How many people (on both sides of the border) have to die and how many $$$ (on both sides of the border) have to be spent before we “get it?”

    • avatarSDN says:

      “Who The F* cares anymore or has the right to dictate what someone wants to put in their very own body???”

      Well, I do, if they are allowed to drive on the roads my family drives on. I do, if my tax dollars and health insurance premiums go to pay for the resources used putting them back together after their stupidity wrecks their health, or the welfare because they’re too screwed up to hold a job. I do, when I can’t fire them because they’re “disabled” under ADA and screwing up my business.

      If you are willing to go along with being under the influence treated as an aggravating circumstance so they can be executed when they run over someone; go along with denying them medical care of any sort when the drug test comes back positive; if you are willing to let evolution take its’ proper course and remove these people from the gene pool, then legalize away.

      • avatarRalph says:

        Well, I do, if they are allowed to drive on the roads my family drives on.

        The idea of a pothead or a nodding heroin junkie driving a car is laugh-inducing. The real enemy behind the wheel is the drunk. Therefore, we should outlaw booze. Oh, wait . . . .

      • avatarTexan says:

        Well, I do, if they are allowed to drive on the roads my family drives on.

        They would not be allowed to drive, being “under the influence” would apply to narcotics just the same as alcohol.

    • avatarLevi B says:

      This.

      • avatarDrew says:

        Also all the serious studies show that habitual marijuana users are actually safer drivers than average. I certainly don’t condone any form of D.U.I. but there is zero evidence to suggest marijuana users are a threat on the roadways. Certainly not any more of a hazard than distracted drivers, cell phone drivers, over the counter allergy med drivers, aggressive drivers or teen drivers. D.W.I. is already illegal and there are legal punishments already in place.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    I’m sure that we can trust Sen. Leahy to get to the bottom of this. He’s just waiting for Holder to tell him what “the bottom” is.

  3. avatarCliffG says:

    “High-powered assault weapons illegally purchased under the ATF’s Fast and Furious program in Phoenix ended up in a home belonging to the purported top Sinaloa cartel enforcer in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico…”

    If the government allows you to purchase a product and transport it across state and national borders, it is, by definition, not illegal. The government chose to make what is usually an illegal action into a legal action. While it is a “don’t try this at home” activity for most of us, it is a reminder that powerful governments can do things that limited governments can’t. Something that was well known circa 1787, but seems to have been forgotten in the last few decades.

    If the crony capitalists of Solyndra and the murderers of F&F don’t end up in jail, we can kiss any concept of the rule of law goodbye. Oh, read Andrew McCarthy on Holder’s previous lies to note this isn’t the first time he has lied to Congress.

  4. avatarAharon says:

    The Cartels have the money (they have billion$), corrupt political-military influence, and other means (ships and planes) to obtain any top-class world-wide modern infantry-type weapons and more that it wants. Why rely upon US gun stores that can not sell anything standard beyond a semi-auto military-style gun? Then, those guns have to cross the border north to south.

    I also suspect that there might be an agenda within an agenda. Is it possible that F&F was an operation (now failed) that existed to help enable the political propaganda push to further Justify gun control in America by the Executive Branch? Was it designed to spread the “military assault type” guns originating from American gun dealers to intentionally murder Mexican civilians creating an even bigger crisis in Mexico that would be blamed on the American “love of guns”. Was F&F another false-flag propaganda tool to later help pass new laws for further registering guns and bringing back the assault weapons ban?

    • avatarRalph says:

      Aharon, the answer to all your yes/no questions is “yes,” at least in part. The question “[w]hy rely upon US gun stores that can not sell anything standard beyond a semi-auto military-style gun?” is misstated IMO.

      The cartel didn’t rely, exclusively or otherwise, on the US gun stores; the stores provided a useful alternate channel for thousands of guns. Forget the 2000 number. That’s the number of guns that ATF admits to “walking” before the scheme was shut down. What would have happened if the scandal hadn’t blown up in the ATF’s faces? We’ll never know how many more thousands of gun would have ended up with the Sinaloas. Two thousand more? Five? Ten? Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of guns.

