Some “gun trafficking ‘higher-ups'” who supply weapons to Mexican drug cartels may have been “paid as informants” by US government agencies, according to a letter two ranking US Congress members sent US attorney general Eric Holder on July 5. “The evidence we have gathered,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) wrote, “raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department”—which Holder heads—”not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities.” The “other agencies” may include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the letter said.
The new information came from a congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) program that allowed some 2,000 firearms to enter Mexico illegally in what appeared to be a bungled effort to trace the activities of US gun smugglers in the US Southwest. During interviews over the July 4th holiday weekend with staff from the congressional committee probing the operation, acting ATF director Kenneth E. Melson revealed that his agency had been kept “in the dark about certain activities of other agencies, including DEA and FBI,” Issa and Grassley’s letter said, and this tended to corroborate what the committee staff had learned “from other witnesses” suggesting that the agencies might have arms traffickers on their payroll as informants.
At least one alleged Mexican drug trafficker is already trying to build a legal defense around a claim that he was an informant for the US government. Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla, said to be a major figure in the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in Mexico in March 2009 and was extradited to the US last February to face charges related to drug trafficking. On March 15 Zambada Niebla’s attorneys filed a notice in federal court in Chicago claiming that since 2004 he had been working “on behalf of” the DEA, the FBI and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As many as 40,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence over the past five years, and a high percentage of the weapons used come from areas in the US with lax gun laws. On July 6 Mexican federal police released a videotaped interrogation of Jesús Rejón Aguilar, allegedly a founder of Mexico’s Zetas gang. “[A]ll the weapons are bought in the United States,” he told the police. “[E]ven the American government itself was selling the weapons… Whatever you want, you can get.” (San Francisco Chronicle, July 7; La Jornada, Mexico, July 7; NarcoNews, July 10)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 10.
See our last post on Mexico.