Why Is U.S. Pumping AK-47's and Military Rifles Into The Hands Of Mexican Drug Cartels?
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The atmosphere was tense and emotions were running high at the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) late last year. “Are you prepared to go to the funeral of a federal officer killed with one of [our] guns?” an ATF agent shouted at one of his superiors.
Another agent described the scene in the room as “ugly,” with a lot of “screaming and yelling.” A third agent gave what would be a prophetic warning: “This is crazy, somebody is gonna get killed.”
Somebody, as it turned out, did get killed by December 2010. When that somebody was a border patrol agent, anonymous testimonies offered to CBS this past February soon gave way to more detailed whistle-blower revelations and a flurry of controversy.
The agents were dissenting against the continuance of the previously classified “gun-walking” program named “Fast and Furious,” which deliberately permits gun sales to suspected “straw purchasers” (arms buyer conduits to drug cartels) for the sole purpose of tracking the weapons in the hope of prosecuting prominent drug cartel members when they use those guns to commit crimes or when the guns are seized by authorities. The program was first started in October 2009 and accelerated in September 2010.
In effect, a U.S. federal law enforcement organization charged with regulating guns was purposefully allowing the sales of high-powered weaponry, which included AK-47's and military-grade .50 caliber rifles, to flow directly into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
In spite of the internal dissent and the ensuing controversy, damning documentation and hours of Congressional testimony and ongoing investigations -- as well as seething anger on the part of the Mexican public -- there is no end in sight to the ill-fated program.
Revelations Sparked in Wake of Death, Strong Mexican Reactions Ensue
It was a typically chilly December night in Peck Canyon just north of Nogales, Arizona. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, along with three of his fellow agents, were in hot pursuit of suspects attempting to rob undocumented immigrants.
At about 11pm on December 14, a frenetic firefight ensued and Terry was shot and killed. Four suspects were initially apprehended while a fifth remained at large.
What made Brian Terry’s death unique was the fact that the guns captured at the scene of the firefight were traced back to the Fast and Furious program. The Phoenix ATF agent’s prediction had come true.
“You feel like shit. You feel for the parents,” a Phoenix agent lamented.
The program continues to this day, however, and many others have died, mostly Mexican civilians caught in the line of fire.
Estimates vary, but many experts put the death toll since the start of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s “drug war,” as high as 40,000, dating back to when Calderon took office in a disputed election in 2006.
Unsurprisingly, when news of the program arrived in Mexico in March, a firestorm of criticism ensued. Media coverage boiled even further in the wake of Congressional hearings into the program held on June 15.
Much of the criticism coming from Mexico, however, has been left out of stateside news coverage. Nevertheless, officials from across the political spectrum voiced outrage, as did the Catholic Church.
Isabel Miranda de Wallace, a drug-war activist, suffered through her son’s kidnapping in 2005. “The Americans seemed really upset when one of their agents died here,” she told the Center for Public Integrity. “But it appears that all of the Mexican lives lost in this don't add up to the same value for them. Instead of restricting violence, [operations such as these] generate even more of it.”