As Kurt Hoffman has noted, the "Former federal anti-drug agency director thinks AG knew of 'Project Gunwalker'" Kurt refers to this story in The Daily Caller: "Border safety issues crop up again as Issa’s probe into ATF’s Project Gunrunner lingers." The story opens:
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says the U.S.-Mexico border is safe and border cities have some of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Former El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) director Phil Jordan told The Daily Caller that Napolitano is right when it comes to low crime rates in border cities, but that’s only part of the story.
Jordan said drug cartel members, like organized criminals, know where they can break the law and get away with it, and where they can’t. Jordan, who led the inter-agency anti-drug cartel task force EPIC and ran the Dallas Drug Enforcement Agency office during his 30-year law enforcement career, said they’ll commit most of their crimes, including murders, on the Mexican side of the border, so nobody will ever know what happened.
Midway through, author Matthew Boyle brings up the Gunwalker scandal:
Some argue that many of the guns and other weapons the drug cartels now have in their possession were ones President Barack Obama’s administration allowed into the country through Project Gunrunner.
The money quote, however, is here:
It remains unclear who in the Obama administration approved Project Gunrunner. But, Issa has hinted that he’s suspicious it may be Attorney General Eric Holder, even though Obama has said neither he nor Holder knew about the program.
“It will be up to the Attorney General to say whether he knew or not,” Issa said. “Right now, the president’s word about what somebody else knew would not be acceptable. As much as we love the president, we can accept him at his word – he didn’t know. The Attorney General is going to have to say what he knew and when he knew it – and, if he didn’t know, who in his hierarchy did know and when did they know it?”
Jordan, however, is almost certain Holder knew about it, even if he wasn’t the one who approved it. “The Attorney General would have to be briefed, if not a daily basis, on a weekly basis,” Jordan said, because the program is of a controversial nature. “This program has been going on for some time.”
"The premier tactical operational intelligence center in the nation."
EPIC is one of those shadowy government intelligence gathering assets that doesn't get a lot of publicity and doesn't want any either. The Department of Justice website explains the origins of EPIC:
In 1974, the Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted a report entitled A Secure Border: An Analysis of Issues Affecting the U.S. Department of Justice to the Office of Management and Budget. The report provided recommendations on how to improve drug- and border-enforcement operations along the Southwest border. One of the recommendations proposed the establishment of a regional intelligence center to collect and disseminate information relating to drug, alien, and weapon smuggling in support of field enforcement entities throughout the region. In response to that study, the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) was created and was initially staffed by representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs Service, and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Agencies currently represented at EPIC include the Drug Enforcement Administration; Department of Homeland Security; Customs & Border Protection; Immigration & Customs Enforcement; U.S. Coast Guard; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Marshals Service; National Drug Intelligence Center; Internal Revenue Service; U.S. Department of the Interior; National Geospatial–Intelligence Agency; U.S. Department of Defense; Joint Task Force–North; Joint Interagency Task Force–South; Texas Department of Public Safety; Texas Air National Guard; and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
Initially, EPIC, as the facility became known, focused on the United States-Mexico border with an emphasis on Mexico's heroin traffickers and illegal alien smugglers. With the increased use of aircraft, seagoing vessels, and global networks to facilitate drug trafficking, EPIC's focus broadened and became international in scope. So not only does EPIC serve Federal agencies, all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, but also supports law enforcement efforts conducted by foreign counterparts throughout the world, and currently has Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Canada, Australia, and The Netherlands. In response to increased multiagency needs, EPIC developed into a fully coordinated, tactical intelligence center supported by databases and resources from member agencies.
In 2001, immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, the multiagency environment of EPIC was called upon to support investigations to find those responsible. EPIC’s mission evolved from its experience in supporting interdiction efforts and investigations regarding drug trafficking, alien and weapon smuggling, and other criminal activities, by adding counterterrorism to its efforts.
EPIC’s vision is to continue to provide timely and expeditious support to Federal, State, local, tribal, and international law enforcement agencies and to remain the premier tactical operational intelligence center in the nation.
"The premier tactical operational intelligence center in the nation." Yes, well, that's what I hear too from folks who have had experience with EPIC's work product.
Michael Webster, writing at the Laguna Journal in early 2008, tells us that EPIC "Supports law enforcement efforts throughout the world" and "is now staffed with over 300 personnel and liaison officers from 15 agencies."
Admiral James Stavridis, from 2006-2009, commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean, wrote in January, 2009 of his trip to EPIC. I quote the poiuece in its entirety because it is important in the context what EPIC's relationship to Mexico -- and the Gunwalker scandal -- is.
I have just returned from an eventful two days in Colorado and Texas – with a significant focus on Mexico, and the U.S. – Mexican border.
The purpose of the trip was to begin to understand the incredibly complex issues surrounding our southern border; and how these issues are deeply connected to the larger region of Latin America and the Caribbean.
