60-Second Expert: Gunrunning to Mexico

On March 3 of this year, Agent John Dodson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) blew the whistle on a secret government project that allowed guns to be smuggled from U.S. merchants to Mexican drug cartels.

Codenamed “Fast and Furious,” the operation facilitated the passage of firearms – often of high-caliber assault weapons like the Barrett .50mm and the AK-47 – from straw buyers in Arizona to professional smugglers, who then trafficked the materiel across the border without interference from customs and border protection officers. On arrival in Mexico’s battleground border zones, the smugglers sold the guns indiscriminately to Mexico’s several warring drug cartels.

Law enforcement claimed to be tracking the guns to compile evidence against organized crime rings. But Mexican law enforcement and military personnel, the recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government aid, were totally unaware of Fast and Furious. Moreover, one of the “walked” guns was used in the slaying of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last December.

President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano have all claimed ignorance of the program. The Obama administration has recently deployed an inspector general to investigate the origins and operations of the project.

The toll on Mexicans remains high, with more than 37,000 lives lost in the war on drugs.

The full column can be read here.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.