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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws. In 2005, the Bureau launched Project Gunrunner. They established the program to stop gun smugglers from buying and exporting weapons from gun dealers to Mexican drug cartels. Project Gunrunner led to the arrest of hundreds of so-called straw purchasers: citizens with clean criminal records buying firearms illegally on the behalf of criminals. The ATF claimed they were stemming an “Iron River” of illegal guns headed south. Despite an Inspector General report condemning the ATF for failing to catch “the big fish,” Congress rewarded the ATF with additional funding. In 2009, Project Gunrunner mutated into something far more sinister: Operation Fast and Furious.

During Project Gunrunner, ATF agents arrested straw purchasers before weapons crossed the U.S. – Mexican border. In Operation Fast and Furious, ATF agents made no attempt to arrest either the original purchaser or the criminal who received the illegally purchased firearms. In some cases, ATF agents hand-delivered weapons to gun smugglers. In all cases, the federal law enforcement agency let the smuggled guns “walk” across the border.

Several American gun dealers (who had not been informed of the sting operation ahead of time) were immediately suspicious of the straw purchasers, many of whom bought multiple guns multiple times. The gun dealers contacted the ATF and requested guidance or intervention. The ATF told the dealers to complete the transactions and let the weapons go.

As expected, straw purchasers smuggled these semi-automatic rifles and handguns across the U.S. border into the hands of Mexican drug cartel members. Hundreds and then thousands of semi-automatic rifles and handguns disappeared into the hands of vicious criminals.

Concerned ATF agents monitoring the sales understood the danger to Mexicans and Americans alike. They begged their superiors for permission to interdict the guns at the U.S. border. All such requests were summarily refused.

Within months, Fast and Furious-enabled firearms began to show up at Mexican crime scenes via the ATF’s eTrace tracking system. It’s not possible to determine how many Mexicans were murdered by cartel members using Fast and Furious firearms. All parties involved admit that the numbers reached into the hundreds.

ATF agents at the sharp end became increasingly disturbed by the notion of drug thugs using Bureau-enabled guns to murder rivals and innocent civilians. They worried that cartel members would use the guns against U.S. law enforcement officials. The agents published their discontent on a website called Gun bloggers David Cordrea and Mike Vanderboegh pursued the story.

Inevitably, the agents’ worst fears were realized. Some of the ATF-enabled weapons found their way back into the United States. When one or more members of a “rip crew” (ripping off drug smugglers) used one of the Fast and Furious guns to murder U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, the ATF’s wall of silence was breached.

With inside info and prodding from pro-gun bloggers, Congressman Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley began investigating. The ATF stonewalled their requests for information, refusing to provide key documents. The Bureau threatened retaliation against ATF line agents who raised objections to Fast and Furious—both during and after the Operation.

After zealous digging by the Gun Rights Examiner and The Sipsey Street Irregulars, after three House Oversight Committee hearings and some better-late-than-never coverage by CBS, Fox and others, the details of Project Fast and Furious began to emerge. We now have information about Operation Fast and Furious that Bureau managers withheld from ATF line agents tasked with overseeing its implementation.

We now know that cartel criminals used a Fast and Furious .50 caliber rifle to shoot at a Mexican military helicopter that was subsequently forced to land. Two other Fast and Furious weapons were used by members of the Sinaloa cartel in the kidnapping, torture and murder of high-profile Mexican attorney Mario González Rodríguez, the brother of a state prosecutor in Mexico.

We now know that many of the so-called straw purchasers were paid FBI informants. William Newell, Former ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division, testified before Congress that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and Immigrations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were “full partners” in Operation Fast and Furious.

We now know that senior ATF officials in Washington were regularly briefed on Operation Fast and Furious. Agent Newell testified that he discussed the gun smuggling operation with Kevin O’Reilly, a staffer on President Obama’s National Security Council. The White House knew the program’s risks and nevertheless approved of the Operation and its tactics.

We now know that Operation Fast and Furious was not the only ATF gun smuggling program. The ATF ran “Operation Castaway” out of their Tampa office. Hundreds of guns moved from Florida straw purchasers into Honduras, ultimately bound for Mexican cartels. Castaway firearms have been connected to several crimes in Puerto Rico and a murder in Colombia.

