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Whistleblower Alleges that ATF Purposely Allowed Weapons to be Smuggled to Mexico

In an effort to catch Mexican drug lords, the federal agency responsible for regulating the gun industry and cracking down on gun crime allowed thousands of weapons [1] to pass into Mexico and fall into the hands of criminals, according to a report by CBS News and other outlets this week. 

A senior agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—better known as the ATF—told CBS and the Center for Public Integrity that ATF supervisors instructed agents to not intercept weapons [2] made in suspicious sales, but to monitor them to see where the weapons ended up. CBS reported that a number of unnamed agents [3] have made similar allegations.

ATF's acting director has said that the agency will convene a panel to review its strategies for stopping the flow of firearms, but he did not comment to CBS on specifics about the allegations [4]. ATF officials did acknowledge to CPI that there has been a larger shift [5] in the organization’s strategy to go after the drug rings seeking the weapons instead of pursuing the low-level buyers involved in smuggling them:

Mark Chait, ATF’s assistant director in charge of field operations, told the Center he personally decided to change the strategy in September 2010 after years of futile efforts to interdict guns from small-time straw buyers with little hope of dismantling major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.

The ATF whistleblower, John Dodson, told CBS that the strategy to monitor weapons purchased by suspected smugglers instead of seizing them was approved all the way up to the Justice Department and was kept secret from the government of Mexico. The Justice Department—of which ATF is a division—has denied the allegations.

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