Project Gunrunner

Project Gunrunner

Project Gunrunner is an operation of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) intended to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico, in an attempt to deprive the Mexican drug cartels of weapons.[1]

In early 2011, the operation became controversial when it was revealed that Operation Fast and Furious and other probes under Project Gunrunner had allowed guns to "walk" into the hands of Mexican drug cartels since as early as 2006.[2][3]



The ATF began Project Gunrunner as a pilot project in Laredo, Texas, in 2005 and expanded it as a national initiative in 2006. Project Gunrunner is also part of the Department of Justice’s broader Southwest Border Initiative, which seeks to reduce cross-border drug and firearms trafficking and the high level of violence associated with these activities on both sides of the border.[4]

ATF has determined that the Mexican cartels have become the leading gun trafficking organizations operating in the southwest U.S. and is working in collaboration with other agencies and the Government of Mexico to expand the eTrace firearm tracing software system.[5] eTrace provides web based access to ATF’s Firearms Tracing System to allow law enforcement both domestically and internationally the ability to trace firearms encountered in connection with a criminal investigation to the first recorded purchaser[6][7][8] - who may have innocently sold the gun years ago. eTrace allows law enforcement to access their trace results directly (name and address of first purchaser) and offers the ability to generate statistical reports to analyze their trace data to estimate firearms trafficking trends or patterns.

ATF announced a goal to deploy eTrace software to all thirty-one states within the Republic of Mexico. As part of eTrace expansion, ATF continues to provide training to Mexican and Central American countries to ensure that the technology is utilized to a greater extent.[5] Colombia and Mexico were provided with their own in-country tracing centers with full access to ATF firearm registration records. In Colombia, a joint ATF-CNP Center for Anti-Explosives Information and Firearms Tracing (CIARA) opened on December 6, 2006.[9] In Mexico, The National Center for Information, Analysis and Planning in order to Fight Crime (CENAPI) was established in 2003. ATF states these are models for planned future tracing centers throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean Basin.[10] In December, 2009, ATF announced deployment of a Spanish version of eTrace to Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. A planned second phase will release the software to all Spanish-speaking countries with agreements with ATF. In June 2011 Congress opened an investigation into project gunrunner against the ATF, as some ATF agents have come forward stating that top heads in ATF and the Department of Justice instructed the agents to encourage gun stores in the U.S. to sell assault-style weapons to Mexican firearm traffickers.

In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009[11] provided $40 million to state and local law enforcement agencies. This money was primarily slated for competitive grants to provide assistance and equipment to local law enforcement along the southern border; and, in high-intensity drug trafficking areas, to combat criminal narcotics activity stemmming from the southern border. $10 million of the money was to be transferred to the BATF for Project Gunrunner to hire personnel and open facilities in 6 new locations. The use of "stimulus" money to fund Project Gunrunner is controversial, given the ATF Phoenix Field Division's reported initiative of allowing known criminals purchase guns in an effort to gain intelligence on the cartels (Operation Fast and Furious).


Along with a number of Caribbean police forces, many countries use eTrace software: [7] Mexico, Colombia, Suriname, Tobago, Guyana, Canada, Germany, Bahama, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, Grenadines, St. Lucia, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, St. Kitts, Nevis, Britain, Australia, Japan, and Belgium.

These countries have access to American gun owner identities and information (first purchaser only) as a result of traces of recovered firearms contained in the database.[12] [13] In GAO Report 09-709, ATF reports the National Tracing Center, “conducts the gun traces, and returns information on their findings to the submitting party”.[8]

ATF has commissioned approximately 100 special agents and 25 industry operations investigators to the initiative,[5] and is increasing its intelligence activities with other EPIC law enforcement partners stationed at the border, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Texas Department of Public Safety. ATF also works closely with these agencies’ task forces which operate along the Southwest border, sharing intelligence, and conducting joint investigations.