Operation Fast and Furious resulted in twenty indictments against low-level gunrunners—most of which were made immediately after Agent Terry’s murder, once the program came to light. Weighed against the deaths of Border Patrol Agent Terry, Mario González Rodríguez and countless others, the operation’s costs seem to heavily outweigh the return.

All of which begs the question: why did the ATF allow the guns to walk? How could such an obviously dangerous program—a “sting” that violated Mexican sovereignty—ever have been implemented?

When Operation Fast and Furious broke cover, gun-bloggers “revealed” the ATF’s motives. The Bureau wanted to create an Iron River. Guns eTraced from the U.S. to Mexico would enhance their power, prestige and budgetary allocation. At the same time, the ATF could use the stats generated by their anti-gun running gun running “sting” to attack the Second Amendment and, thus, usher in legislation to restrict Americans who wish to buy, sell or keep firearms.

From Project Gunrunner to Operation Fast and Furious, “never waste a good crisis” morphed into “never miss a chance to create a good crisis.” Allegedly.

To understand the truth about Operation Fast and Furious, you have to see the bigger picture . . .

Mexico is at war. Rival drug cartels and the Mexican military are fighting a bloody battle for control of the country and tens of billions of dollars worth of illegal income. In the last five years, more than 40,000 Mexicans have died in this internecine conflict. Twice as many people have been tortured. Tens of millions of Mexicans live in fear for their lives, without any civil liberties (including gun rights).

The situation in neighboring Guatemala is even worse. Although not well-publicized, Guatemala’s murder rate is three times higher than Mexico’s. The drug cartels are completely entrenched; less than one percent of crimes are punished.

The horrific, remorseless violence raging in Mexico and Guatemala can be laid squarely at the feet of the drug cartels and their puppets in both governments. Every gang is knee-deep in blood. Every gang bears equal responsibility. Both governments have been infiltrated and corrupted by drug cartels dispensing billions of dollars worth of blood money.

While members of the Mexican and Guatemalan federal governments are doing well from the conflict, the governments themselves are losing control. In Mexico, drug cartels are now in charge of huge swathes of territory, including large cities like Ciudad Juarez. Within their strongholds, cartels own the police, judiciary and prison system. They’ve murdered and tortured the press into silence. They are, literally, a law unto themselves.

One Mexican drug cartel has risen above all the rest: Los Zetas.

Los Zetas was founded by a group of former Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (Special Forces Airmobile Group), deemed to be among Mexico’s military elite. Los Zetas drafted-in former federal, state, and local police officers as well as “ordinary” soldiers. They’ve formed an alliance with Guatemala’s jungle warfare specialists Los Kaibiles.

Los Zetas and their Kaibiles allies have the organization, training and discipline to destabilize an entire hemisphere. They have unlimited funds, unlimited access to weaponry (including fully automatic rifles, grenade launchers and grenades) and an army of more than ten thousand loyal members.

Both Robert Plumlee, a former CIA pilot and Phil Jordan, a former CIA operative and DEA director, claim Los Zetas have stockpiled thousands of weapons to disrupt and influence Mexico’s national elections in 2012. Los Zetas end game: a seat at the government table. Guatemala also elects its national leaders in 2012. In both countries, there’s a very real chance that Los Zetas could subvert the political process completely and stage a successful coup d’etat. 

All that stands between Los  Zetas’ leaders and complete hegemony: the governments of Mexico and Guatemala and their “friendly” drug cartels. Just last week, Mexico completed operation Lince Norte (“Northern Lynx”), a 20-day attack on Los Zetas by 4,000 Mexican troops. The Mexican military boasted they’d killed Nuevo Laredo’s Zeta boss and the arrested a cartel financial manager.

The Mexican and Guatemalan governments remain under siege. Neither has enough trustworthy forces to be assured of victory against Los Zetas.

The United States is assisting Mexico’s fight against Los Zetas every way it can. Last year, the U.S. State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales Program doled-out some $416.5 million worth of weapons and equipment to the Mexican military. U.S. taxpayers have stumped up more than a billion dollars to fund the so-called Merida Initiative, providing equipment and training to Mexico’s security agencies.

