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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 7th December 2011 

I’m aware that websites are available all around the world so, if you’re reading this in the USA, you might be surprised to learn that I’ve only just become aware of the ‘Fast and Furious’ story. But, it does seem to be one of those stories that started fairly small and only slowly are its full details and the awful consequences becoming available.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (known at the ATF rather than the BATFE) says that it is ‘A unique law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Justice that protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products’.

In 2006, it set up ‘Operation Gunrunner’ with the objective ‘to deny Mexican drug cartels the “tools of the trade,” which they employ to murder rival drug traffickers, civilians, as well as political, military, and law enforcement figures’. At some point, though when and by whose authority is still unclear, the Phoenix office of the ATF set up Operation Fast and Furious with the intention of helping Operation Gunrunner achieve that objective.

Taking what now seems to be such a spectacularly bad idea that it is hard to see how any rational person could ever have thought it was a good idea, the ATF decided that the perfect way to identify how guns were reaching the Mexican drugs cartels was to supply the guns itself.

It used so-called ‘strawman purchasers’ to buy weapons from gun shops in Phoenix with the intention of following their journey across the border and identifying and arresting the traffickers. The only problem is that the operation reached an amazing scale with around 2,000 weapons being purchased and, current information suggests, over 1,300 of those going missing with the ATF having no idea who now has them.

It often happens with these sorts of incidents that the cover up becomes worse than the original issue and it is certainly true that there have been denials that have had to be retracted as more information comes to light, there have been staff moved sideways and there are beginning to be resignations all suggesting that the investigation of who knew what and when will become the centre of the story.

It also happens that stories like this get politicised and there have been signs that, because Republicans latched onto the story as a stick with which to beat the Obama administration, some sections of the media have soft-pedalled on their investigations on the assumption that it was just a political red herring.

But it would be a shame if politics and the cover up become the focus because the original story needs to stay at the centre of attention. Not content with having drug laws that create incentives for criminal gangs to form and then fight over their businesses, persons, so far, unknown within the ATF and, quite possibly in the Justice Department and higher in the US federal government structure, thought it would be a good idea to use federal funds to provide the weapons for these gangs to fight with.

I make no apology for writing again (previous entries here and here) about the 40,000 plus deaths in Mexico in recent years as a result of the complete failure of the world’s prohibition regime for drugs. Remember, as I quoted above, the ATF says Operation Gunrunner is aimed at reducing the numbers of murders of ‘rival drug traffickers, civilians, as well as political, military, and law enforcement figures’. It is an outrage that some, almost certainly unknowable, number of those murders have resulted from the use of weapons provided by the agency itself.