Genius: Gunwalker targets were paid FBI informants

**Posted by Phineas

Remember, this is a product of the Smartest Administration Ever(tm). Key summary quote from Bob Owens:

To simplify: the Department of Justice was paying ATF agents to ignore federal laws in order to provide weapons to criminal informants paid by the FBI, who then distributed those weapons to other cartel members who killed federal agents from Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement plus an estimated 150 soldiers and police in Mexico.

The development draws FBI Director Robert Mueller further into the scandal, and suggests that acting ATF Director Ken Melson was being truthful when he claimed he was unaware of key elements of Operation Fast and Furious. Congressional investigators now need to interview the FBI director and determine if Mueller was also being provided with only partial details about the operation.

Read the whole piece. There is no way the Attorney General was unaware of what was happening. Not only does he need to be fired or impeached, but criminal charges for several people are probably in order. This whole operation reeks of incompetence and criminality.

Or, as Congressman Issa called it, “felony stupid.”

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Gunwalker: Holder’s resignation is almost inevitable

**Posted by Phineas

And the only way that doesn’t happen is if he is fool-enough to stay in office, Obama is fool-enough not to fire him, and Congress has no choice but to remove him from office.

Consider: On the 4th of July, a national holiday, acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives gave testimony to House and Senate investigators on Operation “Fast and Furious,” aka “Gunwalker.”

Without telling his bosses.

And bringing his own lawyer, not the Bureau’s and not the Department of Justice’s.

To quote Allahpundit — Dude!

This morning, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley released a copy of a letter (PDF) they sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on July 5 about Melson’s testimony. Melson’s revelations raise even more serious issues not only about the operation itself, but about apparent attempts by the Justice Department to mislead Congress on the details of the operation.

Contrary to the Justice Department’s denials, according to Melson, ATF agents specifically witnessed transfers of weapons from straw purchasers to third parties without taking any further action. Melson claimed that it was not until the public disclosure of the operation that he personally reviewed the “hundreds of documents” related to the case. He said he became “sick to his stomach” when he learned the full story. Even more shocking is that some of the “gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’ that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants” by agencies such as the FBI and the DEA.

Melson provided detailed information and documents to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General at the Justice Department. But that information was not given to Congress by then-Acting Deputy Attorney General James Cole. In fact, “Melson was not allowed to communicate to Congress” and “Justice Department officials directed [ATF’s senior leadership] not to respond and took full control of replying to briefing and document requests from Congress.” According to the letter Issa and Grassley sent to Holder, it was “two days after [Melson] told [Cole] about serious issues involving lack of information sharing” that the Wall Street Journal suddenly reported that Melson was about to be ousted by the Obama administration.

Emphasis added. The Deputy Attorney General is the Attorney General’s chief assistant — the department’s number two. Here is how his authority is described by the DoJ:

The Deputy Attorney General advises and assists the Attorney General in formulating and implementing Departmental policies and programs and in providing overall supervision and direction to all organizational units of the Department. The Deputy Attorney General is authorized to exercise all the power and authority of the Attorney General, except where such power or authority is prohibited by law from delegation or has been delegated to another official. In the absence of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General acts as the Attorney General.

Think about this: Melson, head of the BATF, gave Cole, Holder’s chief deputy, “detailed information and documents,” after Melson had seen enough to make him sick. And instead of letting himself be set up as the fall-guy, he got his own lawyer –a former US Attorney– rather than let government lawyers “represent” him. Gee, I wonder why he’d feel that need?

But wait, there’s more!

In a related article, Bob Owens quotes an email from the Phoenix BATF office referencing an inter-agency meeting that shows how widespread knowledge of Gunwalker was:

The October 27, 2009 email from ATF Phoenix Field Division Special Agent in Charge (SAC) William Newell regarded a Southwest Border Strategy Group meeting that focused on Fast and Furious. It contained a laundry list of high ranking Justice Department officials that attended the meeting, including:

  • Assistant Attorney General (Criminal Division) Lanny Breuer,
  • Kenneth Melson, Acting Director, ATF
  • William Hoover, Acting Deputy Director, ATF
  • Michele Leonhart, Administrator, DEA
  • Robert Mueller, Director FBI

Four other Justice Department directors or their representatives came from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), Bureau of Prisons (BOP), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA). The chair of the Attorney Generals Advisory Committee (AGAC) also attended the session. Their names were redacted in the released document. U.S. attorneys for all four southwest border states also attended.

