US Officials Kept Mexico in Dark on 'Fast and Furious'

Tuesday, 20 Sep 2011 11:55 AM

By Martin Gould

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U.S. officials involved in a plan to let high-powered assault weapons fall into the hands of vicious drug cartel leaders deliberately kept their counterparts in Mexico in the dark about the plan.

Even the U.S. Embassy and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) offices in Mexico City were kept out of the loop, the Los Angeles Times reports.

And when President Felipe Calderon complained about the number of U.S. weapons crossing the border, the operation, nicknamed Fast and Furious, still was not revealed.

The new revelations probably will further harm relations between the White House and the United States’ southern neighbor, where about 40,000 people have lost their lives in drug-related violence since 2006.

"We need to tell them [Mexico] this, because if we don't tell them this, and this gets out, it was my opinion that the Mexicans would never trust us again," Carlos Canino, an ATF officer attached to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, told congressional investigators who are probing the whole Fast and Furious operation.

Under Fast and Furious, the ATF allowed about 1,400 weapons to be sold to gunrunners even though the bureau knew they were likely to end up in the hands of drug cartels. The idea was to trace the weapons and so find the cartel leaders. But most of the weapons have gone missing and have been linked to the murders of two U.S. officers and hundreds of Mexicans.

The tragic backfiring of the plan has prompted outrage among members of Congress and is propelling congressional investigations. Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California and GOP Sen. Charles Grassley are among the top critics and are heading probes. Attorney General Eric Holder has been roundly criticized for not stopping the operation, which also led to a shake-up in the ATF and the Justice Department.

Mexican authorities discovered the plan only through media reports after last fall’s torture and murder of Mario Gonzalez, whose sister Patricia is the high-profile state prosecutor in the border state of Chihuahua. Hit men forced Gonzalez to make a videotaped confession alleging that his sister was corrupt before they killed him.

"The basic ineptitude of these officials caused the death of my brother and surely thousands more victims," Patricia Gonzalez told the Times.

Canino informed Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales personally that Fast and Furious weapons were used in Gonzalez’s murder only in June.

"I wanted her to find out from me, because she is an ally of the U.S. government," he testified, saying that the revelation shocked her.

Darren Gil, the acting ATF attache in Mexico City, asked about the growing number of American guns turning up south of the border in July 2010 but got no answer, according to the Times, which has led reporting on the growing scandal.

"They were afraid that I was going to either brief the ambassador or brief the government of Mexico officials on it," Gil said in evidence to a congressional committee. He acknowledged that there is a problem sharing sensitive information with Mexican authorities because of widespread corruption in the country.

Attorney General Morales told the Times that the Mexican government knew nothing of the operation until January this year after the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in Arizona.

"It was then that we learned of that case, of the arms trafficking," she told the Times. “In no way would we have allowed it, because it is an attack on the safety of Mexicans."

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