Foreign Policy

Operation Fast and Furious Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

The U.S. can't enforce its drug laws without first violating them.


Last February the U.S. extradited the son of one of the most powerful cartel leaders in Mexico to stand trial in Chicago for cocaine trafficking. The capture of Vicente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa cartel leader Ismail "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, is the DOJ's highest-profile catch in years and a nominal drug war victory. But in July, Zambada turned the tables on his captors by claiming that he had "public authority" to traffic cocaine into the U.S. over a span of five years in exchange for providing intelligence on his rivals. For nearly two months the Justice Department declined to comment, fueling speculation that "Operation Fast and Furious," a gun-smuggling operation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's office in Phoenix, was part of a trend of state-sanctioned law-breaking. The DOJ's eventual response, filed September 11, did little to assuage those concerns. Prosecutors admitted that Zambada's lawyer in Mexico had been a confidential informant for the DEA, supplying intel that the Sinaloa cartel had gathered on its competitors to U.S. law enforcement. Prosecutors also admitted that Zambada's lawyer had in fact arranged a meeting between his client and the DEA in 2009, but that the meeting was supposed to have been cancelled at the last minute.

"The agents who met with defendant were expressly ordered by the highest ranking DEA official in Mexico not to even meet with (Zambada-Niebla), and no official with actual authority, namely the United States Attorney General or a United States Attorney, authorized agents to promise defendant immunity," the filing read.

If that claim sounds familiar, it's because we've heard it before. Attorney General Eric Holder's second reaction to Operation Fast and Furious (after first claiming that the allegations couldn't possibly be true) was that the actions taken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the U.S. Attorney's office in Phoenix couldn't possibly have been sanctioned by the higher-ups at the Justice Department.

Zambada is not the only person to claim that the DOJ sanctions illegal activities in order to get closer to the cartels. Days after prosecutors denied Zambada's allegations, a former law enforcement officer went to the El Paso Times with allegations that the FBI had allowed drugs to cross the border as part of a larger investigation. William Dutton, a former New Mexico livestock investigator, claimed that during his 18 months working with the FBI, he accepted several shipments of narcotics on the agency's behalf. "The drugs were concealed in horse saddles, and we started getting a lot of them," Dutton told the Times. "But the FBI kept putting me off when I asked for the money to pay the cartels for the drugs. I had to use my own funds. The FBI still owes me thousands of dollars for these out-of-pocket expenses."

According to the Times, Dutton and a retired Doña Ana County sheriff's deputy named Greg Gonzales "allege that the FBI dropped them after 'big names' on the U.S. side of the border began to surface in the drug investigations." The FBI declined to comment on Dutton's claims, telling the Times that it never reveals information about confidential informants. The Texas Department of Public Safety told the Times that Dutton "had no credibility."

"Much of the intelligence cited by Dutton and Gonzalez does not appear to be actionable or provable, just more rumors in the swirl of half-truths found along the border," wrote Insight Crime's Elyssa Pachico, an analyst who covers organized crime in Central America. Pachico also compared the charges to Zambada's. "[T]hey hint at a deeper truth in the U.S.'s handling of the Mexican drug panorama. The border zone is filled with double agents, and often U.S. officials have to take part in morally ambiguous operations. This includes relying on informants who may continue to traffic drugs and kill people, but will still expect protection in return for their information."

While the burden of providing actionable evidence is on Dutton and Zambada, the burden of justifying drug war collateral damage is on the Justice Department. Mexico's drug-related death toll for the last five years is creeping toward 50,000 people. Guns from Operation Fast and Furious have been recovered not just across northern Mexico, but also in Texas. Those same guns were used to kill not just a U.S. Border Patrol agent, but also the brother of Chihuaha State Prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez and roughly 150 other Mexicans. If that weren't bad enough, Mexico Attorney General Marisela Morales still has not been briefed on the supposedly rogue operation by her U.S. counterparts, a fact that lends weight to Zambada's claim that the Sinaloa Cartel worked with the DEA without the knowledge of officials in Mexico.

If the U.S. can't enforce its own drug laws without first violating them, perhaps it's time for a new strategy.

Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

NEXT: "Herbert Hoover: Father of the New Deal"

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  1. Federal law enforcement is engaged in total war. There are no rules in total war.

    1. They need drones strikes on informants who flip on the DEA and DoJ.

    2. But who are the federal government fighting? No one else than the same people they are “protecting”. The Federal Government needs to be stripped down to nothing and rebuilt on a new foundation. In the words of Sixto Rodriguez “This system is gonna fall soon…”

  2. SLD: End the war on drugs.

    That said, this was pretty weak sauce, Mr. Riggs.

    THAT said, there should be impeachment hearings with O:F&F as charge #1.

  3. Why won’t you just believe it was a simple sting operation gone awry? Why??
    LEAVE OBAMA ALONE!!!1111!!

    1. Why cant we just believe they are innocent? Because they arent.

      1. Well said!
        and it should be Miami Vice, not F2F.

  4. Well, isn’t he rather fetching. Good dresser too.

    1. All drug dealers’ sons are. Haven’t you seen that episode of Miami Vice with the white Lamborghini? Oh wait, the father wasn’t a drug dealer, but a South American ex-General. Close enough.

      1. How many people became drug dealers after watching Miami Vice?

        1. How many people bought white loafers after watching Miami Vice?

          1. I never went full pastel.

          2. How many people bought white loafers after watching Miami Vice?

            *raises hand sheepishly*

            I wish loafers with no socks was still (??) cool. I hate socks.

        2. I would have started driving around in a Ferrari Daytona, except that the one they used in the show was a fake built on a Corvette chassis. The Testarossa he got later was real, though.

          1. I’m both distressed and impressed that you know these things.

    2. Pretty bold going with a velvet blazer!

  5. all this just to maintain the facade of the failed war on drugs. unfuckingbelievable

    1. just a becktard meme to foam the wingnutz

    2. No: My understanding is that they were putting the guns into the hands of drug cartels so Obama could subsequently claim that our failure to control gun in this country was directly responsible for cartel killings using those guns.

      They allowed the cartel to run drugs in the US just to assure cartel cooperation with the ATF gun trafficking operation.

      1. One of our regular posters says that’s a crazy conspiracy theory.

        1. The other theory that I have heard is that ATF gave Sinaloa guns because the Zetas are dangerously powerful, and ATF wanted one cartel to check the other.

          But repealing prohibitionist laws that result in the carnage to begin with (and bankroll ATF in perpetuity)? Not on your life.

          1. If they wanted to simply supply guns to one or more cartels they could have done so more cheaply and safer by buying them overseas. It was imperative that the guns come from US gun stores.

            1. Army psychopaths to create a balance of terror is immoral unless you can tie that effort to a moral imperative like disarming US citizens.

              Then it’s a win-win-win.

              1. Army = Arming.

          2. So the theories are either a) Give crazy civilian murdering bastards some weapons to score some political points in the gun debate, or b) give one group of civilian murdering bastard some guns to maybe kill another group of civilian murdering bastards.

            Sounds a lot like turd sandwich versus giant douchne. Either way, our federal law enforcement agencies are a fucking disgrace to their badge and their humanity.

            If there anyone in the federal LEO world that is just disgusted by this?

        2. One of our regular posters says that’s a crazy conspiracy theory.

          Yeah, just like Watergate was.

          1. You’re comparing F&F to Watergate! Watergate? Outrageous!

            Or maybe I forgot some of the details about Watergate. How many people were murdered due to the Watergate break-ins and their aftermath?

        3. “One of our regular posters says that’s a crazy conspiracy theory”

          Of course, there is no evil in this world right? I mean especially in the US. The gov is completely on your side and would never do anything to hurt the US right. I mean, it is the best government in the world that has never done anything shady in it’s history.

          In response to your regular poster…wake up, the world isn’t all flowers and sunshine…evil people do exist, they do get together and this is very typical of federal agencies in the US.

          I mean if the CIA could give people LSD in the 60’s without their knowledge and experiment on them…don’t you think their evilness evolved with them?

