I’m not sure what bright spark at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (and Really Big Fires) came up with the term “Iron River.” Maybe it was a journalist, and the ATF simply glommed on to the term. But it’s an excellent moniker: an easy-to-remember nickname for a trade that no God-fearing, tax-paying, freedom-loving American would support. Who wants thousands of highly deadly assault rifles flowing from the U.S. to Mexico, into the hands of ruthless criminals? Nobody (except maybe evil gun dealers and rapacious gunmakers). So who you gonna call? The ATF! Truth be told, the Iron River was an immediate hit.
Not-so-coincidentally, the ATF picked-up the metaphor and ran with it. Since early last year, the agency’s press releases have constantly made mention of the so-called Iron River. Call it branding, sloganeering, or the Big Lie. Say something often enough and people believe it. If the federal agency charged with policing American gun sales keeps talking about an Iron River of illegal gun sales, if the media repeats the menacing meme like a well-meaning mantra, an iron river there must be.
Not a trickle. A river. A steady flow of weapons, moving from Bob’s Gun Stores (or similar) to Los Zetas drug cartel (or similar). A river that must be dammed! Because we’re damned if we don’t. Damned by a personage no less prominent than Felipe Calderon, the President of Mexico. Damned, chided and publicly humiliated for our inability to staunch the flow.
Never mind the enormous flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States. Or the most important fuel for the pyre upon which tens of thousands of Mexican have been tortured, raped, killed and discarded: billions of yankee dollars. Nope. Once again, Americans were subjected to the gun control advocates’ favorite and most effective trick: misdirection. The guns! The guns! That’s how we stop the killing! We stop the guns.
The ATF promoted and exploited the idea, lining up in front of Congress, begging bowl in hand, singing Take Me to the River. And they scored. Four new field offices! Dozens of new agents! After spending decades in stasis, watching the FBI double in size and whole new federal law enforcement agencies arise from the ashes of 911, Uncle Sam wrote a check to the ATF. The deeply unloved agency finally had its day in the sun.
Only Project Gunrunner was built on a lie.
As any good marketer will tell you, all brands start with the product. A brand is a nothing more than a promise. Coca-Cola will refresh you. Lexus will cosset you in luxury. Smith & Wesson will protect you. The more deeply and completely the brand’s products fulfill that promise, the stronger the brand. The “Iron River” brand was built on a promise that the ATF would nab the bad guys, just like Elliott Ness. Only there were no bad guys. No cigar-chomping gun smuggling kingpins against which the ATF could send its SRT team.
In fact, there was no Iron River of guns period. The ATF “sold” the idea to Congress, the public and (let’s face it) themselves based on firearms traces from the Mexican authorities. The ATF claimed that 90 percent of the guns seized from Mexican drug cartels by Mexican law enforcement officers in 2008 came from the U.S. Right from the git-go, there was plenty of evidence of that the ATF’s Iron River brand was nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
Here’s the analysis from stratfor.com, posted in July, before the ATF got its wicked way with your tax money.
According to the [GAO] report [based on data provided by the ATF], some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican officials in 2008. Out of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them, (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.
This means that the 87 percent figure comes from the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by the Mexicans or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. The 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing.
Here’s another crucial fact that somehow missed the cut: the average American-sourced gun traced by the ATF on behalf of the Mexicans in 2008 was 14-years-old. That’s the average age. What are the odds that drug cartels awash in cash are going to deploy twenty-year-old American weapons in their blood-soaked wars against the federales and each other? In fact, where was the list of confiscated weapons? The veil of secrecy surrounding the stats spoke volumes about the integrity of the ATF’s branding exercise.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of a product can spot a faked brand easily enough. A fake Rolex doesn’t look like a real Rolex. A fake Iron River doesn’t look like a real gun smuggling epidemic either. Stratfor revisited the Mexican gun smuggling issue yesterday, using the term “myth” to describe the trade that the ATF swears up, down and sideways is still a scourge. As TTAG reported, a sampling of gun confiscations by the the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency indicates that the Iron River is nothing but a trickle. If that.
Yesterday, the embattled head of the ATF re-asserted the agency’s claim that the Iron River exists, repeating the claim that his agency had seized over 10,000 guns headed for Mexico in the last five years. Kenneth Melson didn’t provide one scintilla of evidence. The move tells us that the ATF’s Iron River brand is facing some increasing stiff competition: Gunwalker.
That’s the name writer David Cordrea’s given to the scandal in which the ATF stands accused of enabling if not encouraging gun smuggling to Mexico. In specific, the ATF is charged with turning a blind eye to the sale of WASR-10 rifles, two of which were used to kill U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Melson’s confronted the competition in the grand tradition of The Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain. THERE IS AN IRON RIVER!
No there isn’t. There are armies of criminals south of the border who sell drugs, oil, and anything else that’ll earn them money, and then buy rifles from the same place they get grenades: the Mexican police, the Mexican military, eastern Europe, China, South America and anywhere else where there aren’t five major U.S. federal agencies trying to interdict their supply. Any guns headed south from U.S. gun stores are statistically insignificant. Round the number down to zero. Gunwalker is real. The Iron River is not. And yet . . .
Senator Grassley recently released documents showing that one of the ATF’s stooges, the man who bought the weapons used to kill Agent Terry, purchased two .50 caliber rifles. The main, perhaps only reason Mexican drug gangs would want a .50 caliber rifle: to take out a truck. Or a helicopter. Now you could say .50 caliber rifles don’t take out armored personnel carriers or choppers, drug smugglers do. And you’d be right. But if we believe that people should be held accountable for their actions, then we must hold ourselves, and our federal employees, to the same standard.
It’s time to pull the plug on the ATF. The ATF has been supplying guns to Mexico. What more do you need to know? The Iron River is a fiction. But they’re right about one thing: it must be stopped. The ATF must be stopped. Pulled off the case. Exposed as the institutionally corrupt organization that it is. Demoted to a department within the IRS from whence it came. Dissed, dismissed and yes, dismantled. But we can change! they may protest, once the Gunwalker scandal hits the mainstream media. To which I can only reply: cry me a river.