With all this legal and bureaucratic firepower in one room being briefed on Gunwalker, there is absolutely no way Attorney General Eric Holder did not know what was going on, which may make the DoJ’s actions in response to requests for information from Issa’s committee Obstruction, a felony. And interference with Melson’s testimony may also be Tampering, under Title 18, Section 1512 of the US Code. (See subsections (b) and (c).)

This is why I say Eric Holder is a “Dead Bureaucrat Walking.” There is too much to indicate he is either monumentally detached from his supervisory responsibilities and thus incompetent, or (more likely) knew all along about an operation that let thousands of firearms be sold to straw buyers who were acting as cutouts for the Mexican drug cartels, in order to trace a putative “gunrunning network.” An operation that has cost at least 150 Mexican lives (1) and the lives of two US federal officers.

And thus my strong guess is that he will resign to protect President Obama, rather than be impeached and to try to head off an independent prosecutor, because I find it very hard to believe the President didn’t know, either.

LINKS: More from Moe Lane and Power Line. “El Mamito” says the Zetas buy all their weapons in the US. Given what we’re learning about Gunwalker, perhaps that should be “from the US.”

Footnotes:
(1) It’s no wonder the Mexicans are talking about extradition; I’d be screaming mad, too.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Predictable, really

**Posted by Phineas

The marketing divisions of the Democratic Party, aka The New York Times and The Washington Post, have launched a vigorous defense of the Obama administration in the wake of scandalous revelations about Operation Fast and Furious (“Gunwalker”) by launching a smear campaign against Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the committee investigating this fiasco. Patrick Richardson at PJM’s Tatler blog has the story:

Issa of course has been holding hearings on the fiasco that was Operation Fast and Furious, where the ATF allowed thousands of guns across the border into the hands of the drug cartels, weapons which then began showing up at crime scenes, including the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The NYT is continuing to tell the lie that most of the weapons which end up in Mexico came from the U.S. They also show their complete ignorance when they say the weapons sold were military rifles. They were not. Whatever the semiautomatic rifles sold may look like, they are not true assault rifles. They do not have a selective fire capability, meaning they cannot fire full auto, as military rifles will. The NYT is merely using these hearings in order to push for the re-enactment of the so-called assault weapons ban while doing the administration’s dirty work.

The WaPo is perhaps more thoughtful in their attack, attempting to look like real reporting. Using anonymous sources to take potshots at Issa, claiming he was briefed in on the operation last year.

Let’s keep in mind that not only have two US federal agents been killed by guns that were allowed to “walk” over the border with the full knowledge of the ATF, but at least 150 Mexican soldiers, federal agents, and civilians. And Mexico is an ally.

If they were real newspapers truly concerned with the pursuit of the truth, the Times and the Post would be demanding to who knew what when and who gave the okays. They’d be digging into the serious foreign policy implications for the United States (1), and they’d be giving wall-to-wall coverage of the grotesque human tragedy caused by gunwalker — on American orders — something Representative Issa has described as “felony stupid;” an understatement if there ever was one.

But that would only happen if there were an (R) after the president’s name.

Real newspapers are mostly gone, at least at the national level. (2) Now, instead, we have PR flacks disguised as newspapers trying desperately to distract us from a trail that seems to lead directly to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, if not to the Oval Office itself.

Heckuva job, guys!

Footnotes:

(1) Supplying weapons to groups that threaten to destabilize a foreign state. Y’know, those little things we used to call “acts of war.”

(2) One exception is the Washington Examiner, which has a great lineup of journalists and analysts. Among the legacy media, CBS deserves real credit for following “Operation Fast and Furious” almost since the story first broke.

RELATED: Background and links

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Gunwalker: the scandal that breaks the Obama administration?

**Posted by Phineas

I’ve said for a long time that I think Eric Holder is the worst Attorney General since the wretched A. Mitchell Palmer (1) and should be forced to resign or be impeached. From his failure to protect voting rights on a color-blind basis to his vindictive persecution of CIA interrogators questioning al Qaeda terrorists and his incompetence in handling the trials of terrorists, he’s not just incompetent — he’s doing genuine harm.

