ATF agents are police officers

Arms trade USA - Mexico: investigation with fatal outcome

The federal police agency ATF had Mexican drug cartels buy thousands of weapons in the United States. So they wanted to get to the backers. That went wrong.

Members of the Zeta cartel after a police operation in Mexico City. Image: Reuters

BERLIN taz| A failed operation by the US Federal Police Department ATF with fatal consequences is preoccupying the US Congress. At a hearing before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives, sharp allegations were made against the head of the authority on Wednesday.

The reason for the hearing was the death of US border guard Brian Terry in October last year in the state of New Mexico. Terry was killed in a shootout with suspected Mexican drug gang members. Among other things, two AK-47 assault rifles that were known to the authorities were found at the scene of the crime: They had been legally sold under the eyes of the ATF to people who were suspected of being just front men of Mexican drug cartels. Instead of stepping in and collecting the guns, the ATF limited itself to pure observation - this was part of a program called "Fast & Furious" that was started in 2009, with which the agency hoped to gain access to the organizers of a supposedly larger smuggling ring. That went wrong: Around 2,500 weapons were sold to dubious people under the supervision of the ATF, of which around 2,000 disappeared because the ATF monitors lost track of the weapons.

The scandal became public in April after frustrated ATF agents reached out to Congress. One of them, Special Agent John Dodson, testified on Wednesday: "Instead of confiscating the weapons, we made notes, recorded observations, noted movements of the observed people a short time after the weapons were bought - but nothing more." And every time the officers thought they had to strike, they were called back by their superiors.

"Protection of human life is not a priority"

The mother of the killed Brian Terry can not believe it: "At first I didn't want to believe it," she told the MPs. The family presses for criminal and disciplinary prosecution of those responsible for ATF and can be sure of the support of Republican MPs. Committee chairman Darrell Issa of California and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa wrote in a report released for the hearing: "With the clinical precision of a laboratory experiment, the Department of Justice kept a record of the weapons they left and the crime scenes where they turned up The horror of the officials, the protection of human life was not a priority. "

It has been known for years that around 70 percent of the weapons used in the cartel war in Mexico came from the United States. The reason for this is the lax gun laws in the USA: In the state of Arizona, where the majority of the guns that have now been lost were bought, private individuals are even allowed to buy several guns at the same time, including military guns like the AK-47. And if they do this at arms fairs, there is no background check of the buyers - an open gate for the buyers of the cartels or their front men.

Some democratic senators want to change that now. Chuck Schumer from New York and Dianne Feinstein from California recommended in a report they submitted earlier this week new laws that would close the loophole in arms fairs, prohibit the import of weapons that could be used for military purposes, and report multiple buyers. The initiative does not have much chance of success.