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More Mexican Gun Running Hijinx with the Biden Admin and ATF

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There’s a sense of déjà vu all over again when it comes to the federal government shutting down efforts to put a halt to Mexican gun-running schemes.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a series of whistleblower documents that raise the ghosts of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) ill-fated Operation Fast & Furious. That was the Department of Justice (DOJ) operation that allowed firearms to be illegally smuggled across the U.S. border to Mexico, except once they crossed, they were never tracked.

One of those illegally-trafficked firearms was used to murder U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

That was exposed when ATF Agent Peter Forcelli blew the whistle that cases he was making to charge and lock up criminals for trafficking guns were being ignored by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Now, another whistleblower is warning that a similar scheme might be playing out the same way again.

Project Thor

Sen. Grassley released documents that were sent to nine federal law enforcement agencies within the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security, State and the U.S. Postal Service. He is seeking answers to a secretive ATF operation that the Biden administration still refuses to acknowledge exists, Project Thor. That was a successful operation to interdict illegal firearm smuggling from the United States to Mexico. It was successful until the Biden administration pulled the plug.

“The American people deserve to know more about the Biden administration’s strategy … to target cartel firearms networks in the U.S.,” Sen. Grassley wrote according to CBS News. CBS investigated illicit gun trafficking to Mexico on their own. They found Mexican drug cartels were funneling firearms, including military-grade firearms, to Mexico.

“Intelligence documents and interviews with half a dozen current and former officials showed that the U.S. government has known this for years but, sources said, it’s done little to stop these weapons trafficking networks inside the United States, which move up to a million firearms across the border annually,” CBS reported.

The CBS report added that until Project Thor was launched, there was no focus on interdicting and locking up Mexican gun smugglers. Sen. Grassley estimated that upwards of $503 million of firearms and ammunition was being smuggled annually and Project Thor worked 76 cartel trafficking cases between 2018-2020 and identified Mexican cartels as the culprits.

Justice Department officials told Sen. Grassley they were unfamiliar with the Project Thor, a claim the senator found “surprising,” since documents his office uncovered identified 16 executive branch agencies, including the DOJ, Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI. Other documents indicated the U.S. Embassy in Mexico was prepared to brief U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar, shortly after his arrival. That briefing was verified in ATF emails uncovered by Sen. Grassley.

Why Was It Halted?

By all indications, Project Thor was a success – until it was defunded by the ATF.

“Given the reports Project Thor successfully identified and shared intelligence to law enforcement agencies government wide to aid investigations and prosecutions of these types of cases, the American people deserve to know why the ATF has chosen to defund Project Thor and use its resources to target FFLs and individual law-abiding gun owners,” Sen. Grassley wrote to ATF Director Steven Dettelbach in December 2023.

Sen. Grassley sought answers as to why the ATF stopped putting effort into the program to disrupt illegal firearm trafficking in 2022 and instead focused efforts on rulemaking, that included publishing the Final Rules on “Frames or Receivers,” “Engaged in the Business” and “zero tolerance” policies that have forced firearm retailers out of business for minor clerical errors.

“Instead of focusing on criminal cartels, the Biden administration and the ATF have shifted focus to indiscriminately targeting lawful firearms owners, purchasers, and sellers instead of using intelligence and a whole of government approach to identify and target the leadership and networks directing the trafficking of firearms from the U.S. to Mexico,” Sen. Grassley wrote.

Suspect Timing

The timing of the decision to cut off funding for Project Thor is suspect, especially since there were indications that it was disrupting cartel cells as far north as Washington state and Maine. The federal government, and as many as 16 federal law enforcement agencies, were penetrating these networks that were reportedly sending actual automatic firearms into Mexico to arm narco-terrorists. It begs the question as to why the ATF would pull the plug? What else could be going on?

It was in August of 2021 that Mexico filed its $10 billion lawsuit against U.S. firearm manufacturers. They claimed that U.S. firearm manufacturers were complicit in contributing to illegal firearm trafficking to cartels in Mexico. That case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court in September 2022, in a ruling that said the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) prohibited the lawsuit. Fifteen months later, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed that decision, allowing the claim for $10 billion to go forward.

Those are the same firearm manufacturers that President Joe Biden called “the enemy” when he began his campaign for the Oval Office in 2019. This is the same firearm industry that was told to continue to sell guns during Operation Fast & Furious when those retailers knew those guns would be trafficked.

Forcelli told Bearing Arms’ Cam Edwards that “…. there were members of the industry who did not want to sell to people who were trafficking guns to Mexico who were told specifically to do so by federal prosecutors and ATF agents, including senior level executives personnel.”

To be clear on this timeline, President Biden called firearm manufacturers “the enemy” while campaigning in 2019. President Biden took office in 2021. Mexico filed their $10 billion lawsuit in 2021. The ATF’s Project Thor, which was successful in disrupting Mexican cartel gun smuggling, was defunded in 2021 for the following year. Mexico’s lawsuit was dismissed and later revived in 2024 and now, Sen. Grassley is still being stonewalled by 16 federal law enforcement agencies as to why a successful operation to stop guns from being illegally trafficked was halted by the agency that’s charged to prevent that from happening.

The echoes of bungled federal government operations and coverups are haunting. Sen. Grassley – and the American public – deserve answers.

 

—Mark Olivia, Courtesy of NSSF

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