      Not enough firepower? I note that one of the cartel flunkies that the ATF caught and released without charges was a bomb maker who also was well-known for modifying standard ARs for full-on select fire.

      Need more guns than the stores can provide? No problem, the cartels have plenty of other sources and use them, too. When you go through guns like Sherman went through Georgia, you can’t have too many sources. The Mexican military can be had, but why tap them for thousands of ARs and risk getting them caught, when they can provide a case or two of easily transported RPGs with minimal risk? See, ATF guns can’t be traced back to the Sinaloas’ pals in the Mexican military, which gives them good cover.

      Unless all the Mexican gunrunners were on the ATF’s payroll and part of the conspiracy, it’s clear that someone in the cartel wanted those weapons. As for me, I took a poll and discovered that 9 out of 10 Sinaloas think that they do a pretty fair job of murdering the opposition with AR-15s and would love to have more. And they will. They’ll just get them from someplace else.

      • avatarAndo says:

        Indeed…
        Why buy 922 compliant AKs retail in the USA and risk transporting them over the border when you can get crate loads of true full auto assault rifles delivered to the South American Port of your choice for under $200 a rifle? That would only make sense for someone trying to prove a point. Grenade launcher and Browning .30 machine Gun are clearly “diverted” from South American Militaries.
        If there are 2000 F & F guns that have been put into circulation, that have resulted in 200 murders, and there have been over 20,000 murders in the Mexican Narco Civil War, does that imply that there are over 200,000 guns obtained from other sources?
        Gotta Love the “Scarface” theme…..

        • avatarRalph says:

          “does that imply that there are over 200,000 guns obtained from other sources”

          I don’t think its possible to extrapolate that way, but suffice it to say that there are a lot of guns flowing to the cartels from many sources.

          “why buy 922 compliant AKs retail in the USA and risk transporting them over the border when you can get crate loads of true full auto assault rifles delivered to the South American Port of your choice for under $200 a rifle?”

          Why not do both? The cartels have plenty of money. Price is not an object.

      • avatarAharon says:

        Ralph, thank you for your reply. It makes a lot of sense, has insight, and clarifies many things about F&F -gate.

  5. avatarPeter says:

    There have a whole lot of Mexican soldiers deserting, with their rifles, and going over to the cartels. Commanding officers have deserted with the whole armory. When that happens the US Government just ships some more, lather, rinse, repeat.

    The only weapons from US gun stores that are actually useful to the cartels are some of those Barrett .50s and other precision “sniper” rifles. The average cartel “soldier” is better armed with the weapons from the old SovBloc/Chicom armories. American rifles and handguns require a better educated user while the Chicom and Sovbloc weapons are designed for peasants.

  6. avatarIx Nay says:

    Dragging the Iran/Contra matter into this cost you a link and a lot of good will. Don’t bother reasoning with me about it. I told you: That comparison cost you a lot of good will, and I don’t care what you think. See if you can hold yourself back from offending your allies with extraneous pontificating, and stick to the matter at hand.

  7. avatarbobby b says:

    One of the usual justifications for keeping narcotics and pot illegal is that they tend to transform otherwise useful and productive citizens into layabout wastes of air – burdens that the rest of us must support.

    Strikes me that, with 9%-12% unemployment touted as possibly being the new “normal”, then that particular justification falls away. If we’re going to consign that big of a percentage of our workforce into enforced inactivity, we may as well let them get high if they want. Might make daytime TV more bearable for them, if nothing else.

  8. avatarThomasD says:

    Another possible, and possibly more frightening, explanation is that the places where the guns were being purchased are essentially Sinaloa turf and that the Zetas were simply unable to obtain them because they lacked the operational capabilities to coordinate purchase and transport back to Mexico in any meaningful quantity.

    Which, if true, would mean the Sinaloans (or their agents, such as aligned Mexican street gangs) are a significant organized crime force operating north of the border.

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