But it appears the scandal that may finally bring Holder down (and his boss?) is one that’s been simmering on the backburner for months and is only now coming to a boil: Operation “Fast and Furious,” aka “Gunwalker,” a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms plan to trace the flow of firearms to Mexican drug cartels by letting US gun-dealers sell them the weapons.

What could go wrong?

At Pajamas Media, Bob Owens (aka “Confederate Yankee“) looks at the forthcoming hearings, reviews the fatal results of Gunwalker, and concludes Obama and Holder have plenty of reason to stonewall Congress:

Rumors began to fly over a week ago that a .50 BMG weapon supplied to Mexican drug cartels by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) was used to bring down a Mexican military helicopter in May. According to CBS News, the use of that weapon can be confirmed, and it turns out the helicopter was one of two fired upon by suspected cartel members.

The raid on the cartel that the helicopters were supporting was successful, netting more than 70 weapons, including the helicopter-down .50 BMG rifle and other weapons traced back to the botched ATF Operation Fast and Furious, also know as “Gunwalker.”

To date, the ATF operation, which encouraged gun shops in the American southwest to sell weapons to suspected criminals and let them carry the weapons across the border, has resulted in an estimated 150 Mexican law enforcement officers and soldiers shot with ATF-supplied weapons. While the theory behind the plot was different, the end result is no more deplorable than Iran’s arming of Iraqi terrorists.

At least two American law enforcement officers have been murdered with ATF weapons as well. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed with “Gunwalker” firearms in Arizona, while ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata was killed in an ambush in Mexico with a gun the ATF allowed to be sold to a cartel gun smuggler in Dallas.

The damning evidence that the U.S. Department of Justice agency is a major supplier of cartel weapons will go in front of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week, in what could be a damning indictment of the ATF’s senior leadership and Eric Holder’s leadership of the Department of Justice.

Attorney General Holder has apparently ordered the DOJ to fight Congressional oversight, with the DOJ and ATF ignoring seven letters and a subpoena from the committee. Neither Holder nor ATF Director Ken Melson will answer questions — which may lead to them being held in contempt of Congress.

Be sure to read the rest.

One can see why Holder would want to keep information from the House committee: if true, it reveals a mind-boggling level of stupidity and possibly criminal recklessness at ATF and Justice that has lead to the deaths of people on both sides of the border.

Owens hints at a hidden agenda behind the program, and one wonders if he isn’t on to something. Obama, as well as the Left in general, have long been advocates of strict gun-control, regardless of the plain meaning of the Second Amendment. Encountering resistance from the gun-rights lobby and conservatives in Congress, the administration has even worked to circumvent the Second Amendment via international treaty. The President has regularly lied about the role of US firearms in Mexico’s violence, far exaggerating their numbers. Could it be that one of the “side benefits” of Gunwalker was to provide more “ammunition” for the administration’s gun-control agenda?

I’d hate to think that was the case, but it can’t be completely discounted, either.

And that leads to the other reason Holder might rather risk a contempt citation at this week’s hearings than tell the truth: if Obama knew of this plan in advance and approved of it or at least didn’t stop it, or if he found out about it afterwards and didn’t do anything about it, then he bears responsibility for an operation that has cost the lives of US and Mexican federal agents and armed dangerous gangs allied with our declared enemies. It could easily be a fatal blow to his reelection chances.

Which means it’s time to ask The Question: What did the President know, and when did he know it?

BACKGROUND: CBS, in particular reporter Sharyl Attkisson, has been doing yeoman work on this story from its earliest days, reminding us of what the MSM used to be. Here’s one of her first reports. The whole series of articles is here.

RELATED: The Diplomad draws a connection from the ATF to… Thor Heyerdahl?

Footnotes:

(1) Hmm… Also appointed by a progressive Democrat president. I detect a pattern.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

But… But… But Obama said the border was secure!

**Posted by Phineas

You probably remember Obama’s recent trip to Texas in which, during a speech in El Paso, he mocked, derided, and demagogued the legitimate concerns of those worried about the security of our southern border. He went so far as to claim his administration had done more than any before it to meet those concerns:

But over the last two years, thanks to the outstanding work of Janet [Napolitano] and Alan [Bersin] and everybody who’s down here working at the border, we’ve answered those concerns. Under their leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. They wanted more agents at the border. Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history.

