Report: Guns Flow South Thanks to U.S.
The federal government has failed to develop a coordinated strategy to stop the illegal trafficking of firearms into Mexico, according to a new government report.
The General Accountability Office investigation released today (pdf) cites Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data that approximates 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted to the U.S. for tracing in the last five years came from the U.S., and found that roughly one quarter of the guns seized are high-caliber, high-powered assault style weapons, including AK-47s and AR-15s.
Most of the illegal weapons that cross the border are intended to support Mexican drug cartels, lending added firepower to an already lethal Mexican drug war.
Investigators concluded that uncoordinated government efforts have hampered efforts to stop the gun flow.
"Individual U.S. agencies have undertaken a variety of activities and projects to combat arms trafficking to Mexico, but they are not part of a comprehensive U.S. government-wide strategy for addressing the problem," according to the report.
ATF and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the two agencies most responsible for tracking illegal weapons, "do not consistently coordinate their efforts effectively, in part because the agencies lack clear roles and responsibilities and have been operating under an outdated interagency agreement."
In a response published with the GAO report, the Department of Homeland Security disputes GAO's conclusions, noting that ATF and ICE regularly share information. The department is also awaiting final approval of a new agreement between the two agencies that was drafted in April.
Earlier this month the Obama administration also released a new government-wide strategy to combat the flow of illegal drugs, guns and cash across the U.S.-Mexico border. The 65-page White House report (pdf) calls for new technologies, more intelligence gathering and increased interdiction of ships, aircraft and vehicles carrying illegal goods. It also acknowledges that the 2007 Merida Initiative developed to tackle the illegal drug trade did not account for the flow of illegal cash and weapons.
Federal restrictions on the two agencies have also made it difficult to stop the flow of guns. Federal law prevents collecting and reporting certain information on firearms purchases and creation of a national registry of firearms is prohibited. That slows the time to trace a gun, which means leads grow cold before police even know where the gun originated.
"It is mind-boggling that for a year and a half, we have had no inter-agency strategy to address this major problem, but instead have relied on uncoordinated efforts by a variety of agencies," Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said today in at a House subcommittee hearing about the GAO report.
"It is simply unacceptable that the United States not only consumes the majority of the drugs flowing from Mexico, but also arms the very cartels that contribute to the daily violence that is devastating Mexico," he added.
Washington Post staff writers James Grimaldi and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
| June 18, 2009; 11:42 AM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Oversight
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