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Program to Curb Gun Smuggling to Mexico Found Weak

There are “significant weaknesses” in a U.S. program to stem the flow of guns illegally sent to Mexico, undermining the effectiveness of the crackdown, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives doesn’t consistently exchange firearms trafficking intelligence with Mexican and U.S. partner agencies as part of its Project Gunrunner program, according to the report, released today. It said the agency hasn’t provided Mexican law enforcement with information it requested on firearms trafficking routes and distribution points.

Project Gunrunner, part of an effort to reduce violence associated with drugs and guns on the U.S.-Mexico border, expanded from a pilot program in 2006. Drug traffickers turn to the U.S. as a source of weapons partly because Mexico restricts gun ownership, according to the report.

“Despite the increased ATF activity associated with Project Gunrunner, we found that significant weaknesses in ATF’s implementation of Project Gunrunner undermine its effectiveness,” according to the report.

The ATF increased the number of Project Gunrunner cases it referred for prosecution by 54 percent since the program began, according to the report.

Although requests from Mexico for ATF to trace guns have increased, most requests are “unsuccessful” because of missing or improperly entered gun data, according to the report.

Kenneth Melson, deputy director of ATF, said in a letter responding to the report that the agency is committed to “building” on successes and improving shortcomings cited by the inspector general.

The U.S. and Mexico are “diligently collaborating” to solve “information-sharing challenges,” Melson wrote.

(Adds agency comment in final two paragraphs.)
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