The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) began a pilot program in Laredo, Texas in 2005 with the intention to interdict the flow of weapons from the Southwest border into Mexico. As an aside, since the majority of arms traffic across the U.S. border into Mexico is being driven by drug trade, it was believe that the program would also help to stem the flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States.

gunrunnerProject Gunrunner, as it was dubbed, was directed at Mexican cartels and involved numerous U.S. government agencies as well as the government of Mexico.  Cooperatively, the eTrace firearms tracking system, intended to allow law enforcement in the U.S. to trace firearms movements both domestically and internationally became a key component to the program.

By early 2008, Project Gunrunner had expanded rapidly in border states and into nine U.S. consulates in Mexico. What started as a weapons tracking program became a profitable arms sales business.  $2 million in revenue was garnered through the Merida Initiative, which was hidden in a war supplemental bill.  The Merida Initiative was a program to create a partnership between U.S. law enforcement organizations and Mexican law enforcement. The Department of Justice Inspector General began to question the growth in the programs when payrolls exploded from 25 employees to more than 200 by 2009.

Under the Obama administration ATF received an additional $21.9 million to expand Project Gunrunner, half of which was hidden in the 2009 Obama Stimulus Bill.  Nearly $12 million more was requested in fiscal year 2011 appropriations.

Project Gunrunner went nearly undetected through the latter half of the Bush administration, but the program began to unravel when Mexican gangs murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December.  After Terry’s murder, ATF agents and officials stepped forward to expose the sale of hundreds of high-powered rifles and pistols to Mexican drug cartels, despite protests from private gun shops being drawn into the sordid affair.  These are the same private business often taken to task by the Obama administration for selling weapons to criminals, while they were selling them to the worst-of-the-worst.

An offshoot of Project Gunrunner, operated out of ATF’s Phoenix office, dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious,” was exposed by CBS News, included the sale of over 2,500 high-powered weapons, including military-grade 50-calibers rifles, the same weapon used by Mexican drug cartels in the slaying of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata.  CBS News reported in February that Project Gunrunner “allegedly facilitated the delivery of thousands of guns into criminal hands.”

Senator Charles Grassley and Representative Darrell Issa began to pressure the administration to come clean earlier this year about who knew what and when, however President Obama denied any knowledge of Project Gunrunner on Spanish-language Univision TV, saying that a serious mistake had been made.

Months after the exposure of Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, all that Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General will say on the matter is, “We will investigate.”

Bush’s hands are not clean on this matter, and certainly the program grew dramatically during the latter Bush years, but the program exploded during the first two Obama years.  How money to fund a program to sell weapons to Mexican gangs warranted money in the economic stimulus bill is a scandal of the first order.  How many jobs, other than those filling the ATF offices in the Southwest, do you think were created or saved by this program?  Could you have ever conceived that money from the grand Obama stimulus program would actually go to fund the sale of arms that has cost American lives?  With all due respect to CBS News for their reporting, the failure throughout the media in exposing what may well be the Watergate of the this decade is astounding.

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