Despite all that time, effort, material and money, the situation in Mexico continues to disintegrate. Whatever help the U.S. has given to Mexico, it hasn’t been enough. And that includes Operation Fast and Furious.

The ATF’s claim that they created Operation Fast and Furious to to bust the Mexican cartels’ “big fish” strains credulity. The guns weren’t tracked. In fact, they were un-trackable. The ATF has no jurisdiction in Mexico. Mexico’s law enforcement and military are suffused with cartel spies and allies. The Mexican government was never informed about the program in the first place. There was no way of closing the supposed trap.

If the ATF intended to create a program that was designed to fail, it could not have done a better job than Operation Fast and Furious. But it wasn’t and they didn’t. Operation Fast and Furious was created to funnel weapons from American gun stores to anti-Zeta cartel members on the border. In this it was successful.

From its inception in the fall of 2009 to its termination roughly a year later, ATF-enabled smugglers walked at least 2000 weapons across the border. Because of the murders of Agent Terry and Agent Zapata, the Operation Fast and Furious never hit its stride. Had not sunk of its own weight, Operation Fast and Furious would still be funneling thousand of weapons into Mexico.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the federally licensed firearms dealers who filled the straw purchasers’ trucks with weapons were supposed to be the fall guys, should Operation Fast and Furious come to light. That ploy has failed. The ATF has been left holding the bag, with a Congressional committee hard at their heels.

Operation Fast and Furious’ disintegration and the ATF’s attempt to sweep it under the rug in no way implies that the ATF set the wheels in motion. On the contrary, the Bureau never had a “Plan B” if Fast and Furious went off the rails. Can they really be that stupid? Unlikely.

Since 2009 or before, the American intelligence community has feared that Mexico was becoming politically and thus militarily unstable. The U.S. military quietly but not secretly stepped up its training of Mexican security forces. Meanwhile, the CIA added Mexico to their watch list, right up here with al-Qaida.

The CIA should know. The relationship between the CIA and the anti-Zetas cartels goes back some twenty years. The former Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico’s top narco traffickers in the 1980s, was protected by Miguel Nassar Haro, Chief of Mexico’s Dirección Federal de Seguridad. Haro was a CIA asset. Most of the territory formerly dominated by the Guadalajara Cartel was taken over by the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, both blood enemies of Los Zetas.

Yesterday’s New York Times reported that the U.S. is now sending “new” CIA operatives and retired military personnel to Mexico to help the federal government fight Los Zetas. Uncle Sam’s also looking at deploying private security contractors. Clearly, in the run-up to that Mexico’s national elections, the U.S. federal government’s concerns about the Mexican government’s survival are increasing.

Between these two events: Operation Fast and Furious. TTAG’s contacts tell us that the CIA is behind the ATF’s decision to let guns walk from American gun stores. The Agency saw Fast and Furious as a way to arm anti-Zeta cartels. Specifically, the Sinaloa cartel. They worked with the ATF, killing two birds with one stone: increasing the ATF’s credibility in Washington and countering Los Zetas’ power.

As for the involvement of the FBI, DEA, ICE, DHS (Department of Homeland Security), CPB (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and the U.S. State Department, think Murder on the Orient Express. A CIA-originated and orchestrated anti-Zetas gun smuggling program gave everyone a piece of the action.

It explains the fact that the federal agencies in charge of patrolling the Mexican border failed to intercept a single “Gunwalker” gun. It explains Mexico’s silence about the ATF’s violation of their sovereignty. (President Felipe Calderon keeping a lid on the CIA’s role in Mexican politics lest The Company reveal his cronies’ connection with the Sinaloa cartel.)

It explains the ATF big-wigs’ high-fiving when Operation Fast and Furious guns were recovered at a crime scene; they were celebrating when Sinaloa cartel members used a Fast and Furious gun to kill Zetas. A practice suggests that the ATF’s top bureaucrats knew Operation Fast and Furious’ real goal, even if their front line agents did not.

The so-called Gunwalker scandal proves that America’s multi-billion dollar “War on Drugs” is an utter sham. Our government was (is?) involved in a drugs for guns conspiracy. The scandal also highlights the fact that America’s Mexican border is all but completely porous. If the Sinaloas can fly a 747 filled with cocaine into the U.S. with official approval, what’s to stop them bringing in something worse?