By early 2009, Project Gunrunner had resulted in approximately 650 cases by ATF, in which more than 1,400 defendants were referred for prosecution in federal and state courts and more than 12,000 firearms were involved.[14]

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), during FY 2007 and 2008, ATF conducted twelve eTrace training sessions for Mexican police (over 961 Mexican police officers) in several Mexican cities, including the same cities where corrupt police were disarmed and arrested: Mexico City, Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, and Matamoros.[15] Despite the GAO report, ATF now claims (October 2010) only about 20 people have been trained to use eTrace in Mexico.[16] This discrepancy has not been explained. With the assistance of ATF’s Mexico City office and the Narcotics Affairs Section of the U.S. Department of State, ATF anticipates conducting numerous additional courses in these subject areas in 2009.[14] According to Mexican government officials, corruption pervades all levels of Mexican law enforcement—federal, state, and local.[17]

ATF reported they analyzed firearms seizures in Mexico from FY 2005-07 and identified the following weapons most commonly used by drug traffickers. [18] However this conclusion is seriously flawed and not supported by ATF statistics, which only includes guns successfully traced and these are not necessarily connected to drug traffickers. The number of trace requests from Mexico has increased since FY 2006, but most seized guns in Mexico have not been traced.[19]


ATF Project Gunrunner has a stated official objective to stop the sale and export of guns from the United States into Mexico in order to deny Mexican drug cartels the firearms considered "tools of the trade".[20] However, since 2006 under Operation Fast and Furious, Operation Wide Receiver and others, it did the opposite by permitting, encouraging and facilitating 'straw purchase' firearm sales to traffickers, and allowing the guns to 'walk' and be transported to Mexico. This has resulted in the death of US border agent Brian Terry and considerable controversy.[2][21][22][23]

Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) initiated an investigation with a letter to ATF on 27 January 2011,[24] and again on 31 January 2011. ATF responded through the Department of Justice by denying all allegations.[25] Senator Grassley responded with specific documentation supporting the allegations in letters to U.S. Attorney General Holder on 9 Feb 2011[26] and 16 Feb 2011.[27] ATF refused to answer specific questions in a formal briefing to Senator Grassley on 10 Feb 2011.

Indictments filed in federal court, documentation obtained by Senator Grassley, and statements of ATF agents obtained by Senator Grassley and CBS News, show that the ATF Phoenix Field Division allowed and facilitated the sale of over 2,500 firearms (AK-47 rifles, FN 5.7mm pistols, AK-47 pistols, and .50 caliber rifles) in 'straw man purchases' destined for Mexico. [21][28][29][30][31][32]According to ATF agents, Mexican officials were not notified, and ATF agents operating in Mexico were instructed not to alert Mexican authorities about the operation.[33] Some ATF agents and supervisors strongly objected, and gun dealers (who were cooperating with ATF) protested the sales, but were asked by ATF to complete the transactions to expose the supply chain and gather intelligence.[21][34] However, there are accusations that the ATF was attempting to boost statistics to 'prove' that American guns are arming the Mexican drug cartels and to further budget and political objectives.[35] It has been established that this operation violated long-established ATF policies and practices and that it is not a recognized investigative technique.[36]

Many reporters are operating on the premise that the operation was conducted in good faith and had simply gone awry. What contributes to the controversy, however, of an otherwise yet again bungled government operation, is whistleblowers within a law enforcement environment. In law enforcement, a code of silence prevails on the basis that the public cannot readily understand sensitive law enforcement style, methods, priorities and sacrifices. However, many officers do have a conscience and do not accept these as the last word in service to the American people. Among these are the Oathkeepers who are public servant adherents to the Constitution and rule of law. Whistleblowers are similarly strict adherents in the liberty and integrity movement values system as well. The appearance of Oathkeepers or Whistleblowers at all is a reliable clue to corruption because it can be verified as serious and does not likely appear as a case of everyday disgruntled or embittered employees.

Whistleblowers have their trusted resources, too, people with whom they are willing to share vital professional experience and insight, information, reports of poor practices and corruption evidence. This bond is distinctive and conspicuous in this scandal. Two of the more trusted correspondents in this matter are two bloggers who originally broke the story and aroused the interest of both Congress and media. September 24th, 2011, David Codrea received the Second Amendment Foundation Journalist of The Year Award for his courageous, authentic and vital reportage of the scandal from the very beginning. It is Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh who were first contacted as most trusted by whistleblowers. [Google David Codrea or Mike Vanderboegh] Congressional committee suspicions then arose that the project was not a good faith undertaking gone awry, but a tactic to arouse national support for enhanced gun control.

