Report Faults US Efforts to Curb Gun Smuggling

Government efforts to stop the flow of guns
from the United States to Mexico have suffered in recent years from
having no clear plan to combat gunrunners affiliated with drug
cartels, investigators have concluded.

The Government Accountability Office, which is delivering its
findings to Congress on Thursday, noted that federal agencies only
recently began coordinating with Mexican counterparts on ways to
stop gunrunning along the border.

GAO investigators were critical of the two principal U.S.
agencies - Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - for not working
together.

Until early June, the GAO says, "the U.S. government did not
have a strategy that explicitly addressed arms trafficking to
Mexico."

Investigators said that without a strategy, "individual U.S.
agencies have undertaken a variety of activities and projects to
combat arms trafficking to Mexico."

Citing ATF data, the investigator Jess T. Ford says that over
the past three years, more than 90 percent of the firearms traced
after being seized in Mexico have come from the U.S. The figure is
slightly less over a five-year period.

"While it is impossible to know how many firearms are illegally
trafficked into Mexico in a given year, over 20,000, or around 87
percent, of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced over
the past 5 years originated in the United States," the GAO's Ford
says in testimony prepared for a House subcommittee hearing on
Thursday. The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who chairs the subcommittee, said there should
have been an anti-gunrunning strategy in place since October 2007
when the U.S. and Mexico agreed to the joint cartel-fighting Merida
initiative.

"It is mind-boggling that for a year and a half, we have had no
interagency strategy to address this major problem, but instead
have relied on uncoordinated efforts by a variety of agencies,"
Engel, D-N.Y. said in a statement issued ahead of Thursday's
hearing.

Engel said the firearms flowing illegally from the U.S. into
Mexico have made the drug cartels' jobs easier.

In a draft of the report, the GAO cited several examples of the
miscommunication between ICE and ATF, including:
- During one operation, an ICE agent unknowingly covertly kept
watch on the activities of an undercover ATF agent who was
investigating a suspected trafficker.
- ATF did not tell ICE about a covert operation where ATF agents
delivered weapons across the border in an attempt to ferret out the
Mexican organizations receiving illegal arms. ATF should have
notified ICE about the controlled attempt to export weapons
illegally, the GAO said. Not coordinating raised the chances that
the weapons could end up in the wrong hands.
- In some cases, ICE and ATF refused to give each other required
documentation for investigations.

The two agencies were working off of a 1978 agreement about dual
investigations, which was cited by the GAO as a major obstacle to
coordination. An updated agreement to address the coordination
problem is in the works, the report said.


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