All this and more to stop Los Zetas from taking control of Mexico (and Guatemala).

Strange to say, a Mexican military-style dictatorship might force America to seal our southern border. No drugs and illegal immigrants in. No guns out. (Unless we sold weapons to the junta.) Meanwhile and in any case, one wonders if Congress will explore the CIA connection to Operation Fast and Furious or let sleeping dogs lie in the interest of “national security.” Watch this space.

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  1. Excellent article, guys! I’m no expert here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Operation Fast & Furious had been done without presidential approval or even knowledge. It seems to have been not well-enough thought out and with no backup plan. The President doesn’t play checkers. He plays chess while others are assuming that he’s playing checkers.

    More than that (yes, there is a more than that), the so-called Gunwalker scandal reveals that America’s multi-billion dollar “War on Drugs” as a complete sham. Our government is cutting deals with narco-terrorists to allow the unfettered importation of illegal drugs.

    This is not news; it’s been common knowledge for decades.

    • That’s funny, I thought the President’s favorite game was “Hungry Hungry Hippos”.

      No, the president doesn’t play chess. He’s not a deep thinker. He didn’t develop a backup plan. He assumes his liberal ideas are right and correct and unquestionable. Why have a backup plan when you’re perfect?

      • Obuma’s irrelevant. Makes no difference what he thinks nor if, for that matter. His role is playing the part for the Bilderberg Group and the New World Order marches forward as we all focus on gun smuggling, drugs and global warming…

  2. Well done. Like most of us here, who frequent TTAG, I’ve followed this story from the beginning and I find the details dizzying, at times. This is the most concise top-to-bottom perspective I’ve seen. Thank you.

    As a metaphor, “Tonkin Gulf” keeps coming to mind.

  3. reckons I may be the victim of a CIA disinformation campaign. And that I fail to see the big picture.

    There is nothing to say that the evil bastards who thought Gunwalker up didn’t have multiple goals, or that subordinate agencies (or factions within agencies) might not have taken advantage of a poorly thought-out directive for their own purposes. But the evidence that us poor, addled “bloggers” have collected so far — and it is evidence, not speculation — points to a White House conceived and directed plan to boost the numbers of civilian-market firearms in the hands of Mexican drug cartel murderers for political purposes here at home.

    While I’m a hammer on Second Amendment rights, not everything looks like a nail. And I repeat: financial corruption plays a part in this thing, somewhere. There’s too much money floating around for the scandal to be purely ideological. Just speculatin’…

    • Just because it looks and sounds like a “conspiracy theory” doesn’t mean there’s no conspiracy. Look, I wouldn’t give a whole lot of credit to this Administration, the DoJ, ATF, CIA or any two bureaucrats to execute a brilliantly conceived multi-departmental master plane to do all manner of evil. But with everybody in sight having some stake in this going exactly as it did, opportunism, tacit approval, simply going along, outright criminal incompetence and just a little help here ‘n’ there, while maintaining plausible deniability, are the MOs of government corruption and conspiracies.

  4. The ATF is a flyspeck agency next to the CIA. But there’s another difference: despite what we may think of the CIA’s tactics from time to time, we know they’re doing whatever they do in order to protect America’s national interests. The ATF, on the other hand, is just a collection of Nazis.

  5. Its an interesting twist in the story (and I would like to see the tip you guys got developed further), but its not really shocking that the CIA or our govt would be involved in arming bad guys to try to make sure that the really, really bad guys didnt win out. The elephant in the room is that they were using guns from US gun shops. Why not just write them a check or ship them a few crates of M4s or AKs? Its the fact that they were going to the efforts of actually running guns from the US that really makes it all stink to high heaven. Thats where the politicization and the arterial motivation of it all comes in… And that is what makes this incident (and those involved) so dangerous to our liberty and our rights.

    • I’m not 100 percent sure, but we know that Los Zetas have infiltrated every part of the Mexican military (check out that New York Times link above), from whence they came. The CIA/Sinaloas had trouble arming the street level thugs from the Mexican side of the border.

      Also, I’m not saying Operation Fast and Furious was the only way the Sinaloa baddies got guns. Just one of them.