So, see? There’s nothing to be concerned about. The border is safe! And pay no attention to those drug-cartel outposts inside Arizona:

Hiking through rough Arizona desert terrain a few miles north of the Mexican border recently with a group of armed DEA agents, we were approached by a lone U.S. Border Patrol agent. He warned we should be careful up ahead, because two people believed to be spotters for a Mexican drug cartel had just been seen running down a ridge to elude U.S. authorities.

By now, agents told us, the men were probably hunkered down in a cave or crevice to wait out the patrol. But just to be safe, the DEA agents spread out to cover more ground as they moved forward again, watching closely for the suspected Mexican surveillance team likely sent by drug traffickers to spy on American law enforcement officials on their own soil.

Making our way slowly to the rugged hilltops about a mile away, we came across several caves carved out of the rock by wind and rain. On the floor of one of them, we saw clear evidence that a surveillance team had been camping out. Two blankets were spread out next to a pair of shoes. Nearby were boxes of food, tarps, water jugs, toothpaste and a portable stove, on top of which was a pan with fresh cooking oil still in it.

Agents also found radio chargers and car batteries used to power communications gear. They told NBC producer-photographer Al Henkel and me that Mexican surveillance teams will work in these mountains for 30 to 60 days at a time.

“They locate themselves up on these ridgelines, up in caves, hidey holes, ‘spider holes’ we call them,” said DEA agent Todd Scott. He and the agents wondered if this particular “spider hole” was home to the two men just seen running away.

The report goes on to estimate there are 200-300 spotters operating in Arizona as far north as Phoenix and using military-grade gear to track US law enforcement movements and talk to each other in a sophisticated operation. Here’s a video report:

But, don’t worry; the border is safe.

Obama said so.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday Night Linkapalooza

**Posted by Phineas

Sorry for the non-posting this weekend, folks. Yesterday was a busy one, and today was spent enjoying a beautiful if windy day by the sea in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica(1). But, we do have some links of interest. Enjoy:

Border Security and Terrorism:

Our porous southern border (I’d call operational control over only 873 miles of a 2,000 mile border “porous,” wouldn’t you?) isn’t just a swinging door for migrants seeking work or drug smugglers looking to sell their poison. Verum Serum posts an interview a San Diego station did with an undercover agent about Hizbullah’s presence in Mexico and its growing cooperation with the drug cartels. Meanwhile, Fausta updates us on Iranian training camps in northern South America, again financed through the drug trade.

Comforting, no?

Man-Caused Global Warming Can Hurt You:

Not the phenomenon itself, which is either nonexistent or so insignificant as to be barely measurable. No, what will hurt you is the belief among policymakers that they have to do something to solve a problem that exists only in their own minds. The latest example comes from Britain, where an historic agreement was reached at the price of, as James Delingpole puts it, destroying Britain. Pirate’s Cove catches a whiff of fascism. Anthony Watts suggests we pray for Britain; that may not be inappropriate, as the government seems set on a course of taking the nation back to the Dark Ages — as in lights out.

By the way, an Australian scientist who used to be in the “climate alarmist” camp has broken with the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming and said the science behind it is garbage(2).

Israel and the Unending Middle East Peace Process:

Israel turned 63 this weekend. While the civilized world celebrates the birth of one of the most humane and ethical nations on Earth, Palestinians and other Arabs commemorate the occasion by calling it the “nakba,” the catastrophe, blaming Israel for the fact they shot themselves in the foot in 1948 and continue to do so to this day. The day was marked by mass-marches and border crossings, which may signal a new form of intifada.

Meanwhile, former Senator George Mitchell is resigning as President Obama’s special envoy to the region, a tacit admission of failure. Walter Russell Mead (always worth reading) takes this occasion to criticize the administration for its toxic mixture of arrogance and inexperience. Here’s a sample quote:

Let us hope that things change, but the bitter truth is that so far President Obama has the worst Middle East peace policy since US presidents first took a direct interest in the peace process back in the Nixon Administration. No one has tried harder and accomplished less than President Obama. After two years of high profile White House activism neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians think that this President can help them; neither side feels much need to work with Washington at this point.

