Careful readers have long suspected that the ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious” was about something more sinister than bureaucratic ineptitude and Department of Justice stonewalling.  The ATF allowed arms dealers in Arizona and New Mexico to sell weapons to individuals working for Mexican drug cartels in order, the DOJ claimed, to trace the movement of the weapons and thereby gain valuable intelligence on drug-trafficking organizations.  Republicans in Congress have focused on who authorized the sale and whether Attorney General Eric Holder knew about it beforehand, but have left unasked the more important question of whether the DOJ is lying about the purpose of the sale and concealing the policy behind it.

The federal trial of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla is providing evidence of more than the defendant’s guilt.  Zambada-Niebla is claiming that he had an agreement with U.S. authorities to provide actionable information on other cartels in exchange for immunity.  He also claims that this agreement extended to the entire leadership of the Sinaloa drug cartel, for which he was purported to be head of logistics.  The DOJ has now confirmed that such an agreement did exist.  According to the testimony of Justice Department prosecutor Patrick Hearn, “DEA agents met with members of the cartel in Mexico to obtain information about their rivals and simultaneously build a network of informants who sign drug cooperation agreements, subject to results, to enable them to obtain future benefits, including cancellation of charges in the United States.”  According to court records, DEA agents have met with Sinaloan leaders more than 50 times since 2000.  Agent Manuel Castenon testified that, “on March 17, 2009, I met approximately 30 minutes in a hotel room in Mexico City with Vincente [sic] Zambada-Niebla and two other individuals—DEA agent David Herrod and a cooperating source with whom I had worked since 2004.  I did all the talking on behalf of the DEA.”  The cooperating source was Sinaloa lawyer Loya Castro.

All that is only what the government has admitted in court.  (Court records were obtained by the Mexican newspaper El Universal.  Their story was reported on by Michael Kelley of Business Insider.  All the other information in this piece is based on Kelley’s reporting over the last two years.)

Zambada-Niebla’s lawyer has alleged that the arrangement involved more than prosecutorial leniency.  “The United States government at its highest levels entered into agreements with cartel leaders to act as informants against rival cartels and received benefits in return, including but not limited to, access to thousands of weapons.”  That would explain “Fast and Furious,” and why weapons were only sold to representatives of the Sinaloa cartel who, “under the leadership of the defendant’s father Ismael Zambada-Niebla and Chapo Guzman, were given carte blanche to continue to smuggle tons of illicit drugs into Chicago and the rest of the United States and were also protected by the United States government from arrest and prosecution in return for providing information against rival cartels which helped Mexican and United States authorities capture or kill thousands of rival cartel members.”  But not Sinaloans.

The private-security firm Stratfor believes that the arrangement has gone so far as to include consultations leading to agreements on “the major routes and methods for bulk shipping into the United States.”

The U.S. government’s rationale for this de facto alliance with the Sinaloans is to use one cartel to help defeat the rest.  However, this tactic would do nothing to reduce, much less stop, narcotic trafficking across the border: It would merely regularize it, by leaving the Sinaloans with a government-sanctioned monopoly on shipping heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine into the United States.  But bringing an end to the drug war would allow the governments of Mexico and the United States to claim a victory over the cartels.  As Guillermo Terrazas Villanueva, an official in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, recently asserted, the two concerned governments “don’t fight drug traffickers”; they merely “try to manage the drug trade.”  “It’s like pest control companies, they only control.  If you finish the pests, you are out of a job.”

The CIA has a long record of working with drug lords and corrupt governments involved in the drug trade.  It began in Southeast Asia, extended to Central America, and is now the policy in Afghanistan.  Although never stated publicly, the justification for the policy has been national security.  Apparently narcotic trafficking is a lesser evil than communism or terrorism, and criminal methods are necessary to combat the latter.  But the impetus behind the current policy of cooperation with the Sinaloa drug cartel does not involve national security.  As there is no way to stop the flow of illicit drugs into the United States from Mexico without also stopping the flow of cheap goods, cheap labor, and drug money, then the drug trade must be regularized and controlled.  In other words, rather than offending powerful business and banking interests and exciting various ethnic lobbies, the U.S. government tolerates illegal drugs.  Only, please keep the gunfire down.