        4. To bad there is evidence to support this. Like the gun that was used to kill that border patrol agent – ballistics shows that it is a gun that had been in the ATF’s hands. He says it is a conspiracy theory, yet almost every “gun-rights” watchdog group has reported on it. I am guessing he doesn’t believe it because he gets all of his news from mainstream sources. Um ya, we already know most of those outlets have been hostile to gun-ownership for a long time.

    3. lol luv it or leave it [WINGNUTZ]

  6. The same government that deliberately puts guns in the hands of violent criminals warns legitimate gun dealers not to sell guns to legal MJ users. Oh the irony.

  7. Ironically, conservative websites are up in arms over the killings that are attributed to the guns sold to the cartels. Too bad they don’t have such outrage when LEO’s in the US steal property, arrest people on the flimsiest of evidence or outright kill them, all in the name of the WOD.

  8. the DOJ sanctions illegal activities in order to get closer to the cartels.

    C’mon folks, we have to speed to catch speeders!

    1. No: It sanctions them because it is at the heart of the cartels.

    2. I have actually gotten a ticket like that…unmarked car on 17 down in south GA flew past me and another driver and after following him for a few minutes got us both tickets

    3. I asked my criminal law teacher that once, “how much illegality is the state allowed to participate in (or do or whatever the right fucking verb is) in the name of stopping illegality?” He just looked at me like I was Charlie Brown’s mom.

    4. No, the CIA and the FBI are some of the biggest drug dealers in the world. You honestly think they are trying to “catch drug dealers?” They are simply trying to muscle out the competition and get 100% profits on the black market. A few years ago a CIA plane crashed with 4 tons of cocaine. DOJ, FBI, CIA, ATF all in bed with the narcs. Wake up…this is a rediculous war and the government is the main culprit.

      How about trying another strategy…I mean 40 years we only got worse…how about legalizing and regulating? Could it be worse than brutal murder, 50,000 dead bodies, heads being dropped into roads, people having their civil liberties raped, 85 dead journalists in 5 years, freedom of speech, freedom of choice all are being destroyed. why…cuz we don’t want people to get high and think a bit different?

      Did you know that 1 out of 10 junkies die from the drug itself, the other 9 out of 10 because of the drug war? Are we really doing a good job in “protecting” people, or are we systematically killing people who are different than us?

    5. lmao – yep exactly the same thing 😉

  9. As has been pointed out before…
    Drugs are bad. They’re bad because they’re bad. Anyone who say’s otherwise is bad. We have to fight the bad drugs and the bad people. Because they’re bad. bad bad bad.

    1. Drugs are bad? Tell that to big Pharma. They love drugs.

    2. mmkay

  10. War is hell, but americans are used to that after 70 years of perpetual war.

  11. We either believe power should be limited, or we don’t. It’s quite simple. If it’s to be limited, then there should be a lot of arrests, trials, and impeachments.

    1. They’ve already promoted the ATF chiefs responsible for Fast and Furious. So, I guess power shouldn’t be limited.

      1. Well, okay, then. I guess that saves us from all of those trials and changing presidents and stuff.

        1. See how easy that was?

          1. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the State.

            1. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the State.
              I’m stealing that for future use.

  12. close the border use troops problem solved. the problem is that we are not really trying to control the border. if we did we wouldnt have to get in bed with one cartel to get the others. fast and furious was actually a ruse to blame legal american gun owners and gun sellers on mexico gun ploriforation

    1. “”close the border use troops problem solved.””

      How many do you think it would take?

      “”fast and furious was actually a ruse to blame legal american gun owners and gun sellers on mexico gun ploriforation””

      Pretty much, yeah.

      1. It would be a lot easier if our southern border were with Guatemala instead of Mexico.

        1. We should just annex all of Mexico and Central America. Then we’d only need to patrol the Panama Canal (and a gazillion miles of coastline).

          1. I would think that Mexico was close to number two on the list of places we DON’T want to try to govern (#1 being Saudi Arabia, because of Mecca).

    2. “close the border use troops problem solved. the problem is that we are not really trying to control the border.”

      Uh, no. Drugs still get into and out of high security PRISONS. How do you propose “closing” the border effectively enough to keep drugs from getting in?