An American president reduced to a nonentity in one of the most volatile regions of the world, one crucial to our security. Great.

Liberal Fascism Watch:

Finally, Bill Clinton says there should be a government agency to fight rumors and falsehoods on the Internet. Because Bill Clinton has always been a warrior for the truth. (Oh, stop laughing.) I mean, this would never be used to quash criticism of politicians, would it?

And we’re running a sale on the Brooklyn Bridge today, too.

Enjoy what’s left of your weekend, folks.

(1) Also known as “Berkeley South.”

(2) I might have editorialized a bit, there. Maybe.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Sunday book review: A Country Of Vast Designs

**Posted by Phineas

For most people, when asked to name a historically significant US president, the name “James K. Polk” is not the first to come to mind. Sandwiched between the revolutionary trio of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson at one end and the giant presence of Abraham Lincoln at the other, his historical memory overshadowed by his larger-than-life mentor, Andrew Jackson, Polk seems to fade into the background of obscurity, lost among truly forgettable men such as Tyler or Pierce.

Journalist Robert W. Merry thinks this is odd and, when you consider Polk’s accomplishments over the course of his single term, one has to concede Merry has a point. In just four years, Polk succeeded in lowering tariffs to promote free trade, fostered the creation of an independent treasury for the holding of federal money, settled a lingering territorial dispute with Britain that avoided war and gave us our Pacific Northwest, and fought a war with Mexico that ended with the occupation of Mexico City and the acquisition of the American Southwest and California. In all, Polk added between 500,000-600,000 unimaginably valuable square miles to a nation that now extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

And yet we hardly know the man’s name.

Robert Merry sets out to rectify this in his “A Country Of Vast Designs,” which is a political history of Polk and his administration, and of the Mexican War.

The book covers quickly his early life, from his birth in North Carolina to his political career as a rising member of the House under President Jackson, whom Polk served so well and faithfully that Jackson almost regarded him as a son. Merry recounts how Polk’s political career seemed stalled or even at an end after he lost reelection as governor of Tennessee. But, a believer in his own destiny for greatness, Polk set his eyes higher, aiming for the nomination as vice-president at the Democratic Party’s 1844 convention in Baltimore.

Merry covers the machinations of the convention well, how a split between pro- and anti- tariff forces and another, more serious dispute over the question of whether to annex Texas crippled the candidacy of former president Martin van Buren (another Jackson protege) and left room for Polk to emerge as the original “dark horse” candidate. Polk went on to win, defeating the Whig Party’s perennial candidate, Henry Clay. (Who, convinced of his own intellectual superiority, couldn’t believe people were voting for Polk instead of him. Shades of John Kerry.)

While the domestic issues of Polk’s administration were significant, it is the twin issues of foreign affairs and war that take up the lion’s share of the book. Readers may be surprised to see how close we came to war with Britain over the Oregon territory (jointly occupied by the two powers, and which then included Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and portions of what is now Canada), thanks to recalcitrant maximalists in Polk’s own party and a freelancing British ambassador who left his government with the impression that the Americans would never compromise on their maximum demands. In the end, compromise was reached and the current boundary with Canada set.

Regarding the Mexican War, Polk has been perhaps unfairly charged with starting a war on false pretenses in order to steal Mexican territory. Merry shows that the boundary dispute that was the immediate trigger for war, whether the Texas-Mexico boundary was on the Nueces river or further south along the Rio Grande, was much more debatable than commonly accepted nowadays. Since it’s independence in the 1830s, Texas had repeatedly claimed the Rio Grande line and patrolled the land between the two rivers. Mexico, on the other hand, while claiming the Nueces line, made no move to enforce it, thus weakening its claim under international law. When Texas was admitted to the Union, Polk felt obliged to defend what the new state saw as its proper border, and so sent an army under General Zachary Taylor to protect it. A fatal clash between a detachment of Taylor’s troops and a Mexican force that had crossed the river lead Polk to ask for a declaration of war, his war message to Congress including the famous words “American blood has been shed on American soil.”

(It is worth noting that the opposition Whigs largely voted in favor of the war, then savagely criticized Polk after it dragged on, accusing him of starting an illegal war, violating the Constitution, and of usurpation. Sound familiar? And the irony of a Democrat suffering such abuse should not be lost on the perceptive reader.)

