Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Rep Issa's anti-ATF witch hunt supporting the Sinaloa Cartel?

Is Congressman Darrel Issa working with the Sinaloa Cartel to shut down an ATF investigation that threatens the cartel's top leaders? His witch hunt against the DEA/ATF operation "Fast and Furious" could well be interpreted that way.

There seems to be a major public relations effort, largely centered on leaks and statements from Rep. Issa's office, that would stop effective investigations that might get top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. Rep. Issa may simply be working to advance his own political career without direct collusion with the cartel, but his efforts appear to be to their benefit.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media about the ATF's operation "Fast and Furious." Yesterday the Washington Post provided a lengthy report on it. Here is a sample:
On his first day undercover, John Dodson, who had been an ATF agent for seven years in Virginia, sat in a Chevy Impala with Olindo Casa, an 18-year veteran from Chicago. They watched a suspected gun trafficker buy 10 semiautomatic rifles from a Phoenix gun store and followed him to the house of another suspected trafficker. All of their training told them to seize the guns.

The agents called their superior and asked for the order to “take him.” The answer came back swiftly, instructing them to stay in the car. The message was clear: Let the guns go.

This was all part of an ambitious new strategy allowing Fast and Furious agents to follow the paths of guns from illegal buyers known as “straw purchasers” through middlemen and into the hierarchy of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.

But Dodson and Casa were confused and upset. ATF agents hate to let the guns “walk.” Yet it happened again, day after day, month after month, for more than a year.

They feared the worst, and a year later it happened: A Border Patrol agent was killed in an incident in which Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene. And it was later revealed that the operation had allowed more than 2,000 weapons to hit the streets.

It is the agency’s biggest debacle since the deadly 1993 confrontation in Waco, Tex. What began as a mutiny inside ATF’s Phoenix office has blown up into a Capitol Hill donnybrook that is rocking the Justice Department.

"it is a mistake that could have and should have been prevented,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is investigating the operation.

The battle has hobbled Fast and Furious, a case that individuals inside ATF say held the promise of becoming one of the agency’s best investigations ever.

“We have never been up so high in the Sinaloa cartel, the largest and most powerful drug cartel in the world,” said a federal official involved in the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is an open, ongoing investigation. It is so unfair.”
Which is "Fast and Furious?" An ambitious investigation that let's some guns and straw buyers escape justice in order to identify the higher-up leaders in the Sinaloa Cartel and shut them down, or a case in which the ATF simply failed to prevent the straw buyers buying guns from shipping them across the border into Mexico?

There is no question that many of the guns used by the Mexican cartels are bought in Texas, Arizona and other Southerwestern states and shipped across the border into Mexico. Here is an earlier news report:
As Mexico drug violence runs rampant, U.S. guns tied to crime south of border

'Outfitting private armies'

By James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 1:14 PM

No other state has produced more guns seized by police in the brutal Mexican drug wars than Texas. In the Lone Star State, no other city has more guns linked to Mexican crime scenes than Houston. And in the Texas oil town, no single independent dealer stands out more for selling guns traced from south of the border than Bill Carter.

Carter, 76, has operated four Carter's Country stores in the Houston metropolitan area over the past half-century. In the past two years, more than 115 guns from his stores have been seized by the police and military in Mexico.

As an unprecedented number of American guns flows to the murderous drug cartels across the border, the identities of U.S. dealers that sell guns seized at Mexican crime scenes remain confidential under a law passed by Congress in 2003.

A year-long investigation by The Washington Post has cracked that secrecy and uncovered the names of the top 12 U.S. dealers of guns traced to Mexico in the past two years.

Eight of the top 12 dealers are in Texas, three are in Arizona, and one is in California. In Texas, two of the four Houston area Carter's Country stores are on the list, along with four gun retailers in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of the state. There are 3,800 gun retailers in Texas, 300 in Houston alone.

