A much-touted federal effort to keep U.S. firearms out of the Mexican drug wars is unwieldy, mismanaged and fraught with “significant weaknesses” that could doom gun smuggling enforcement on the border to failure, a U.S. Justice Department inspector general’s review concluded yesterday, says the Los Angeles Times. Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents focus only on small gun sales and do not share information with law enforcement officials on both sides of the border, the review said. An effort to trace U.S. guns in Mexico too often comes up short because of missing data and the lack of U.S. training for Mexican police, it found.
The investigation by Inspector General Glenn Fine is the first to find systemic problems in a once highly praised project, and it mirrors concerns of many on the border that weapons from the U.S. are helping the violence spiral out of control. About 30,000 people have been killed in Mexican cartel violence since President Felipe Calderon started deploying troops to take on the drug and gun traffickers in December 2006. Nearly 70,000 U.S.-originated firearms were recovered in Mexico between 2007 and 2009. About 7,000 licensed U.S. gun dealers operate near the 2,000-mile border; cartel leaders often hire straw buyers to purchase firearms and pay others to transport the weapons into Mexico. Just as the drugs flow steadily north, the guns reach Mexico secreted under truck beds or stashed in car trunks, sometimes even hidden in clothing. Kenneth Melson, ATF’ deputy director, said there had been “significant accomplishments,” with gun investigations up by 109% and prosecutions up by 54% under the project. He said a reduction in funds had limited some gun-tracing operations and had stalled attempts by the ATF to place more U.S. agents in Mexican police stations to work on joint investigations.