Does ’09 GAO report conflict with Cabinet?
by Dave Workman
Not long after newly-installed members of the Obama administration alleged that 90% of guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes came from the United States, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that suggested trace data was submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on less than 25% of the guns seized in that country.
The revelation is cited in a November 2010 Justice Department (DOJ) review of the controversial Project Gunrunner, now the subject of two congressional investigations (See related story in this issue) and an inquiry by the DoJ Inspector General’s office (OIG). Gun Week has been following the Gunrunner investigation for several months.
According to the review, one of the main problems with the Gunrunner investigation is that its focus “has remained on gun dealer inspections and straw purchaser investigations rather than targeting higher-level traffickers, smugglers, and recipients of firearms.”
But one of the critical revelations contained in the November document deals with a June 2009 GOA report. It tends to refute claims made by Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and others that the majority of guns being recovered at Mexican crime scenes came from this country.
“Most trace requests that are submitted to ATF from Mexico are considered ‘unsuccessful’ because of missing or improperly entered gun data,” the GAO report noted.
The Justice Department review added this observation: “Although ATF has provided Mexican law enforcement with training in firearms identification, we found the percentage of total trace requests that succeed has declined since the start of Project Gunrunner.
“Moreover,” the report continued, “few of the traces that do succeed generate usable investigative leads because guns submitted for tracing often were seized by Mexican officials years before the trace requests were submitted.”
Translation: The number of reported gun traces may have been artificially inflated because Mexican authorities had been seeking traces on guns that they had been holding for several years. Those guns had been gathering dust until the Mexicans began seeking trace data through the Gunrunner project, which originated in 2006 as a pilot project in Laredo, TX, and expanded the following year, but really ramped up in 2009 under the Obama administration.
One month before the DOJ/OIG report was issued, USA Today reported in its Oct. 1, 2010 edition that border vehicle searches were netting very few firearms. The story said that searches of vehicles crossing the border into Mexico had yielded few guns, even though Napolitano had ordered stepped-up searches back in March 2009.
The Justice Department report on Gunrunner contains this piece of conflicting information:
“In 2009, ATF reported to Congress that about 90% of the guns recovered in Mexico that ATF has traced were initially sold in the United States. The Southwest border statesTexas, California, Arizona, and to a lesser extent, New Mexicoare primary sources of guns used by Mexican drug cartels.”
The November report also revealed that US attorneys offices have been reluctant to prosecute gun running cases because of the relatively light sentences typically handed down. This has resulted in reluctance on the part of ATF field agents to even submit cases for prosecution.
Later in the DOJ/OIG report, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is discussed between ATF and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This agreement mandated that the two agencies “coordinate all pertinent and necessary information concerning firearms/explosives investigations implicating both ATF’s and ICE’s authorities.”
However, the OIG reported that some field staff “do not know what the MOU requires of them, while other agents were reluctant to implement its provisions.”
“Many ATF and ICE field personnel we interviewed misinterpreted the intent of the MOU as being to keep everyone ‘in their own lanes’,” the OIG report said, “meaning to keep ICE from conducting investigations at the source of firearms trafficking and ATF from investigations that involve smuggling, rather than ‘to strengthen the partnership between the agencies,’ as the MOU states.
“One supervisor stated that he viewed the purpose of the MOU as being to keep the other agency from ‘screwing things up’,” the report later revealed. “Another supervisor, referring to one specific field office as ‘a loose cannon,’ told the OIG that if everyone would ‘stay in their lane, we would all work together better.’ Yet another supervisor told the OIG that he had no problems with the other agency precisely because those agents stay in their lanes. A different supervisor said the MOU had not changed anything, particularly in jurisdictional overlap, despite what he described as the two agencies’ ‘mutual dependency.’ Another conceded to the OIG that he was unfamiliar with the contents of the MOU.”
What this report suggests is that the ATF, and possibly ICE agents had been operating in a state of some confusion, and possibly at odds with one another, rather than in a coordinated effort.
Subsequently, the OIG report notes: “We also found some instances of ATF personnel not fully complying with provisions of the MOU.”
“In one field office,” the report said, “ATF routinely failed to notify ICE of ongoing investigations with a direct link to the border. Additionally, an ICE field supervisor sought to assign an ICE agent to two different ATF firearms trafficking groups to foster coordination and encourage the sharing of resources and information. However, ICE personnel told us that the offer was rejected by the supervisors of both ATF firearms trafficking groups. According to the ICE supervisor, one of these ATF supervisors stated, ‘What can ICE do for me?’ That ATF supervisor later said the same thing to the OIG.”
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