    3. close the border use troops problem solved

      Right on! Set up something between the 1,989 mile U.S. and Mexico border like the Maginot Line that kept Germany from invading France and…

      Oh, wait.

      Drug dealers are already using submarines, but that’s okay. It only adds 95,000 miles of shoreline. Then there’s Canada, the longest common border in the world, at 5,525 miles. Total is 102,514 miles.

      Are you draft age?

  13. The whole idea of giving criminals immunity has corrupted law enforcement and the justice system incredibly. Stop doing it. Just prosecute people you catch doing bad stuff.

    1. Immunity is only “necessary” for consensual “crimes”. People are more than happy to testify against murderers and rapists.

      1. I think there’s some truth to that, though I suppose immunity has been used to get to the top of organized crime, um, organizations.

  14. Why don’t we have Congress pass a AUMF against the Mexican drug cartels. That would open the door for drone attacks and a big assortment of firepower. That would show them.

    1. Well, drone-killing doesn’t require due process, regardless of who the killee is. As noted earlier today, the Constitution clearly does not forbid drone-killing.

      1. ….it definitely doesn’t forbid international killer drones…

        1. Actually, the Constitution explicitly refers to a process for the sort of international extra-judicial sanctions that drones are good for. However, letters of marque and reprisal are supposed to issue from Congress rather than the President.

      2. The best part is that the use of drones doesn’t even constitute hostilities, so we can deploy them along the border today.

    2. Why not authorize drone killing? Simply because the moment you do that, you will ask the cartels in Mexico to wage war against the US. And they have a lot of money as well. You send a drone to Mexico, they send 2000 drug lords into the US. They already in over 100 cities opperating. Don’t instigate war…stop it. Legalize and regulate, but even though I say this there will be a number of Americans that believe that “stopping drugs” is a just cause. Drugs and “mind altering” have been a part of human history since the beginning, why stop something that will never stop.

      1. He was being sarcastic.

    1. OBAMA LIED, PEOPLE DIED! Funny, right?

      1. As I said earlier this week, I’m curious as to what point in time history will view Obama as becoming “worse than Nixon.” He’s either done it (not knowing all there is to know) or will do it soon, I think.


          1. At this moment I would like to play the race card.

  15. “But the FBI kept putting me off when I asked for the money to pay the cartels for the drugs. I had to use my own funds. The FBI still owes me thousands of dollars for these out-of-pocket expenses.”

    Keep talking. The FBI will eventually turn around and arrest you for trafficking.

    1. This.

  16. Or the thousands of murders going down in Mexico directly attributable to prohibition.

  17. Just the tip.

  18. they we re tring to tracek the wepons to see wear they were goign only glen [BEKCTADRDS ] conspearicy nutZ thinkg othrewise

    1. Spoof or really, really drunk. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

      1. Typing on his iPhone.

        1. …and drunk

  19. For those interested, here is an interview with the depraved mind behind Fast & Furious.

  20. Son of a gun. Here it is. That will teach me to switch my keyboard back from international mode.

    1. Does international mode have umlauts?

      1. …with kumquats.

  21. This is the stuff of which high-priority trials and executions should be made of: weapons trafficked, people murdered, murderers aided and abetted. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The brains behind these activities should sit in the electric chair.

