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Report calls for improvements to U.S. efforts to stop gun trafficking into Mexico

United States firearms officials will likely make changes to their efforts to stop firearms from reaching Mexican drug cartels after criticism from a Justice Department report released yesterday, CNN reports. The report indicates some successes: Authorities have intercepted more than 5,400 firearms and charged almost 800 defendants with firearms trafficking to Mexico since the beginning of Project Gunrunner in 2006.

Officials wouldn’t speculate on how many firearms they did not stop from reaching the cartels. But the inspector indicated a number of problems in how the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms runs its programs to prevent firearms from the United States from entering Mexico:

The report indicated there are major holes in the system, including a lack of ATF resources to fulfill Mexican requests for help.

“For example, ATF has been unable to provide key training and support requested by the government of Mexico,” the report found.

U.S. officials stationed in Mexico told investigators there is a lack of coordination among various Mexican law enforcement agencies, and ATF has no single counterpart that it can interact with in coordinating firearms trafficking investigations.

But the inspector general also found a lack of coordination and information sharing among U.S. agencies. The ATF and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a particularly difficult time coordinating despite a formal memorandum of understanding between the two agencies, the report said.

These problems aren’t new: U.S. agents in Mexico have reported a lack of progress in the country on prosecuting for weapons trafficking, and say too few Mexican agents know how to use software the United States government shared with Mexico to trace weapons.

The Mexican government claims that 90 percent of firearms in the country came from the United States, where they are far easier to obtain than in Mexico. United States officials dispute that number, but both governments agree that curbing the flow of weapons into Mexico could weaken powerful drug cartels that have wreaked havoc on the country.

The Justice Department report recommends that U.S. firearms officials upgrade intelligence-sharing capabilities and make various improvements to the way they chase down investigative leads. In addition, the report suggested that Mexico be integrated into Southwest Border Initiatives — the collaborative border security efforts of officials in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reportedly concurred with these recommendations.

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