The NY Times editors deplore the mistakes that were made during Fast and Furious (and of course they play the 'Bush did it, too' Wide Receiver card) but they insist on keeping the focus on the eed for stricter gun control. To this end, they rely on phony statistics and very careful presentation:
Congressional Republicans have rebuked the Obama administration for the Fast and Furious fiasco. That this tactic — which ranges so far from proper law enforcement — was used in the Bush years is equally disturbing. Congress should bring responsible officials to account, but it cannot duck the need for far stronger laws to control gun trafficking.
Mr. Breuer said in the past five years, 94,000 weapons have been recovered in Mexico and 64,000 were traced to American sources. “We need more tools,” he said.
Now, let's note that the Times is correctly reporting something that Mr. Breuer did say, so they won't see a need for a correction. However, it is hardly possible that Mr. Breuer's assertion was correct, as the Times ought to know.
Breuer first, responding to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (my emphasis):
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that. Mr. Breuer, in June of this year, I received a letter from the ATF. This was in response to a letter I had asked them from Acting Director Melson, stating that 29,284 firearms recovered in Mexico in '09 and 2010, and submitted to the ATF tracing center [WSJ link]. With those weapons, 20,504, or 70 percent, were United States sourced. A country of origin for the remaining firearms apparently could not be determined by ATF, meaning that the number could be much higher. What info -- what actually is the number? Now this was back in June. Is that the most current number? Is it fair to some that 70 percent of the firearms showing up in Mexico are from the United States?
BREUER: Thank you, Senator, for the question, and for your leadership on this issue. You have, of course, identified the paramount issue that we have to face as we deal with transnational organized crime from the Mexican cartels. From my understanding, 94,000 weapons have been recovered in the last five years in Mexico. Those are just the ones recovered, not the ones that are in Mexico. Of the 94,000 weapons that have been recovered in Mexico, 64,000 of those are traced to the United States. We have to do something to prevent criminals from getting those guns, Senator. That is my understanding of the most accurate numbers.
So Ms. Feinstein made the point that among guns that were both recovered and submitted for tracing, roughly 70% came from the US. This distinction had been kicked around back when Democrats (such as Obama or Ms. Feinstein) were claiming that 90% of recovered guns in Mexico were traced back to the US. Back in reality, it turned out that plenty of guns recovered in Mexico were never submitted for tracing (FactCheck), so the 90% figure was probably closer to 34%, or maybe 17%.
On that theme, a report from the DoJ Inspector General in November 2010 had this to say about the efficacy of gun tracing efforts with Mexico (p. 89 .pdf):
The number of trace requests from Mexico has increased since FY 2006, but most seized guns are not traced.
Mexican crime gun trace requests to ATF have increased since Project Gunrunner was established. The number of traces of Mexican crime guns increased from 5,834 in FY 2004 to almost 22,000 in FY 2009.
Yet, in a June 2009 report, the GAO estimated that less than a quarter of crime guns transferred to the Mexican Attorney General’s office in 2008 were submitted to ATF for tracing.
Even on the trace requests, the OIG was gloomy: from the table and chart on p. 90 of the .pdf, we see that of the 21,762 trace requests for FY2009, only 6,664, or 31%, were successful. On that point (p. 9)
Further, most trace requests that are submitted to ATF from Mexico are considered “unsuccessful” because of missing or improperly entered gun data.
One wonders whether the Times editors have the least interest in apprising themselves of this information. In responding to Ms. Feinstein, Mr. Breuer didn't even manage to include the caveat that most seized guns are never submitted to the ATF for tracing. However, the Times is happy to go to war for gun control on the basis of phony Administration intelligence.