    1. They are always telling us how brainy he is…

  22. Does anyone else think the fellow in the heading picture looks a lot like Seth MacFarlane?

  23. Ok Rigg, your tittle says it all, but Moregov has drivebymediarrea’$ beltway$, bhorK iTself comes from the
    1$ts waves of finantial democrat controled mad doff (Bush suffered among with us those 8… ayer$ too, even acussed of human rights “violations” to the poor terrorists beheaders for less than neolibtiCal’$ cheapmoney govfraud$, mediatiKly covered, expl: castropolice psyco-trainner-recluiter, 30 ayer$ net, many 30 ayer$ agents caught national, int, glob (I worked as a pre-TEAparty era blogger, expl: miamidade-panama police arsenals, while my sister was “legaly kidnapped, as dade-prd-cd retribution against me, I still have castrosniper guns in public, shots, 1 sniperrifle next to my head, he laughs til today, in fact is “my” boss, he and the owners of any workingplace I find, “by local law, also to make sure I’m at the mercy of crime by law, terror related and wtfIgtd fun, castrocoyote lourdesmartinez, singlename ruler of my bloodline family, dade-prdcd paralegal parafamily, sniper melvinsosa dayly psycocastro treatment threats, lidio, 119 calle 8 gayvideo next to academir, gim, restaurant paralegal felonies (I’m seriously backinjuried, hurt, not sick “from birth” (castrocoyote martinez, off dominic, cptn noel know also on castroagent mega criminal yoelvisdelapaz, elsa… and many criminals “I have to meet, police even visible laughing with them: cartags ARPT47, X438NN or X438NM 9looks same pig silouete from the house in the back, bedroom window, phonecam, they laugh for these last 2 ayer$ bhorK, castromartinez is an ACORN I remmber she even laugh when (2004) I said Teaparties will exist to defeat acorn, 94 7KFP, APU6610, 531LAD, lidio’s (pred threats, dayly agaist me) girl: pdc # 29634, ah! panamanian ma noriega castro “public punishment paralegal esbirro carlos manuel medina, ETC, I see dayly terror logistik, of course, I’m a frakin anti-terror propaganda master, I destroy tedpalpatinekennedys, WE just blow’em off the mind of the people, every frakin week!!
    they also can’t pay rent of bedroom, insurance (dade is a paralegal santuary of legal criminaling of enybody, SO I ORDER ANY POLICE, JUDGE (pedrasa knew castrocoyote lourdesmartinez) to suffer the burden of any arrested person if is not doing the criminal thing: shooting police, taking guns visible, threat you, like “is normal against me”) they know I “earn by law” $1.50cents/hr, 10-12 hrs mandatory, tough… preds… castrosniper sosa remembering me he stabbed a “bigmouth”, he like”it” after the 2nd stab…, he shoots near my head… laughs with sodomic police, fbi (who kept ‘loyal” to rinoliphant mayoral varez…), gaypolice, sodomiK prisions, by “law”… (they want my car, I’m homeless, living in a car since delapaz’s garage workplace flaggler 74 frm theamericas tire, now sosa says “I’m just having another owner than carlos from the gay video legal protection MO VE MENT, teach gay to lilkidz, SOME OF THE REASONS ANY POLICE KNOWS ME, MY JOB AND NEEDS, specially to stop castroagents tring to just stfu of me, a propaganda master who knows “just what to create, a place to make denounces… movements… townhall.coms, hotairs…
    so miamidade knows my profession since it started, they still the same with castrocoyote martines, melvinsosa, lidio etc. still laugh before me with PO LI CE, life threats, also sosa) , and, this castrofarc “future auuuuthority after gays are just gone… veeeery gone”, to make me “just stfu”…) sofla santuary, I still have as “boss” (psyco pro dayly torture threats) a castroangola veteran (he still threating me with his relat(h)ieves fbi from the lilbunch of moregovfed who $tayed with rinoliphant$ mayoral varez, chri$t, etc…, those who don’t talk like Paulcrespo, specially on anamontes (remaining by terror logi$ticK auuuthority ba$e$hip$&govre;$urrection$hip(t)$

    1. You may have a point, but I can’t tell because the text is an unreadable mess. I mean, I can’t even get a sense of what you’re trying to say. Try again?

  24. bhorK, the balraK of Moregov comes from acorn, he still concentrate all his efforts to help terrorists, semi-terrorist, and any enemy of the USA Repvblic, just look Cuba, Iran, UNhumanrights, securitycounsil,etc… terror states, they almost had no.corea, instead of So Koreas as a UN Sec…

  25. bhorK comes from acorn, as an insurance fraud era lawayer$

  26. ok… I’ll say “it”…
    I’m sorry Kara…

  27. ah!, RUMpaul said he desagrees with killing alqaida’s 2nd leader of THE REAL WAR they enjoy when neolibtiCal$ divert Americans and allies…
    perry, romney useless on Moregov $tabli$ment$, borders, labor (tax,salary affected low by ILLIGAL CIVILLIAN PRE-INVASION ARMIES, ork$ marching&chancting; thru the cities sodomiK PRE-SHARIALAW “the saivor” paralegal war, education
    The state of Florida is being reclaimmed!!….
    for GOPdor!!
    Battle Star Sarah… this TEApollo…
    do you read?…