Without rehearsing the course of the war, itself, Merry’s telling of the tale may lead one to the conclusion that America was lucky to find itself in a fight with an opponent whose military leadership was genuinely incompetent and even more fractious than our own. While General Taylor was competent and General Winfield Scott was borderline brilliant, the clash of egos between these commanders and their subordinates, and the rank insubordination and disrespect shown by both men toward their commander in chief should leave modern readers appalled. (Not to mention the clash of egos among commanders in the Far West that nearly cost us California.) Indeed, the nation was “treated” to the sight of several courts martial and lesser disciplinary hearings — all against successful battlefield commanders who couldn’t keep their pride in check.

In the end, though, and even after the insubordination and firing of our chief negotiator, Nicholas Trist (who continued negotiating with the Mexicans, anyway, even after he’d been fired), Polk had his treaty gaining vast new territories in return for relieving Mexico of the large monetary claims American citizens had made against that nation after suffering decades of corruption and abuse. Approval of the treaty itself was a near-run thing, as opposition Whigs wanted to abandon the conquered lands as wrongfully gained, while the ugly question of slavery in the new territories threatened to tear Polk’s coalition apart.

Those were the events of Polk’s administration, but what does Merry tell us of the man, himself? While he was not a large, imposing man (in fact, Merry says several times that James Polk was quite unprepossessing), he was nevertheless convinced of both his and his country’s destiny for greatness. Entering office with just four goals –lower tariffs, an independent treasury, the settling of the Oregon question and the acquisition of Mexican territory to the Pacific– Polk set about them with a phenomenal single-mindedness and steadiness of purpose that belied his small stature.

But, like all men, he had his weaknesses. He loathed personal confrontation, thus never fired his Secretary of State, the future president James Buchanan, who richly deserved it. And Polk made excuses not to confront his Treasury Secretary, Mississippi’s Robert Walker, who may well have been embezzling funds or getting kickbacks on quartermaster contracts meant to supply the army in the field.

Polk also had an inability to separate normal, petty politics from the personal, so often took offense at things said in the normal course of the vicious political dialog of the day. (You think things are bad now…) His determination to achieve his goals also lead him to a sanctimony and self-righteousness that lead him to think only he truly had the nation’s interests at heart, a virtue he was rarely willing to ascribe to others.

And he was what we would call these days a micro-manager, delving into the details of the operations of government departments at a level far beneath what a president should concern himself with. While Polk had a tremendous capacity for work and a strong sense of duty to his job, he would also work himself to exhaustion. His later days in office were often marked by illnesses one suspects were brought on by overwork. Indeed, Polk died just a few months after leaving office in 1849.

In the end, Merry has done a creditable job reintroducing Americans to a significant period of our history and a significant president, both mostly and unjustly forgotten. If the book has a serious weakness, it may be that too much of the present informs Merry’s view of the past; at times, while reading “A Country of Vast Designs,” I felt as if I were reading a thinly disguised story of US politics in the years after the invasion of Iraq, with a self-serving opposition, charges of disloyalty, and vicious, uncalled for attacks against the president. Then again, it may be that rancor of that kind is simply a feature of democracies when they embark on controversial wars, whether in Mexico or in Iraq, and that Merry sees strong resemblances because they really are there.

Regardless, this is a tale entertainingly told, not with the depth of an academic work (and I hate the style of end-noting used), but with a journalist’s eye for personalities and color.

Highly recommended.

Fair disclosure: I get a few pennies from Amazon for clicking through the book links, and a few pennies more should anyone buy a copy.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Creative smuggling: We build a fence, they fly over it

**Posted by Phineas

Cartel smugglers may be walking pustules who profit by selling poison and wreak havoc on their own nation(1), but give hem credit for adaptability: Border-control advocates have been screaming for years about building a fence along the Mexican border? Fine The drug-smugglers will just find another way across — or over:

The visiting British pilots were training near a naval air station one night this month when their helicopter came within about 150 feet of an ultralight plane flying without lights. The ultralight darted away toward Mexico without a trace.

