A major law enforcement initiative intended to stop the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexican drug cartels has “significant weaknesses” due to lack of intelligence sharing by ATF officials, according to an internal Justice Department report.
The draft version of the Inspector General’s report on the Project Gunrunner initiative, which is run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), obtained by NBC News, is a “scathing indictment” of the program, Michael Isikoff reported this week.
A senior ATF official speaking on condition of anonymity told NBC News that many of the problems identified in the report stem from a lack of funding from Congress as well as what they said were weak U.S. gun laws.
The draft version of the report finds that ATF and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) do not work effectively together and rarely conduct joint investigations. They often don’t even notify each other about which cases they are working on, even though a high level DOJ official directed them to do just that last year.
Here’s a key graph in the draft of the report regarding the failures of the program:
We found that ATF does not systematically exchange intelligence with its Mexican and some U.S. partner agencies. In addition, some ATF field agents reported that they do not find investigative leads provided to them by ATF’s Field Intelligence Groups to be timely and usable. We also determined that intelligence personnel in ATF’s Southwest border field divisions do not routinely share firearms trafficking intelligence with each other. ATF could better implement its Border Liaison Program to improve information sharing and coordination between its U.S. and its Mexico personnel.
A top Justice Department official previously scolded the ATF and the FBI for not cooperating at the scenes of explosives incidents and put the FBI in charge. ATF has also taken on a less prominent role in terrorism cases, giving the lead role to the FBI after going through what an ATF official described as a period of “terrorism envy” after Sept. 11.
TPM asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during a meeting with reporters last week whether ATF’s lack of a permanent director was hampering border efforts. The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence has been highly critical of the Obama administration’s enforcement of gun control laws, including his failure to nominate a permanent director.
“With respect to not having a permanent head of ATF, that issue has not been raised to me as an issue — of course ATF is not in DHS, it’s one of the departments that isn’t,” Janet Napolitano said. Napolitano played down the work ICE does with ATF, saying the agency was a DHS partner “in some matters.”
Meanwhile, there’s an effort in the Senate to weaken ATF — an National Rifle Association-backed bill titled the “Reform and Modernization Act.” The Brady Campaign opposes the new bill, which they say would “undermine federal law enforcement and protect corrupt gun dealers.”
The bill was set to be the subject of a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that hearing was postponed due to scheduling conflicts. If the Senate goes into recess earlier than planned as press reports indicates, the hearing would be delayed until after the midterm election, a Democratic spokeswoman for the committee told TPMMuckraker.
TPM has a call in to an ATF spokesman for additional comment, and will update if they have anything to add.
Late Update: Spokesman Drew Wade tells us ATF isn’t going to weigh in on the report. “Just like with an investigation, we can’t confirm or deny the existence of an IG report that hasn’t been issued,” he said. “We aren’t going to provide any comment on something that could be a working draft.” He also declined to comment on the pending legislation to reform ATF.
The draft version of the report, obtained by NBC News, is embedded below.