The acting head of ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) has seemingly blown the cover of both DEA and FBI informant operations in order to spare his own neck and to deflect blame away from a badly flawed operation undertaken by his own agency.
In doing so, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson has also left open the door to the house of mirrors that always comes into play when U.S. interests intersect with foreign affairs.
The operation that has put Melson in the hot seat before Congress is known as Fast and Furious, which was launched in October 2009 as an offshoot of Project Gunrunner — ATF’s larger effort to stem the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico
However, Fast and Furious actually undermined the goal of Project Gunrunner by allowing some 2,000 or more firearms illegally purchased in the U.S. to “walk” (or be smuggled under ATF’s watch) across the border in a supposed effort by the federal law enforcement agency to target the kingpins behind Mexico’s narco-gun-running enterprises, ATF whistleblowers contend.
Two of the guns linked to the Fast and Furious operation allegedly were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot to death by Mexican border marauders in Arizona late last year. The whistleblower revelations about Fast and Furious have since sparked Congressional inquiries.
In a letter sent on July 5 to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, two Republican members of Congress from the committees probing Fast and Furious made startling allegations in the wake of what they say was an interview of ATF’s Melson conducted by “both Republican and and Democratic staff.”
What the letter from Issa and Grassley is alleging, simply put, is that multiple U.S. agencies were employing as informants and assets members of Mexican drug organizations who were responsible for importing into their nation thousands of weapons from the U.S., leading to more than 40,000 homicides in Mexico’s drug war since late 2006.
The letter, by its wording, makes clear that the complicit U.S. agencies include FBI and DEA, but it also seems to make clear that “other agencies” might also be involved in the game. And also part of this game was ATF, which, via Fast and Furious, was allowing thousands of guns to be smuggled across the U.S. border into Mexico as part of a supposed plan to identify “higher-ups” in Mexican drug organizations who were responsible for the illegal weapons trade. And, as it turns out, those responsible, in some cases, were the very individuals being employed as informants and assets by other U.S. agencies.
And in a strange twist of fate, one of the “higher-ups” in the Mexican narco-trafficking world, who recently claimed to be a U.S. government informant, is now pending trial in federal court in Chicago.
Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, is the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia — one of the purported top leaders of the Sinaloa drug-trafficking organization — a leading Mexican-based importer of weapons and exporter of drugs. Zambada Niebla was arrested in Mexico in March 2009 and last February extradited to the United States to stand trial on narco-trafficking-related charges.
Zambada Niebla also claims be an asset of the U.S. government. His allegation is laid out in a two-page court pleading filed in late March with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. The pleading asserts that Zambada Niebla was working with “public authority” “on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”); and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”); and the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).
Zambada Niebla also is linked to alleged Sinaloa organization money-launderer Pedro Alfonso Alatorre Damy via a Gulfstream II jet (tail number N987SA) that crashed in Mexico in late 2007 with some four tons of cocaine onboard.
That aircraft was allegedly purchased with Sinaloa organization drug money laundered through Alatorre Damy’s casa de cambio business and a U.S. bank. And that same aircraft was reportedly suspected of being used previously as part of the CIA’s “terrorist” rendition program, according to media reports and an investigation spearheaded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
In addition, the Gulfstream II was purchased less than two weeks before it crashed in Mexico by a duo that included a U.S. government operative who allegedly had done past contract work for a variety of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, according to a known CIA asset (Baruch Vega) who is identified as such in public court records. The four tons of cocaine onboard of the Gulfstream II at the time of its crash landing, according Vega, were purchased in Colombia via a syndicate that included a Colombian narco-trafficker named Nelson Urrego, who, according to Panamanian press reports and Vega, is a U.S. government (CIA) asset.
[For more more details on the Gulfstream II story and connections, read Narco News’s past coverage at this link.]
And now, one of the top players in the Sinaloa drug organization, who, according to the U.S. government, managed logistics for the criminal organization — a job that entailed overseeing the purchase of aircraft for drug smuggling activities, as well as weapons for enforcement activities — now claims to have been actively cooperating with several U.S. law enforcement agencies since at least 2004.
When it comes to prime intelligence targets, they don’t come much better than the leaders of Mexican drug organizations, who have their tentacles planted deep inside Latin American governments due to the corrupt reach of the drug trade. So it is not unreasonable to suspect that part of the reason that ATF’s Fast and Furious makes no sense in terms of a law enforcement operation is because it wasn’t one at all.
In fact, it may well have been co-opted and trumped by a covert U.S. intelligence agency operation, such as one run by CIA, that is shielded even from most members of Congress — possibly even the White House, if it was launched under a prior administration and parts of it have since run off the tracks on their own.
As the former CIA counterintelligence officer said: “Is there deviation [from the norm, in terms of CIA operations]? Yes. Stuff happens, but that’s because there was deviation; but it’s not authorized.”
The plot has thickened, significantly so.