The near-disaster over the Southern California desert was an example of drug smugglers using low-flying aircraft that look like motorized hang gliders to circumvent new fences along the U.S. border with Mexico. The planes, which began appearing in Arizona three years ago, are now turning up in remote parts of California and New Mexico.

And in a new twist, the planes rarely touch the ground. Pilots simply pull levers that drop aluminum bins filled with about 200 pounds of marijuana for drivers who are waiting on the ground with blinking lights or glow-sticks. Within a few minutes, the pilots are back in Mexico.

“It’s like dropping a bomb from an aircraft,” said Jeffrey Calhoon, chief of the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector, which stretches through alfalfa farms, desert scrub and sand dunes in southeast California.

The Border Patrol has erected hundreds of miles of fences and vehicle barriers along the border and added thousands of new agents, so drug smugglers are going over, under and around.

I particularly like the “bombing run” aspect.

While the use of ultra-lights is perhaps the most unusual development in the chess match along the border, it’s not the only one: cartel smugglers also use tunnels under the border and boats on the Pacific coast to go around it.

In one sense, it’s an illustration of markets in action: with demand so high in the US, the cartels are going to do their darnedest to make sure they get their goods to the buyers.

Move and counter, thrust and parry.

AFTERTHOUGHT: If drugs are being passed over the border via ultralight, what –or who– else is making it across?

TANGENT:

(1) In fact, that’s just what they are.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Falcon Lake murder: witnesses come forth

**Posted by Phineas

Six months ago, David and Tiffany Hartley thought they were going to spend a pleasant day exploring the ruins of an abandoned Mexican town, now mostly submerged under Falcon Lake, in Texas.

Instead, they were attacked by Mexican drug runners: Tiffany barely escaped with her life, while David was gunned down. His body was never found, and the lead Mexican investigator on the case was beheaded by the cartels as a warning to authorities to back off.

Since then, Tiffany has returned to live with her parents, trying to put her life back together. As the weeks and months went by, it looked less and less like she would ever receive justice, or even the body of her husband to bury. In addition, she has had to endure suspicions on the part of some that she was not telling the truth and maybe even involved in David’s death.

Just recently, though, two witnesses have been found that who corroborate her story:

Gonzalez told South Texas television station KRGV an elderly couple with a home near Falcon Lake heard the gunshots that killed David Hartley.

“We’ve had calls from people that were in the area, U.S. fishermen fishing on the Mexican side of the lake. They heard what the witness calls a war zone, three different episodes of gunfire, a barrage of bullets,” Gonzalez said.

The sheriff says the new witness accounts validate Tiffany Hartley’s version of the events that led to her husband’s death.

“I’ve had to come up against a lot of criticism, a lot of judgment, kind of fighting through all this with what happened to David,” Tiffany Hartley said. “It’s hard being judged and it’s hard having your character judged.”

Gonzalez also released a photograph taken by a Customs and Border Protection helicopter, showing six men in a boat just after the attack. Two of the men match Tiffany Hartley’s description of the killers.

Follow the link for photos.

Hopefully this will lay those monstrous rumors to rest and provide a clue to the identity of the killers, and eventually to giving Tiffany some peace.

LINK: Earlier posts on the Falcon Lake murder.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Mexico headlines of the day: mixed messages?

**Posted by Phineas

Two headlines in the Public Secrets morning intelligence report caught my eyes today. Let’s see if you, too, can spot the problem.

First:

Juárez mayor says residents feel secure

Six months into his tenure, Juárez Mayor Héctor Murguía Lardizábal has a surprising public message for outsiders: Juárez residents generally feel safe.

“I cannot speak for everyone,” Murguía told the El Paso Times while in Austin on Monday. But he added, “I feel that as a whole many people feel secure. Of course, with certain precautions.”

Second:

Woman’s body found in Juárez; homicide toll surpasses 700

Chihuahua state authorities said the body was in a sitting position, leaning up against a wall.

Her face was beaten and her bluejeans were pulled down to her knees.

The woman had not been identified but appeared to be in her 20s, with light skin and dark shoulder-length hair.

I guess the woman and the 30 others killed since Friday didn’t take “certain precautions.”

Oh, and that’s 700 murders for this year alone.

If that’s an environment in which Mayor Lardizábal believes people can feel safe, I’d hate to see what he considers “dangerous.”

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)