    • Every big business knows that alternate channels of distribution can be critical. Should a channel become blocked, others are needed. F&F was just one of many channels that the US has opened to arm the anti-Zetas. Considering that F&F was still in its “beta” phase and dealt exclusively with small arms, it was pretty big and would have grown even larger over time. Our government uses other channels to distribute military hardware such as grenades and fully-automatic weapons to the anti-Zetas and yes, through those other channels they do drop in crates of automatic AKs as you suggested.

  6. To underestimate Obama’s intelligence is to make a grave mistake. He’s smart. If he has a goal or target and can go off the grid to reach it then he’ll do it quickly and precisely.

    All this stuff we “regular people” see, the economy/debt ceiling/bank regulation stuff, he does in a manner where he can get the majority to agree with him or at very least save face. But he’s a classic Democrat but only when everyone’s looking.

    I’m withholding my ultimate judgement on him until I see conclusive evidence that he was actively involved before I say he’s guilty but the more I read about this whole mess the more I get the sense that he was probably in on all this…at least enough to have a basic idea of the illegality of it all.

    Having the impression of Obama that I do I don’t think he would be ignorant of what’s going on here. That’s a harder pill to swallow than it was with W.!

  7. I think you’re ALMOST THERE!

    BUT off by 180 degrees….

    The purpose wasn’t to stabilize, but to DE-stabilize Mexico.

    Millions MORE) of them streaming over the border would require our intervention – say hello to the North American Union!

    Then we’d have to give the poor refugees citizenship – would be just the proper thing to do!

    I’m sure the fact that this would be a few million new Demunist voters is just coincidence…

  8. The sons of bitches! Last year I made a smart ass remark that the USG was arming the cartels, specifically the Sinaloa cartel (whose leader is kin by marriage of the current President of Mexico) to create a pretext for US intervention. Dedícated_Dad deserves kudos for saying it here before me, but this will teach me to make smart ass remarks.

    The sons of bitches! I watched Juarez die at the hands of the Zeta and the Sinaloa cartels, cartels armed and trained by the US.


    For good article that leads into more than just Fast and Furious… goggle: Mexico- Fast and Furious- weapons-juarez- Columbus New Mexico-Plumlee; for good reading and solid background. Also Narco News article US has “Boots on the Ground” operating inside in Mexico. Things we do not read, hear, or see in MSM.

  10. and here is another link to an El Paso Times article which might be of interest to some:

    “… The brutally violent Zetas drug organization may be smuggling military-grade weapons through El Paso and Columbus, N.M., to feed its ongoing battles against other cartels and to possibly disrupt the 2012 elections in Mexico.
    Phil Jordan, a former director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center and a former CIA operative, said the Zetas have shipped large amounts of weapons through the El Paso area. ..”.

    It appears MSM does not want to cover these type stories no matter how many second or third reliable source you have that supports the story. There is something smelly about this cat……

  11. I’m a confirmed, enthusiastic, dyed-in-the-wool Obama denigrator from pre-presidential times back in Chicago. I despise the man. There’s no lie that he won’t tell if he can advance one of his several endgames by telling it, and all of his endgames uniformly suck.

    But I also know enough about Los Zetas to get a true chill up my spine thinking about them. These are the guys who rolled right through the Mara Salvatrucha. These are the guys whose training makes them comparable in many ways to our guys over in Iraq – a far cry from the Sinaloa model of soldier, which is much closer to the Mafia low-level soldier than a true military asset.

    Now Los Zetas are on the rise again, expanding their territory into many of the areas that border the US, and in some cases coming across our border to set up delivery connection points. These guys are scary-evil, and are the only group that I think could roll right through any of our civilian LE organizations. Truly, if LZ decided to cross into Texas or Arizona, they’d control a good chunk of land before we could get our military lined up and deployed, and, in the meantime, I think the American civilian death toll would be in the tens of thousands. Obama, just in the last month, signed a very quick, semi-quiet Executive Order that sort of hides within its main body a provision allowing US state and fed people to seize and keep Los Zetas assets that are found in the US. He’s apparently getting good info, and is taking them seriously.

