By Jim Kouri
Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder once again testified before the House Oversight Committee about revelations that officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were aware of straw buying by Mexican weapons-trafficker Manuel Barba during a several month span and that one of those weapons was discovered at the murder scene of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata. That weapon is allegedly linked to the disastrous Operation Fast and Furious.
Last year, ICE Agent Zapata had left the U.S. Consulate in Mexico City and was enroute with his partner, Victor Avila, to Monterrey, Mexico at which time both ICE officers were ambushed by alleged members of Los Zetas drug cartel. Zapata was killed but Avila survived the violent encounter, according to a Law Enforcement Examiner report.
Originally, Los Zetas was a paramilitary group of former Mexican soldiers, police officers and military deserters. They provided “the muscle” and protection for Mexican drug traffickers and coyotes.
In the past, the federal government of Mexico temporarily deployed the military and federal police officers to maintain order against trafficker-generated violence in highly impacted cities. But more often than not Mexican military — or those posing as military — provided protection for the traffickers and drug gangs.
In a letter to Holder, Rep Darryl Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote that in addition to brothers Otilio and Rafael Osorio and Kelvin Morrison, which they have previously asked about and received “non-substantive responses,” it appears that another straw purchaser with ties to the Zapata murder was well-known to ATF officials.
In their letter, they wrote, “Records indicate that [the] ATF opened a case against Manuel Barba in June 2010, approximately two months before he took possession… of the rifle which was later trafficked to Mexico and also used in the murder of Agent Zapata. Additionally, the documents show that ATF had indications in October 2010 that Barba was obliterating serial numbers on weapons, the possession of which would have been a prosecutable offense.”
Yet, according to Issa and Grassley, Barba was not arrested until February 14, 2011.
Issa and Grassley have been investigating the actions of the Justice Department and the ATF that allowed gun-walking — guns purchased by known straw buyers who then often transferred the firearms to Mexican Drug Cartels — to occur in at least one ATF field office jurisdiction.
One of the major flaws found in the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious, where gun-walking was known to occur, was the failure to conduct surveillance of individuals known to be trafficking weapons to Mexico, which allowed such firearms to reach the border.
ATF has tried to distinguish this case from Operation Fast and Furious and to justify its failure to intervene. In one report on the Osorio brothers, ATF North Texas spokesperson Tom Crowley is quoted as saying: “[T]aking them down and arresting them at that time would have possibly jeopardized that investigation. . . . None of the tactics used in this investigation were anything similar to what was used in Arizona’s Fast and Furious, including intentionally walking firearms across the border.”
But Issa and Grassley said that “the same irresponsible tactic appears to have been used as the ATF allowed guns to cross the border in Texas.”