While Operation Fast and Furious remains a thorn in U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s side, it looks like Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano may soon begin sharing the pain.
Sec. Napolitano recently informed the House Judiciary Committee she had no knowledge of Fast and Furious, but omitted to mention her own department was running Operation Armas Cruzadas.
Operation Armas Cruzadas highlights another crucial factor – that the Mexican government had more of a role in the cartel arms trafficking business than just playing the victim.
This new information dovetails with complaints by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents in the Phoenix office that complained Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from Team VII regularly called “dibs” on gun trafficking cases in order to “get credit” for splashy narco-related investigations. One agent explained that the atmosphere seemed more focused on press conferences and ego rather than commonsense.
The DHS memorandum reveals that ICE ran Operation Armas Cruzadas with the full knowledge of Arturo Chávez Chávez,Mexican Attorney General in an effort to ostensibly prosecute cartels in Mexico using U.S. intelligence and agents. This is a departure from Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious where the Mexican government claimed it knew nothing about the gun-walking program.
The Mexican Attorney General agreed it was beneficial for both “…governments to work in a coordinated fashion to prevent, discourage and process arms traffickers,” the documents disclosed.
These documents demonstrate ICE remains more involved in the gun trafficking business than anybody knew or Sec. Napolitano was willing to admit to Congress. . .
This is the first report concerning Operation Armas Cruzadas and a series of stories will provide more information on this gun-trafficking program in the coming days.
Yeah, well I'll be interested to see the document(s) that Ms. Dvorak has. Operation Armas Cruzadas is not exactly a deep dark secret, although like Project Gunrunner it certainly may have deep dark secrets of its own.
Here is the announcement of its inauguration on 9 June 2008.
On 18 March 2009, there was this testimony from David Johnson, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State before the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on the subject of "Guns, Drugs and Violence: The Merida
Initiative and the Challenge in Mexico":
Just to add a couple of points, there are ongoing operations by our law enforcement agencies—the DHS, ICE, Operation Armas Cruzadas, going on for 6 months now—which have already resulted in 104 criminal arrests, the seizure of 420 weapons, and more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition, and that is one of the cooperative programs. ATF, of course, has Project Gunrunner.
The week before, Marcy Foreman, DHS' Director of the Office of Investigations of ICE testified on the “Border Enforcement Security Task Force” before the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommitte on Homeland Security:
DHS recognizes that southbound weapons smuggling is a grave concern amid the growing violence along our border with Mexico. This violence requires a comprehensive, bilateral effort and on January 30, 2009, Secretary Napolitano responded by issuing a Border Security Action Directive which focused the wide-ranging authorities of the Department on the rampant violence along our southern border. The Secretary emphasized the necessity of a broad, multi-agency response to attack the flow of weapons and money that continues to fuel the violence. ICE contributes to that fight through two principal bilateral initiatives: Operation Firewall to address bulk cash smuggling; and Operation Armas Cruzadas, to detect, disrupt and dismantle weapons smuggling networks. Particularly in Armas Cruzadas, ICE-led, Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BESTs) function as critical enablers in coordinating a comprehensive, multi-agency approach to fighting weapons smuggling. These DHS task forces include important partners such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other foreign, federal, state and local task force officers.
The rampant border violence along the United States/Mexico border is a direct result of criminal organizations attempting to exert their control over not only the democratically elected officials of the Mexican government but also rival criminal organizations. The problem is of such magnitude that the Mexican military has had to step in to support and sometimes replace law enforcement officials who can not address the violence and restore order. Many of the instruments of this violence are from weapons smuggled from the United States into Mexico.
Criminal organizations commonly use straw purchasers with clean criminal histories to purchase firearms and turn them over to smugglers. The challenge in countering the smuggling activity is compounded by the reliance on the technique called “ant trafficking,” where small numbers of weapons are smuggled through multiple ports-of-entry, on a continued basis.
In June 2008, ICE formally launched Operation Armas Cruzadas to combat transnational criminal networks smuggling weapons into Mexico from the United States. As part of this initiative, the United States and the Government of Mexico (GoM) synchronize bilateral interdiction, investigation and intelligence-sharing activities to identify, disrupt, and dismantle these networks engaged in weapons smuggling. Key components of Armas Cruzadas include training for BEST task force officers and our partners in ICE’s long-standing authorities under the Arms Export Control Act, as well as newly-acquired, export authority under Title 18, United States Code, Section 554 (Smuggling goods from the United States). This statute augments the broad arsenal of cross-border criminal authorities available to ICE investigators, and is particularly useful in targeting weapons smuggling. Another important Armas Cruzadas component is industry outreach, including presentations to groups involved in the manufacture, sale, or shipment of firearms and ammunition along the southwest border. This industry outreach includes a collaborative initiative between ICE and Mexico’s Procuraduria General de La Republica (PGR) prosecutors to produce bilingual posters identifying potential penalties for weapons smugglers under U.S. export and Mexican gun trafficking laws. The posters solicit the public for information related to these schemes, and are displayed in shops and agencies in the border region, including ports-of-entry. The Government of Mexico has also distributed these posters within Mexico.
In addition to outreach, more rapid exchange of information is essential to success in confronting the southbound weapons flow. Armas Cruzadas strengthens bilateral communication through deployment of ICE Border Liaisons to sustain cooperative working relationships with foreign and domestic government entities; and also through a Weapons Virtual Task Force, comprised of a virtual online community where U.S. and Mexican investigators can share intelligence and communicate in a secure environment. In order to more seamlessly investigate the networks that span our common border, BESTs, ICE attaché offices, a U.S.-vetted GoM Arms Trafficking Group and the Border Violence Intelligence Cell exchange cross-border weapons-related intelligence. The Border Violence Intelligence Cell, housed at the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), along with the ATF weapons desk, serves as ICE’s central point for analyzing all-source intelligence and trends in firearms smuggling. In December of last year, this cell, in conjunction with DHS intelligence components, produced a strategic assessment of southbound weapons smuggling that guided increased weapons investigation and interdiction operations along the Southwest Border.
Let me share an example of how ICE partners with others, such as ATF and local investigators, in combating weapons smuggling. ICE, ATF, and the San Antonio Police Department initiated an investigation of Ernesto Tornel Olvera-Garza of Monterrey, Mexico who first began trafficking in hunting rifles in June 2005. During the course of the investigation, agents learned that between 2006 and the time of his arrest in October 2007, he trafficked in high-powered, high-capacity handguns and assault rifles. Since his temporary visa did not allow him to legally buy guns in the United States, Mr. Olvera-Garza instead paid people in the United States to buy guns for him and lied about who the guns were for. Mr. Olvera-Garza organized and led the gun-smuggling conspiracy, which included at least nine “straw purchasers” who purchased firearms on his behalf. More than 50 weapons were purchased and smuggled to Mexico as part of this ring. One of Mr. Olvera-Garza's smuggled pistols was recovered in Mexico after it was used in a running gun battle where two Mexican soldiers were killed. Mr. Olvera-Garza has pleaded guilty and is pending sentencing.
Since the initiation of Operations Armas Cruzadas, DHS has seized 420 weapons, 110,894 rounds of ammunition and arrested 104 individuals on criminal charges, resulting in 58 criminal indictments and 42 convictions to date.
So Armas Cruzadas was hardly a secret, as I say. Actually, I hope Dvorak's future stories will include a little more context as well as documents, so that we may judge the evidence ourselves.