Amid ‘Fast and Furious’ Scandal, Obama’s New Anti-Crime Strategy Includes Stemming Gun Flow to Mexico

By Fred Lucas | July 26, 2011 | 3:55 AM EDT

A Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol agent pats down a man before he is returned to Mexico. (Photo: CBP/Gerald L. Nino)

( – Even as the Obama administration still faces question about a botched gunrunning operation in which federal law enforcement officials knowingly allowed guns be transported Mexican drug cartels, a new White House report calls for cracking down on the “illicit flow from the United States of weapons and criminal proceeds” to criminal gangs.

The White House on Monday released the report titled “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime,” referring to terrorist, drug trafficking and other criminal organizations operating across national borders.

The 38-page report lists 56 “priority actions,” including an executive order to seize the assets of transnational organized crime (TOC) networks as well as legislative proposals such as updating racketeering and money laundering laws.

“We must also stop the illicit flow from the United States of weapons and criminal proceeds that empower TOC networks,” says the report, which specifically addresses the flow of guns into Mexico.

“The Administration has placed an increased emphasis on stemming these outbound flows, dedicating additional law enforcement, investigative, and prosecution resources to targeting TOC, such as deploying additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection ‘outbound teams’ to our borders, screening outbound rail and vehicle traffic for weapons and bulk currency, and by investing additional resources in the integrated Border Enforcement Security Task Forces along the U.S.-Mexico border to investigate the organizations involved in cross-border crimes,” the report says.

“We will also work with Congress to seek ratification or accession to key multilateral instruments related to countering the illicit trafficking of weapons.”

This portion of the report leads with quote from President Obama, a comment he made during a joint press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on March 3, 2011.

“I reiterated that the United States accepts our shared responsibility for the drug violence,” Obama said at the time. “So to combat the southbound flow of guns and money, we are screening all southbound rail cargo, seizing many more guns bound for Mexico, and we are putting more gunrunners behind bars.

“And as part of our new drug control strategy, we are focused on reducing the demand for drugs through education, prevention and treatment ... We are very mindful that the battle President Calderon is fighting inside of Mexico is not just his battle; it’s also ours. We have to take responsibility just as he’s taking responsibility.”

On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold its second investigative hearing into the growing scandal around “Operation Fast and Furious.”

The operation, which began in September 2009, saw the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives supervise the sale of guns to straw purchasers with the intent of tracing the guns to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The ATF allowed about 2,000 guns to be sold in this manner.

The operation was halted in December 2010 after two of the firearms were found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The investigation wrapped up with the indictment of 20 straw buyers, but no one in the drug cartels – the primary target – was indicted.

Links to terrorist groups

The White House report released Monday lays out the increasing threat posed by transnational organized crime.

“While this Strategy is intended to assist the United States Government in combating transnational crime, it also serves as an invitation for enhanced international cooperation,” Obama said in a statement on the strategy.

“We encourage our partners and allies to echo the commitment we have made here and join in building a new framework for international cooperation to protect all our citizens from the violence, harm, and exploitation wrought by transnational organized crime.”

According to the report, in fiscal year 2010, 29 of the 63 top drug trafficking gangs had links to terrorist groups. It says organized crime networks insinuate themselves into the political process through bribery and sometimes become alternate providers of governance, security, and livelihoods to win popular support.

Further, the report states that human trafficking networks are growing more lucrative and more violent in targeting women and children. These groups are also increasingly involved in cybercrime, which costs consumers billions of dollars annually, threatens corporate and government computer networks and undermines worldwide confidence in the global financial system, it says.

The strategy calls for Congress to pass laws that would increase working with partner countries to combat corruption, break the economic power of the criminal networks, enhance intelligence and information sharing, and strengthen interdiction and prosecution of drug and terror organizations.

The new strategy expands the ability of the U.S. government and improves multilateral efforts to fight these networks, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

“Today’s criminal organizations are increasingly sophisticated. They know no borders,” Holder said. “They threaten the stability of our financial system, and the promise of a competitive marketplace. And their operations are putting far too many American businesses, government institutions, consumers, and citizens at risk.”

“These essential legislative updates would improve our ability to break the financial backbone of criminal organizations by extending the reach of anti-money laundering provisions,” Holder continued.

“They also would enhance our ability to identify and respond to the most common, and often evolving, tactics – and methods of communication – that criminal organizations use to conceal their illicit operations and profits – which, too often, are used to bankroll drug trafficking and even terrorist activity.”