    But now it seems that there’s a rebirth of the Matazetas – the Zeta Killers – an old Sinaloan offshoot from some time back that seems to display a pro-common-Mexican, anti-Zetan philosophy, and that simply tries to wipe out Los Zetas where they can be found. They’ve had some success where others have not, and so I’m wondering if Obama (and it just kills me to think this) got good advice, and took it, and so we’re now helping to supply and maybe run the Matazetas. If this is the case, I would have to grudgingly admit that he got one foreign policy thought correct.

  12. If the surmise expressed in the article is true, that the US government armed one side in a foreign dispute to influence the out come, it will not have been the first time. Dumb idea, just as e.g. Iran Contra was a dumb idea.

  13. US-Trained Assassin Teams Now Deployed in Drug War
    Posted by Bill Conroy – August 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm
    Former CIA Asset Who Revealed Presence of US Special Forces in Mexico Says Hit Squads Targeting Narco Splinter Groups
    A small but growing proxy war is underway in Mexico pitting US-assisted assassin teams composed of elite Mexican special operations soldiers against the leadership of an emerging cadre of independent drug organizations that are far more ruthless than the old-guard Mexican “cartels” that gave birth to them.
    These Mexican assassin teams now in the field for at least half a year, sources tell Narco News, are supported by a sophisticated US intelligence network composed of CIA and civilian US military operatives as well as covert special-forces soldiers under Pentagon command — which are helping to identify targets for the Mexican hit teams.
    Evidence of this intelligence support network has surfaced recently even in mainstream media reports, in outlets such as the New York Times and the Mexican publication El Universal — the former reporting that “CIA operatives and American civilian military employees have been posted at a Mexican military base,” and the latter reporting that elite US and Mexican troops engaged in joint training exercises in Colorado earlier this year.
    But Narco News as far back as June of 2010 reported that a special forces US task force had “boots on the ground” in Mexico assisting the Mexican military in tracking down the top capos of Mexico’s major drug “cartels” – such as the Juarez, Beltran Leyva, Zetas and La Familia organizations. (The Sinaloa organization’s top leadership, however, has been left largely untouched, and by design if you believe the recent US court pleadings of Vicente Zambada Niebla, a Sinaloa leader now imprisoned in Chicago who claims a quid pro quo deal has been struck between the Sinaloa drug syndicate and the US government.) [See link].
    Narco News also reported in April of this year that a unit of a major US defense contractor was advertising in the mercenary community for “site leads” who can help oversee the company’s personnel in Mexico and also coordinate “with Mexican Army officials” at a dozen training sites, called “VMTCs [Virtual Military Training Centers],” located in Mexico.
    The information in the job posting described the US military contractor’s training network in Mexico as being part of an effort called “Project Sparta,” which is designed “to train Mexican Army soldiers in basic and advanced urban warfare operations” with the ultimate goal of creating an “Urban Warfare Elite Force.”
    The “new specialized reaction force” will support “federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the war against organized crime and the drug cartels,” the help-wanted ad stated.
    Now, an official with the company posting the want ad, L-3 MPRI, claimed that “we don’t have a contract [in Mexico] to do that kind of work.” The ad was subsequently removed from the company’s Web site.
    Regardless, the fact that the ad was posted at all on the L-3 MPRI Web site seems to indicate that someone in Mexico was seeking the “urban warfare” training services, even if L-3 MPRI did not get the contract.
    One law enforcement source familiar with the situation in Mexico says training in urban warfare would be critical to any unit set up to wage an assault campaign on narco splinter groups.
    What is key to all of these glimpses into US operations in Mexico is that they all seem to be focused on military strategies, not law enforcement. And the goal of the military, unlike law enforcement, is to neutralize the enemy on the battlefield — not bring that enemy to justice through the court system.
    So it should be no surprise that information is now surfacing from reliable sources indicating that the US government is once again employing a long-running counter-insurgency strategy that has been pulled off the shelf and deployed in conflicts dating back to Vietnam in the 1960s, in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, and beyond, and in more recent conflicts, such as in Iraq.
    From a 2005 report in the Sunday Times in the United Kingdom that reveals details about US plans to employ death squads in Iraq:
    Under the so-called “El Salvador option”, Iraqi and American forces would be sent to kill or kidnap insurgency leaders, even in Syria, where some are thought to shelter.
    The plans are reported in this week’s Newsweek magazine as part of Pentagon efforts to get US forces in Iraq on to the front foot against an enemy that is apparently getting the better of them.
