The US’s controversial “Fast and Furious” anti-arms trafficking operation targeted two drug bosses who were already cooperating with the FBI, according to official documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
When Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents released suspected gun trafficker Manuel Fabian Celis-Acosta (pictured) in hopes that he would lead them to two cartel bosses, they did not know their targets were actually FBI informants.
Celis-Acosta was detained in May 2010 on the Arizona border carrying an AK-47 style drum magazine and documents pointing to arms sales and payments to an apparent hitman. According to internal memos made available to the LA Times, ATF agent Hope McAllister, lead investigator in the controversial Fast and Furious operation, wrote her phone number on a $10 bill for Celis-Acosta and released him. He had promised to help her catch two high-level Mexican cartel bosses, but he never contacted her again.
When Celis-Acosta was arrested again in February 2011 — a month after Fast and Furious ended — ATF officials realized that their two targets had been cooperating with the FBI.
The Times reports that both the ATF and DEA investigated Celis-Acosta simultaneously at one point, each apparently not knowing of the other’s operations. While the ATF was monitoring Celis-Acosta with a clandestine pole camera outside his home in Phoenix, the DEA was listening to his communications with a wiretap system.
InSight Crime Analysis
The lack of communication between the law enforcement agencies involved in the Celis-Acosta case illustrates the difficulty the US has in pursuing Mexican drug trafficking organizations through a variety of government agencies and departments, despite the public emphasis US authorities place on intelligence sharing.
This revelation is also the latest controversy stemming from the Fast and Furious operation, which allowed the sale of thousands of firearms to illegal purchasers in an attempt to trace gun-smuggling routes by Mexican drug gangs. The fallout from the scandal has had wide ranging implications on both sides of the border, with US lawmakers concerned about a lack of oversight and Mexican officials accusing the US of being careless about the impact the arms would have in their country.
Fueling the outrage in both countries is the fact that many of the guns sold in the operation were later used in crimes, including the December 2010 murder of a US Border Patrol official.