Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 10, 2011

Tucson's Wide Receiver: Gunrunners during the Bush years

Tucson Gunseller Exposes Operation Wide Receiver During Bush Years
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

TUCSON -- The United States was funneling guns to the drug cartels during the Bush administration in an operation based in Tucson, Operation Wide Receiver, years before Fast and Furious began in Arizona. Further, a cartel member now in custody in Chicago says the United States and the Sinaloa drug cartel have been working together.

Although the news media has focused on the ATF’s Fast and Furious, another operation, Operation Wide Receiver, allowed guns to “walk” into Mexico during the Bush administration, 2006 -- 2007, according to a Tucson gun seller who kept a lengthy journal.

While the news media and Congressmen focus on the Obama administration, the fact is that Project Gunrunner actually began in Laredo, Texas, as a pilot project in 2005, according to the Department of Justice. (1) It was this same area -- the Texas border area, and south along the Gulf in Mexico, where the most deaths, massacres and tortures have been carried out.

Back in Tucson, Mike Detty told CBS News that he began as a confidential informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2006. At first Detty reported a suspected gun smuggler to the ATF after a gun show. Then, the ATF asked him to work as a confidential informant. After that, he sold about 450 firearms as part of Operation Wide Receiver, from his home business Mad Dawg.

Detty said he did not realize in the beginning that the US was allowing the weapons to “walk” to criminals in Mexico. Detty told CBS News, "My first day as an informant, if they had said, 'Here's our plan, Mike: We're going to let as many guns go across the border as they can haul, and we're just gonna look and see where they pop up,' I'd have said, 'No way. That's not a plan. That's idiocy.'" (2)

In an e-mail made public this week, Detty complains about the low pay and lack of a reward or bonus and makes it clear who came into his living room. "I'd be happy to give that (informant pay) money back if you'd just leave me alone. Would you take $16,000 to have cartel (low-lifes) in your living room?"

Meanwhile, in a Chicago jail, Sinaloa drug cartel member Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla said he has immunity and can not be prosecuted by the United States, because he was working for the United States. Zambada says the US was working with the Sinaloa drug cartel, based on Mexico’s west coast, as reported by Bill Conroy in Narco News (3).

The US now is trying to clamp down on Zambada’s testimony by applying a national security law to his case, the Classified Information Procedures Act.

On the streets of Tucson, none of this is big news.

It comes as no surprise here that the US government was supplying assault weapons to the drug cartels – assault weapons that have killed, and are still killing, innocent people in Mexico and the US. In Tucson, most people knew that the assault weapons had to be funneled south by the US government. The only surprise was that the US government got caught.

Here, most people understand that there would be no drug war in Mexico without the demand for drugs in the United States. Here most people know about the US military’s black ops. Here, people know how the US trained Latin military officers to torture at the School of Americas, and how the US Army trained the special forces who later deserted and became the Zetas, the most notorious murderers in Mexico.

The US Army even has its manual online stating that the United States furnishes guerrillas with funding and weapons, to destabilize governments and achieve other US agendas. Most people here remember that the airstrips around Marana and Tucson were used as airstrips when the US brought drugs in from Vietnam, smuggled in body bags during the Vietnam War, as exposed by former CIA agents.

Still, there are always questions on the streets of Tucson.

Less than two weeks ago, on Sept. 28, the streets were roped off downtown by police. “There’s a bomb,” said one police officer on Congress Street downtown.

There was no bomb, but there was a truck load of weapons near the federal buildings and courts. It was at the same time that Jared Lee Loughner, charged with killing six people and wounding 13 others, was in Tucson court concerning his medication, a few blocks away. There was little explanation by police of the truck loaded with weapons, but there was one arrest. (4)

Back in Washington, Republican Congressmen had no idea that their probe, and demands for the truth about gunrunning to Mexico’s drug cartels would lead back to the Bush administration. The US Attorney General, appointed by Bush in Feb. 2005, was Alberto Gonzales.

It was the murder of US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December, south of Tucson, that propelled Republican Congressmen to use Fast and Furious as a political hammer. However, Terry was just one of the people killed with the weapons that ATF allowed to “walk” into the hands of drug cartels.

ICE Agent Jaime Zapata was also killed with one of those weapons in northern Mexico. How many people in Mexico and on the border were killed with those weapons? It will never be known as the majority of the weapons remain in use and were never traced.

As revealed in Wikileaks, the e-trace program for weapons had too many technical problems to be functional in Mexico. In Wikileaks, US diplomats state that the level of mistrust between agencies within Mexico, and the amount of corruption within law enforcement in Mexico, results in few weapons being traced through the e-trace program.

There is another, more disturbing factor.

An unknown number of those guns that the US funneled to Mexico remain on the streets of Mexico, in the hands of drug cartels, and in the US. Those guns remain in the hands of killers.


1. Project Gunrunner began in 2005: Dept of Justice:

2. Detty speaks with CBS News:

3. Bill Conroy’s coverage of the Zambada case:

4. Sahuarita man arrested after bomb scare:

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