    Hit squads would be controversial and would probably be kept secret.
    The experience of the so-called “death squads” in Central America remains raw for many even now and helped to sully the image of the United States in the region.
    And the recognition by the Mexican and US governments, even though not admitted publicly, that the narco-trafficking business is “getting the better of them” is likely once again prompting the introduction of the death-squad strategy in Mexico, though adjusted for the unique conditions existing in that nation at this time, according to sources who spoke with Narco News.
    Covert Military “Justice”
    The US and Mexican government’s strategy of attacking the so-called “kingpins” of the narco-trafficking industry has failed to stem the tide of drugs flowing into the US nor has it reduced the number of players in the narco-trafficking business.
    Instead, it has given rise to a slate of splinter narco-trafficking groups that have stepped into the power vacuums created when US or Mexican law enforcers and military have an occasional success and take out a top narco leader. Examples of those successes in recent years include the killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva of the Beltran Leyva organization, the capture of Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas of La Familia, and more recently of Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez of La Linea [The Line] — the enforcement arm of the Juarez drug-trafficking organization.
    Among the so-called splinter groups that have come onto the scene, many within the past year, include organizations whose names are not yet in the bright lights of the mainstream media: Mano con ojos, or Hands with Eyes; Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers; Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar; Cartel de Pacifico Sur, or the South Pacific Cartel; Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion; and Cartel del Centro, to name but a few.
    These so-called splinter groups tend to be extremely violent in their approach since they are competing more intensely against more organizations for a slice of turf in the drug-trafficking, arms-smuggling, contract-murder, kidnapping and extortion business, acting as criminal organizations in their own right. This “Hydra effect,” (whereby the elimination of one “narco-kingpin” gives rise to three or four more aspiring splinter-group kingpins) has become a big problem for both the US and Mexican governments and the veracity of their PR campaign in the drug war, which insists that the narco-traffickers are now on the run and the emergence of these splinter groups is an unimportant side note to be downplayed publicly.
    The increasing violence sparked by these splinter groups, however, has translated into an overall escalating homicide rate in Mexico, where since late 2006 nearly 50,000 people, many innocent civilians and even children, have been cut down by the savagery and indiscriminate bloodshed of this drug war. Close to half of those murders have taken place in the last 18 months alone, marking the rise of the Hydra splinter groups — which are often enforcement cells, sometimes street gangs, that previously did contract work for captured or killed “narco-kingpins.”
    The violent acts unleashed by these legion splinter groups, which are only now coming to light in the mainstream media (stories of victims tortured horrifically and hung from bridges alive before being shot to death, or of a face cut off and stitched to a soccer ball) have been noted behind the scenes for some time in the police reports and intelligence briefings of the law enforcers and military personnel now engaged in the drug war, sources tell Narco News.
    And the response of the existing political and monied interests of the state to this threat, according to one of those sources, former CIA asset Tosh Plumlee, has been to take a page out of the “El Salvador solution,” modify it for the current era, and go at these splinter groups directly but covertly — utilizing highly trained assassination units whose mission is to “neutralize” the leaders of the splinter groups before they can consolidate power.
    Plumlee’s track record in getting it right on drug-war black ops has been established and is even now being recognized by mainstream media outlets like the UPI news service and Washington Times, both of which have quoted him recently as a source in relation to the drug war.
    Narco News reported in June 2010 that a special-forces task force under Pentagon command was operating in Mexico. That report was based on information provided by Plumlee, who worked in the past as a CIA contract pilot in Latin America and still has deep connections in the intelligence world.
    From the June 2010 Narco News story:
    A special operations task force under the command of the Pentagon is currently in place south of the border providing advice and training to the Mexican Army in gathering intelligence, infiltrating and, as needed, taking direct action against narco-trafficking organizations, claims a former CIA asset who has a long history in the covert operations theater.
