Mexico Gun-Running Operation Enhanced Cartels’ ‘Ability to Inflict Serious Damage and Casualties,’ Report Says

July 28, 2011 - 2:55 AM

Barrett .50 rifle seized in Mexico

Mexican Gen. Antonio Erasto Monsivais holds up a seized Barrett .50 caliber rifle in a government warehouse for seized weapons in Mexico City. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The botched gunrunning operation in which U.S. federal law enforcement officials knowingly allowed guns to be transported to Mexican drug cartels has increased the ability of cartels in Mexico to “inflict serious damage and casualties,” according to a congressional staff report released Wednesday.

At least 48 different recoveries of weapons linked to “Operation Fast and Furious” have taken place in Mexico so far, the report said, noting that some of the firearms, in particular .50 caliber rifles, had provided “a new level of sophistication” to criminal gangs’ arsenals.

The revelations form part of a second investigative report on “Operation Fast and Furious,” prepared for House Government Reform and Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)  and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa).

The operation was conducted by the Phoenix, Ariz. division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), a component of the Department of Justice. It allowed Arizona gun dealers who were cooperating with the ATF to sell guns to straw purchasers, destined to Mexican drug cartels.

According to the report, acting ATF Attache in Mexico Carlos Canino testified that he had sent an email to a supervisor, ATF International Affairs Chief Daniel Kumor, around July 2010, drawing Kumor’s attention to worrying statistics about firearms associated with Fast and Furious.

“[T]he count was up to 1,900 guns in suspect gun data, 34 of which were, 34 of which were .50 caliber rifles. And I, my opinion was that these many .50 caliber rifles in the hands of one of these cartels is going to change the outcome of a battle,” Canino testified.

The report noted that “Barrett .50 caliber rifles provide a significant upgrade to the cartels’ ability to inflict serious damage and casualties on their enemies.”

As an example, it described a May 24, 2011 incident in which gunmen from the La Familia drug trafficking gang had forced a Mexican Federal Police helicopter to make an emergency landing.

Two officers on board had been wounded, and the aircraft was forced to land in western Mexico.

According to Canino, the Mexican police on May 29 launched a “massive raid” on the gang following the downed helicopter incident.

“During the raid, cartel gunmen again attacked Federal Police helicopters and wounded two more officers,” he said, adding that he believed all four helicopters involved were hit.

As a result of the raid, 11 cartel members were killed and 36 were arrested, including those who had opened fire on the helicopter days earlier.

“Authorities also found a cache of more than 70 rifles at the scene, including a Barrett .50 caliber rifle,” the report said. “Some of these weapons traced back to Operation Fast and Furious.”

“Mexican police also found a stash of heavy-duty body armor belonging to the cartels. This was the first time ATF in Mexico had seen such body armor in the hands of the cartels. Along with the Barrett .50 caliber rifles, these vests symbolized a new level of sophistication in cartel weaponry.”

It was evident that a round from a .50-caliber rifle had penetrated the damaged helicopter’s ostensibly ‘bullet proof’ windshield, the report stated.

‘We’ll be dealing with these weapons for years to come’

The report noted that, according to information provided by the Department of Justice, “Fast and Furious suspects purchased 1,418 weapons after becoming known to the ATF.”

“Of those weapons, 1,048 remain unaccounted for, since the Department’s response indicates that the guns have not yet been recovered and traced.”

“U.S and Mexican law enforcement officials continue to seize weapons connected to the operation and recover weapons at crime scenes on both sides of the border,” the report added.

“Given the vast amount of Operation Fast and Furious weapons possibly still in the hands of cartel members, law enforcement officials should expect more seizures and recoveries at crime scenes. According to several agents involved in Operation Fast and Furious, ATF agents will have to deal with these guns for years to come.”

The report said ATF agents in Mexico had been kept in the dark about the operation for fear they would leak information to the Mexican authorities.

It said concerns raised by ATF agents in Mexico about a spike in guns recovered at crime scenes, many of which were traced directly to the Fast and Furious operation, had fallen on deaf ears.

“Rather than share information, senior leadership within both ATF and the Department of Justice (DOJ) assured their representatives in Mexico that everything was ‘under control,’” it said.

Although ATF leadership told its Mexican office that Fast and Furious would be shut down by July 2010, the operation continued and was only ended after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010 with weapons linked to the operation.

The operation, which began in the fall of 2009, allowed Mexican drug cartels to obtain guns ranging from AK-47 variants and Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles to .38 caliber revolvers.