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Botched BATFE Sting Sends Guns to Drug Cartels


By Pat Shannan

A federal indictment unsealed Jan. 25 in the U.S. District Court in Arizona, coupled with private testimony from federal agents, reveals that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) apparently has shot itself in the foot again. Perhaps Americans need to consider whether to close down an agency that played a major role in the killing of men, women and children at the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas in 1993.

A BATFE operation in Arizona called “Project Gunrunner”—allegedly designed to curtail the availability of guns flowing across the border into the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels—may be what resulted in the death of young Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, a Michigan native who was apparently killed by American guns intentionally allowed into the hands of known drug runners.

Terry was featured in AFP’s Jan. 24, 2011 edition when Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce defended the state’s embattled immigration law.

AMERICAN FREE PRESS reviewed a copy of the 44-page indictment that names 20 defendants. The document shows that, during the period from September 2009 through mid-December 2010, the BATFE became aware of “suspicious buys” at several gun stores in Phoenix and the surrounding metropolitan area. The cash sales (money sometimes placed on the counter in paper bags) alerted several shop owners to report the suspicious activity, but the authorities told them to allow the purchases to continue. Over the next 15 months, the BATFE continued to allow more than 2,500 questionable purchases, including 575 AK-47 semiautomatic rifles, by people known to be passing the weapons on to the cartels across the border.


Some agents were fearful and irate at what they considered to be a foolish decision made by “higherups” to allow the weapons on the streets in order to gather intelligence and trace where the guns were going. These agents have remained anonymous, fearing demotion or job loss. Agents were quoted by CBS News as saying that they were “fully aware” as they tracked the weapons that even the fearsome .50 caliber Barrett rifles were moving across the border and that eventually such weapons might be used against them.

“The strategy was insane,” one agent told CBS, telling of another frustrated agent overheard on BATFE radios pleading to intercede and arrest the weapons transport drivers, but they were always ordered to “stand down.” Another told of an office shouting match by agents and managers over the dangerous tactic of intentionally letting these guns “walk” into the wrong hands. One warned, “This is crazy, and somebody is gonna get killed.”

On Dec. 14, 2010 the inevitable happened. A BATFE special tactical border squad was patrolling a known smuggling route south of Tucson near the Mexican border when a firefight broke out, and agent Terry was shot and killed. Although the BATFE is in denial mode, national media sources say a serial number check showed that two rifles found at the scene matched a Phoenix gun buy that had been watched and recorded by BATFE agents months earlier.

However, the indictment itself makes no mention of the shooting incident, and no one has been charged with the murder. It does allege that the defendants in various instances acted as if they were purchasing firearms for themselves but in fact were purchasing them for others “with money derived from the illegal distribution of controlled substances [drugs].” The weapons were transferred “to other members of the conspiracy” to be “stored, sold and transported” and “there was a ready market among the drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and the United States,” the indictment alleges, adding that the weapons were transported to Mexico.

The Justice Department, which oversees the BATFE, has repeatedly denied that the agency has ever knowingly allowed the sale of weapons to suspected gunrunners. However, one of its own cases that AFP is tracking demonstrates that a similar Texas operation has been going on at the same time as Arizona’s.

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(Issue # 10 & 11, March 7 & 14, 2011)

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