Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Good morning. I am happy to be here today with ATF Acting Director Melson and our partners in state and local law enforcement to highlight the real successes of Project Gunrunner and announce our plans to build upon those accomplishments. This administration and this Justice Department have made protecting the integrity of our Southwest Border a top priority. That means stemming the tide of illegal drugs and illegal immigration across the border into the United States, and it means continuing our efforts here in Houston and along the border to stop the flow of illegal firearms from the United States to the drug cartels in Mexico.
Since March, when we announced our Southwest Border Strategy, we have taken concrete steps to disrupt and dismantle these cartels. Just last month, in Brooklyn and Chicago, we announced major drug-trafficking charges against 43 individuals including leaders, members, and associates from a number of these deadly drug cartels such as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Federation, the Juarez Cartel, and Los Gueros. As we know all too well, the cartels’ distribution networks in the United States help move these dangerous drugs from the border to neighborhoods across this country.
In addition to bringing these intelligence-driven, prosecutor-led cases against cartel leaders and associates, the President’s National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy includes millions in Recovery Act funds to fight crime and drug trafficking, a new arms trafficking working group, and new formal agreements with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement, and the government of Mexico to increase cooperation that is vitally needed as we carry out this fight on several fronts.
Our colleagues in some areas of Mexico face unprecedented levels of violence, due in large part to their valiant efforts to confront these dangerous and powerful cartels and their success in doing so. As efforts to disrupt and dismantle these powerful cartels gain momentum, the cartels have struck back with violence and terror. But this is not a problem Mexico alone must face. The drugs flow north into our communities and contribute to violence here and harm public health and safety and we know weapons from the United States flow south and are used in these violent attacks. So we must stand with Mexico as strong partners. It is the right thing to do and the only way to win this fight.
And thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ATF is building an infrastructure to combat violent crime and illegal firearms trafficking along our Southwest Border as part of Project Gunrunner, a comprehensive strategy to combat firearms-related violence by the drug cartels.
We intend to reduce the availability of guns to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. And we are accomplishing this goal by targeting those who enable the violence: the illegal firearms traffickers.
One component of Project Gunrunner is the Gun Runner Impact Teams or GRITs. These teams, working with federal, state, and local partners as well as the Mexican authorities, follow leads generated from crime guns recovered in Mexico. They use a combination of inspections of Federal firearms licensees or "FFLs," and investigations of both FFLs, and their customers, to target and disrupt gun trafficking groups and organizations who are supplying the drug cartels.
Intelligence gathered by GRITs since their inception in April 2008 revealed that the majority of crime guns recovered in Mexico traced back to Southern Texas. In response to that important information, we deployed 100 additional ATF personnel to its Houston Field Division to form additional Impact Teams bringing new focus on this key source area. The new GRITs tracked every lead we had tying guns used in cartel violence to sources here in South Texas, and developed new ones.
This campaign enabled ATF to pursue 700 backlogged leads and to develop and pursue 400 additional leads. The new GRITs also performed a surge of inspections of FFLs, here in South Texas. We learned that some gun dealers here were failing to conduct background checks, failing to keep tabs on their inventories, or failing to require the proper paperwork from their customers. These kinds of failures facilitate the illegal gun traffic to the cartels. Through inspections lawful gun dealers are incentivized to take greater care and are educated on how to identify suspicious purchasers and potential traffickers – creating new key sources of intelligence.
The GRITs also opened 276 full-scale investigations – that is more investigations in one four month period than the Houston Field Division had opened in any of the three previous calendar years. The new investigations, many of which are ongoing, revealed and disrupted firearms trafficking rings tied to specific Mexican drug trafficking organizations, such as the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. During the surge, the GRITs learned that many of these rings operate by recruiting teams of straw purchasers who accumulate numerous firearms by buying them from multiple FFLs and gun shows. Then, traffickers smuggle the guns into Mexico. In many cases the GRITs have traced the guns used in criminal activity in Mexico to these firearm trafficking rings.
In the course of these investigations, the GRITs seized almost 450 illegal firearms and our state and local partners here in South Texas seized approximately 170 more based on leads developed by the GRITs. The GRITs also took significant amounts of illegally possessed ammunition and drugs off the streets.
The leads and investigations developed during this surge have disrupted firearms traffickers and will undoubtedly result in prosecutions. And their impact goes farther: they gathered invaluable intelligence regarding the sources of the cartels’ illegal firearms, the methods used to traffic them, trafficking routes, smuggling methods, purchasing strategies, and recruiting strategies for straw purchasers. This intelligence will help solve future firearms crimes, detect illegal firearms traffickers, and reduce the international movement of illegal guns.
The surge has also sent a strong message to FFLs in this key region that they must be vigilant in keeping track of their inventory, performing background checks, keeping accurate records, and paying careful attention to any suspicious behavior by their customers.
The surge represented by this Houston GRIT initiative now concludes as these added personnel return to vital duties elsewhere in the country. I want to thank each of them for the Attorney General, the Department, and this country for their hard word these last 120 days. They leave behind a better situation and leave us with a much clearer picture of the illegal firearms trafficking activity that we face. Armed with the intelligence that they have developed, the Houston Field Division is much better equipped to continue toward its goal of keeping U.S. firearms out of the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.
Many of the personnel who return to other duties are being replaced by new personnel. Again, this is thanks to the Recovery Act which provided Project Gunrunner with $10 million to hire special agents, industry operations investigators and others to staff new offices to target the trafficker that places the gun into the hands of the violent criminal.
The first 20 new special agents graduate from the ATF Training Academy on October 15th.
These agents – along with 17 other Recovery Act funded ATF employees – will play an important role in our efforts to stem the flow of illegal firearms to the drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. They are being added to ATF’s resident core of agents and other personnel who continue the vital work of Project Gunrunner, as well as teams from FBI, DEA, ICE, CBP, and our State and local partners, who form our team along the border.
The Department of Justice and its U.S. Attorneys are committed to working with that team, as well as our Mexican partners, to prosecute defendants charged with acts of violent crime, drug and human trafficking, the illegal smuggling of cash and financial instruments, and the trafficking of firearms.
Together we are determined to make a difference in the safety of our Southwest Border and throughout our country. Thank you.