  28. by ILLIGAL CIVILLIAN PRE-INVASION ARMIES, ork$ marching&chancting;
    I’m sorry Kara
    I have no time… for check.. SPELL
    “in fact, what matters is the message…
    what if I was a wizard… or something”…

  29. ah!, I blog fast and furious… sometimes… too…
    and I’m eco friendly… there are no physsical bullets… even my “50cal pc” becomes into a TEA Patriot, a sTEAlth…
    and … after WE ACT, the theater of operations becomes free… the world is allways saffer…

    1. Remember the character that Brad Pitt played in “12 Monkeys”? I’m suddenly reminded of him, and what a good performance that was.

      Also…I will be on the lookout for the perfect opportunity to use that awesome word “relat(h)ieves”.

  30. Somebody forgot to take their lithium this morning.

  31. But if we stop drug prohibition we’ll have to come up with a whole new reason to arrest poor people.

  32. This bit of hard-hitting investigative journalism brought to you by the Koch-funded Reason Foundation.

    Despite its evident dedication to exposing the foibles of those who flaunt the law across national borders, Reason has curiously managed to some how publish not a word about Koch Industries sales of petrochemical technologies to the terrorist-sponsoring government of Iran.…..sales.html

    Ha ha.

    1. Oral Horseshit, you should read the links you post:

      “Regarding sales to Iran, she wrote, “During the relevant time frame covered in your article, U.S. law allowed foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational companies to engage in trade involving countries subject to U.S. trade sanctions, including Iran, under certain conditions.”
      Koch has since stopped all of its units from trading with Iran, she says.”

      The rest is, well, ‘we don’t like them and look here! They might have done something we don’t like!’
      ha, ha.

      1. Hey Cletus,

        How much were you paid for that post? Did you get any extra for overlooking the articles full contents? Such as:

        Koch Industries allegedly made improper payments to win business in 6 countries over 8 years (through 2008) ? a potential violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company described them as “activities constitute[ing] violations of criminal law.”

        Koch Industries sold millions of dollars of oil refining equipment to Iran ? even after President George W. Bush described the nation as a member of the ‘Axis of Evil.’ The company maintains these sales were legal at the time, and says it has since cut ties with the rogue nation.

        Koch Industries allegedly stole 1.95 million barrels of crude oil pumped from federal lands by falsifying purchasing records, a Senate investigation found. Former workers testified to the “Koch Method,” described as trying “to cheat the producer out of crude oil,” my mis-measuring the oil.

        The company allegedly ignored federal regulations for pipeline safety ? resulting in the deaths of at least two people in a pipeline explosion in Lively, Texas in 1996.

        Cletus, I hope being a fucking pissant errand boy for anti-American, anti-democracy billionaire criminals pays well.

        Ha ha.

        1. What does any of this has to do with drugs, the drug war, or ATF?

          1. Nothing, but OH is apparently very worried that a scandal involving the DoJ and the current administration and the deaths of hundreds will continue to be reported.

            Hence, the threadjack.

  33. Kinda threadjack:

    The article reminded me of ‘flashback story’ the chicago tribune reprinted over the weekened on violence associated with alcohol prohibition enforcement:…..0386.story

    The “DRY RAIDERS KILL A MOTHER” story is particularly reflective of modern times.

  34. Obviously the next step is for the government of the United States to take over the drug trade altogether, import, cut, and sell the drugs, and wipe out the middlemen.

    The U.S. Army, USAF, Navy and Coast Guard are potentially the biggest and baddest gang around, and can kick the asses of any single cartel or group of cartels. Then the government could take all of the profits and pay off the deficit in a couple of years.

    Why screw around with all that legalization crap that gets advertised all the time? Just let the government do it. Then we can FDA-approved crystal meth and laboratory pure heroin and all like that.


  35. I guess everyone forgot about Iran-Contra that was blown open because Eugene Hasenfus didn’t die when his plane was shot down.

  36. It would be better if our border was Guatemala.

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