With a small group of advisors and strategic thinkers – including half-a-dozen former Ambassadors to the region – I began by spending a day with the outstanding staff of U.S. Northern Command, led by my good friend and colleague, Air Force General Gene Renuart.
Gene’s team has the lead on military-to-military connections with Mexico, as well as major national responsibilities for homeland defense. Positioned in Colorado Springs and part of a dual-command structure with Canada, the Northern Command team was very welcoming and helped us learn more about the border and Mexico in the broad context of Latin America and the Caribbean. They are doing an excellent job of managing military-to-military contacts and supporting overall interagency efforts with Mexico.
We then moved on to El Paso, Texas and spent time on the border itself. Border Patrol Chief Vic Manjarrez, one of the top leaders in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, escorted our group. His team, headquartered in El Paso, controls 300 + miles of U.S. border with Mexico. Our group was able to “walk the ground” and look at the border fence at the corner of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. We learned about the technology, tactics, and procedures employed by the Border Patrol in their challenging, dangerous, and important mission. Interestingly, only about one third of the entire U.S. border with Mexico will ultimately be fenced.
The time we spent with the Border Patrol agents was a good reminder of the excellent cooperation between the Department of Defense and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in stopping narcotics headed to this nation. The CBP flies its air wing aggressively, with 7300 flight hours in 2008 alone, leading to the interdiction of over 70 tons of cocaine, valued at $6 billion or more. They also fly the sophisticated Predator unmanned aerial vehicle with excellent results. All of this is done in full cooperation with Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force in Key West, Florida.
The final stop on our journey was a series of in-depth briefings from the professionals at the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind facility run by my friend Art Doty, one of the top intelligence officers in the Drug Enforcement Administration. An interagency team of well over 300 professionals from 15 different agencies, including the Department of Defense, operates this facility. Their focus is drug interdiction and other illicit trafficking, and the facility is named for a slain DEA agent, Kiki Camarena, who died in the line of duty in 1985, tortured and murdered in Mexico.
When considering the border and the current situation in Mexico, it is clear that a high level of U.S. cooperation with our Mexican friends and partners is necessary. More than 5,000 drug related murders occurred in the northern tier of Mexico in 2008, roughly double the total in 2007. President Calderon and Mexican security forces continue to crack down on the drug cartels – Tijuana, Juarez, Sinola, and Gulf – that collectively move hundreds of tons of illegal drugs into the United States and that are destroying the social fabric of parts of Mexico.
It is also clear that there are significant connections between the situation in Mexico and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to being one of the largest two economies and populations south of the USA (along with Brazil), Mexico’s economy is interwoven throughout the region. The U.S. cannot allow Mexican efforts to fail, and Northern Command, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and the entire interagency team is working hard to support them, with help from our Congress – which has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to the efforts as part of the Merida Initiative.
Clearly, the challenges of the border are significant; but with hard work, honest dialogue, sufficient resources and long-term commitment, the region can be prosperous and secure, reflecting the excellent overall state of relations between the U.S. and Mexico. The warm friendship of our two nations is a crucial element in the Americas today. -- Admiral Jim Stavridis.
Admiral James Stavridis and friends at EPIC, January, 2009.
Of course the good Admiral was writing prior to the Project Gunwalker debacle. I invite you to read the above over once again. "The U.S. cannot allow Mexican efforts to fail." The situation in Mexico, which FOX News is now rightly referring to as "America's Third War," represents a "clear and present danger" to stability in the hemisphere and the United States in particular. It is thus the focus of intense scrutiny by all the intelligence agencies of the United States government -- I repeat, ALL of them. Of these EPIC is the one on the front line with the longest experience in studying the narco traffickers and their wars. And they are VERY good at what they do.
Anthony P. Placido, Chief of Intelligence for the DEA,highlights some of those strengths here in a pitch to Police Chief Magazine.
Not that EPIC is without its critics and mishaps.
As the Washington Post's Jeff Stein reported last September: "El Paso intel center error causes couple's arrest at gunpoint."
Stein also reported on this critical Inspector General report here in an article entitled "Audit: El Paso Intelligence Center a bust."
There is one thing that EPIC does very well, however. My sources tell me that EPIC has long kept track of the details of EVERY CARTEL RELATED MURDER IN MEXICO so as to better understand the operations of the various cartels. Because of this, one source says, "EPIC certainly knew of Gunwalker murders" and their link to Fast and Furious and other Project Gunrunner operations in other states. Other sources tell me that "EPIC was in the loop" as far as overall "Gunwalker" plan, pointing to the ATF desk manager at EPIC as someone with certain knowledge of this.
So EPIC likely knew everything -- and early -- about the Gunwalker scandal, making them an interesting target for future Darrell Issa subpoenas.
The head of EPIC could also be profitably asked how high he understood the Gunwalker command hierarchy went. Maybe one day we might even get to the Oliver North of this scandal.