    The U.S. unit, dubbed Task Force 7, since early 2009, according to the CIA operative, has helped to uncover a warehouse in Juarez packed with U.S. munitions and under the control of drug traffickers; provide critical intelligence that led to the raid of a Juarez sweatshop that was manufacturing phony Mexican military uniforms; worked with the Mexican military in uncovering a mass grave near Palomas, Mexico, just south of Columbus, New Mexico; and, behind the scenes, cooperated with the Mexican Navy in hunting down a major narco-trafficker, Arturo Beltran Leyva — who was killed by Mexican Navy special forces last December [in 2009] during a raid on a luxury apartment complex in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
    That report was later supported by both a leaked Pentagon document that verified US special operations troops were active in Mexico as well as a State Department cable released by the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks. [See link for details.]
    The cable released by WikiLeaks also verified that the Mexican Navy unit that conducted the operation against narco-capo Arturo Beltran Leyva (resulting in his death) “received extensive U.S. training” — which serves as further evidence supporting Narco News’ original reporting on the involvement of U.S. special forces in that operation.
    The same cable also predicted that the killing of Beltran Leyva will, in the short-term (a period not defined precisely) result in a “spike” in narco-related violence “as inter- and intra-cartel battles [by splinter groups] are intensified by the sudden leadership gap in one of the country’s most powerful cartels.”
    According to Plumlee, members of the same US special-forces task force that assisted in the takedown of Beltran Leyva are now providing intelligence support and ongoing training to the Mexican assassin teams set up to target the leaders of the proliferating narco splinter groups.
    The mission of these specialized Mexican attack units, Plumlee contends, is to “neutralize” (kill) the targets. This is a new focus, since before the Mexican military was targeting the leadership of the major drug organizations for capture, if possible. But in this case, capture is not the goal, and the targets are the leaders of these hyper-violent, independent splinter groups that have sprung up in the wake of the shakeup, via capture or killing, in the leadership of the major cartels — with the Sinaloa organization, it seems, being protected from a fatal attack on its leadership.
    Plumlee contends that the old-guard “cartels” also see these splinter groups as their enemies, given they are rivals threatening the stability of the existing business model, so in essence the Mexican assassin teams are also serving the interests of the dominate narco groups the drug war is suppose to be combating.
    “Some of the intelligence on the splinter groups is actually being provided by members of the Zetas,” Plumlee claims.
    There are supposedly at least three such Mexican hit teams operating now in Mexico (in the north, central and southern regions of the country).
    These Mexican military death squads were supposedly trained by the US, though Plumlee does not know where. Also, Plumlee says the US task force personnel now working inside Mexico, as part of their intelligence support mission for the Mexican hit teams, are helping to identify and verify targets.
    Truth Before the Narrative
    Believe what you will, kind readers, but remember Plumlee has been proven right in the past on these matters, even though his assertions were ignored by the mainstream media and denied by US and Mexican bureaucrats. And now the reporting finally showing up in the “official” media, thanks to the perseverance of some remaining honest reporters, seems to demonstrate that the US intelligence community and military’s role in Mexico’s drug war is overshadowing any pretense of a purely criminal-justice approach to the continued enforcement of prohibition.
    And there will be a price to pay should this shortsighted covert counter-insurgency strategy, one that employs among the oldest tools in the US military playbook, death squads, continue to play out absent public scrutiny and accountability.
    Former CIA case manager Leutrell Osbourne warned of that steep price in an interview he did with Narco News in 2009.
    Osborne, who oversaw spies and assets for the CIA in more than 30 countries on three continents during his 27 years with the agency, says if he if he could tell President Barack Obama anything, it would be to focus the CIA and other U.S. intel agencies on counterintelligence and to do away completely with covert action, which is defined as anything involving dirty tricks — assassinations, state-sponsored terrorism, drug running, weapons trafficking, coups, psy-ops propaganda, etc.
    “I’d like to get to Obama and help him, to let him know what he needs to cut out,” Osborne said.
    The reason covert operational tactics need to be eliminated, Osborne explains, is because they are not effective and have been the source of most of the CIA’s problems over the years. He says the blowback against the United States from those covert operations is always more damaging than any benefit attained.
    And for Mexico, that blowback can come, as it did in Central America, and Colombia, decades earlier, in the form of an institutionalizing of these death squads and a broadening of their targets to appease the paranoia and power aspirations of corrupt leadership and economic interests. The very soul of Mexico is at stake.
    Stay tuned…..

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