Many of these same guns are being recovered from crime scenes in Arizona[37] and throughout Mexico,[38] which is artificially inflating ATF's eTrace statistics of U.S. origin guns seized in Mexico. Two of these guns recovered at the crime scene are linked to the murder of Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry on December 14, 2010.[39]

See also


  1. ^ Project Gunrunner
  2. ^ a b "AP Exclusive: Second Bush-Era Gun-Smuggling Probe". The Associated Press. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Savage, Charlie. "Agent Who Supervised Gun-Trafficking Operation Testifies on His Failings". New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  4. ^ "Preliminary review by the Department of Justice implementation of Project Gunrunner on the illicit trafficking of guns from the United States to Mexico" (PDF). Review of ATF’s Project Gunrunner. U.S. Department of Justice - Office of the Inspector General. September. pp. 3. Retrieved 2010-11-13 
  6. ^ eTrace: Internet-based Firearms Tracing and Analysis
  7. ^ a b ATF Fact Sheet - eTrace: Internet-Based Firearms Tracing and Analysis
  8. ^ a b GAO-09-709 Firearms Trafficking: U.S. Efforts to Combat Arms Trafficking to Mexico Face Planning and Coordination Challenges
  9. ^ Bureau of International Narcotics Matters End Use Monitoring (EUM) Report, CY 2006, U.S. State Department.
  10. ^ CBS
  11. ^ H.R.1 - American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
  12. ^ "Privacy Impact Assessment for the eTrace". BATFE (BATFE): pp. 19. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2010-12-16. 
  13. ^ "An Open Letter to B.A.T.F.E. Head Kenneth Melson (Acting Director)". Jewsfor the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. October 22, 2009. Retrieved 2009/12/29. 
  14. ^ a b "FBI Fact Sheet: Department of Justice efforts to combat Mexican Drug Cartels". Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). April 2, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-04. 
  15. ^ GAO Report 09-709 (PDF)
  16. ^ CORCORAN, KATHERINE (2010-10-6). "ATF: New accord with Mexico will boost gun traces". Associated Press (Yahoo News). Retrieved 2010-12-17. "About 20 people have been trained to use eTrace in Mexico." 
  17. ^ GAO Report 09-709, June 2009
  18. ^ ATF Fact Sheet - Project Gunrunner
  19. ^ "OIG Review of ATF’s Project Gunrunner" (PDF). Review by the Office Inspector General (OIG) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) implementation of Project Gunrunner. U.S.A.: U.S. Department of Justice. November. Retrieved 2010-11-21 
  20. ^ "Project Gunrunner". BATFE (BATFE). 2011-02-17. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  21. ^ a b c Sharyl, Attkisson (2011-02-23). "Gunrunning scandal uncovered at the ATF". CBS News (CBS News).;pop. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  22. ^ "CCRKBA to Holder on ATF Scandal: 'Investigate and Fire, or Resign'". PR Newswire. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  23. ^ Lucas, Fred (2011-07-07). "Gun-Running Timeline: How DOJ’s ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ Unfolded". CNS News (CNS News). Retrieved 2011-07-09. 
  24. ^ Grassley, Charles (2011-01-27). "Grassley Letter". U.S. Senate ( Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  25. ^ Weich, Ronald (2011-02-04). "DOJ Letter". DOJ (DOJ). Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  26. ^ Grassley, Charles (2004-02-09). "Grassley Letter 2". U.S. Senate ( Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  27. ^ Grassley, Charles (2004-02-16). "Grassley Letter 3". U.S. Senate ( Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  28. ^ "US.v.Avila Indictment". U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice). 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  29. ^ "US_v_Flores_Indictment". U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice). 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  30. ^ "US.v.Broome Indictment". U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice). 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  31. ^ "US.v.Aguilar Indictment". U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice). 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  32. ^ "US.v.Abarca Indictment". U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice). 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  33. ^ Attkisson, Sharyl (2011-02-24). "Mexico responds to CBS News investigation". CBS News (CBS News). Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  34. ^ "Inside ATF…an ugly picture …how many dead bodies are out there as a result of Project Gunrunner?". The Tucson Citizen. 23 February 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  35. ^ "More calls for an investigation into ATF’s Project Gunrunner scandal". The Tucson Citizen. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  36. ^ Ahlers, Mike M. (July 26, 2011). "ATF officials admit mistakes in Operation Fast and Furious gun program". CNN News. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  37. ^ Gliha, Lori (2011-07-01). "Weapons linked to controversial ATF strategy found in Valley crimes". KNXV-TV, (KNXV-TV, Retrieved 2011-07-01. 
  38. ^ "Fast and Furious Investigation". BATFE (U.S. Department of Justice). 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  39. ^ "ATF Linked to Border Agent’s Murder". New American. 23 February 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 

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