"One of the reasons that Houston is the number one source, you can go to a different gun store for a month and never hit the same gun store," said J. Dewey Webb, special agent in charge of the Houston field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "You can buy [a 9mm handgun] down along the border, but if you come to Houston, you can probably buy it cheaper because there's more dealers, there's more competition."
So what is going on in the ATF investigation? Should the ATF be trying to enforce the inadequate gun laws that are letting straw buyers purchase guns and ship to Mexico or should the ATF be trying to reach into the Sinaloa Cartel itself and bring down the top leaders of the very deadly drug organization? (About the Sinaloa Cartel, see also this Google Search. Especially significant is this NPR Reports stating that the Sinaloa Cartel appears to be getting protection from elements of the Mexican government.
An NPR News investigation has found strong evidence of collusion between elements of the Mexican army and the Sinaloa cartel in the violent border city of Juarez.

Dozens of interviews with current and former law enforcement agents, organized crime experts, elected representatives, and victims of violence suggest that the Sinaloans depend on bribes to top government officials to help their leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, elude capture, expand his empire and keep his operatives out of jail.

"I work in the police and because of this I know the government is protecting Chapo Guzman. It's hitting all the cartels but Chapo," said Luis Arturo Perez Torres, 25, until recently a federal police officer stationed in a suburb of Mexico City.

Guzman is the world's most wanted drug lord. His home base is the Pacific coastal state of Sinaloa, known as Mexico's "Sicily." It's the premier narco-state, with a long coastline for smuggling cocaine from South America, and rugged mountains to hide cannabis crops.
)The real issue, it seems to me, is whether the ATF should be wasting its time trying to stop a small percentage of straw buyers of guns on the American side of the border or if they should be observing the (admittedly criminal but very low level and effectively unprosecutable) actions of those straw buyers while using the information they develop to go after the big guys in the Cartel?

This witch hunt by Congressman Darrell Issa is itself quite suspicious. Is he taking an incident in which a gun that the ATF let through so that they could collect information on the Cartel processes and bosses an effort by Issa to shut down an investigation that the Sinaloa Cartel is afraid might get serious? His history of making money from a border line loan shark foreclosure and his efforts to advance his political career by attacking government and the Obama administration make it quite clear that he is not an ethical individual. If he could get ahead by doing the bidding of the bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel and not get caught I have no doubt that he would happily do so.

I can see the reasons why the ATF and the DEA would want to go after the top guys in the Sinaloa Cartel rather than the low-level straw buyers. The straw buyers are protected by the efforts the National Rifle Association to stop the passage of laws that make gun trafficking to Mexico a felony, who stop the ATF from keeping records on gun purchases for over 60 days, and stop the ATF from issuing regulations that require gun sellers to report purchases of military style weapons to the ATF.

If the ATF/DEA investigation in fact was threatening the top members of the Sinaloa Cartel I can see why they would be making efforts to shut that investigation down. If Darrel Issa were to think it would advance his political career (by pleasing conservative NRA voters, for example) I can certainly see him using the unfortunate death of the Immigration Office in Monterrey, Mexico to attack the ATF. Conservatives have ideological reasons for hating the very existence of the ATF. But I can also see that it would be to the advantage of the Sinaloa Cartel to fan that ideological hatred and to encourage Issa to attack the ATF for any reason, valid or not. Issa is, in my opinion, a person who would put his own personal advancement over the good of the American and the Mexican nations as he worked to shut down an ATF investigation that threatened the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Is Darrel Issa working to support the Sinaloa Cartel? His "investigation" certainly appears to be having that effect, and so far as I can see has no basis beyond the fact that the ATF could have stopped the movement of the gun that killed ICE Agent Jaime J. Zapata . Was the information that the DEA/ATF could obtain by letting the firearm that killed him worth his life? How many lives - Mexican and American - have been lost to weapons the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel have purchased in Texas, Arizona and California? Should the American investigative agencies be trying to stop the flow of all the weapons or should they be castigated for letting a few through that they knew about so that they could understand the overall purchasing and smuggling system?

Perhaps the media could ask Rep. Issa why he wants to protect the Sinaloa Cartel so badly? Is it really just his hatred of the ATF and of President Obama that is motivating his witch hunt or are there deeper motives behind his unethical actions? While I have no evidence that Issa is in direct knowing collusion with the cartel, his actions could certainly be interpreted as benefiting them and the results of his witch hunt have certainly not been sufficient to show why the ATF managers were wrong to make the investigative decisions they made.

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