—by Bill Conroy, The Narcosphere
Former CIA Asset Claims U.S. Special Forces Assisted Mexican Soldiers In Assault on Stash Site
The recent raid of a stash site on the Mexican side of the border suspected of containing a cache of guns and/or drugs is drawing attention once again to the U.S. border town of Columbus, N.M. — where 11 people, including the mayor, police chief and a village trustee, were recently indicted on gun-running charges.
The Mexican stash site was raided this past Wednesday evening, June 15, according to former CIA contract pilot and New Mexico resident Tosh Plumlee, who was present at the scene taking photos.
The stash site — actually two warehouse buildings on a ranch just south of the border and some 20 to 30 miles east of Palomas, Mexico, which borders Columbus — was allegedly raided by the Mexican military in cooperation with a U.S. military special-operations task force, Plumlee asserts. That Pentagon task force has been active inside Mexico and along the border region for several years and provided intelligence and other unspecified support for the recent raid, according to Plumlee.
In addition, U.S. Border Patrol agents assisted the operation by providing back-up support along the U.S. side of the border, along with Mexican soldiers on their side of the border, to close down possible escape routes for suspects fleeing the raid site.
As evidence of the operation, Plumlee provided to Narco News date-stamped photos of Mexican soldiers and Border Patrol agents conversing with each other at the border fence shortly after the raid of the ranch location was launched less than a mile behind them inside Mexico. He also provided a photo of a Mexican helicopter that assisted with the raid.
The fact that the suspected stash site in Mexico is located some 20 to 30 miles from Columbus, N.M., raises the possibility that it was being used by criminals active in Columbus as a transshipment location for guns and drugs — with the former flowing south and the latter moving north. Plumlee says the Mexican soldiers he spoke with at the fence line on June 15 would not confirm what was found at the raid site, other than indicating [translated from Spanish] that it was “a good day for us and a bad day for them.”
However, Ramiro Cordero, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman stationed at the Customs and Border Protection Field Office in El Paso, Texas, which oversees the Columbus area, told Narco News that he “has no official report” of Border Patrol cooperating with the Mexican military in a raid operation.
Cordero volunteered that he was sent photographs from “the media” of “Border Patrol agents meeting with the Mexican military at the [border] fence,” but contends that is not evidence that they were engaged in an operation. But Cordero also did not rule out that there was some type of raid carried out on the Mexican side of the border, conceding that he has “no information indicating that there was not an operation.”
Plumlee insists he did not send the photos to any other media besides Narco News. He points out that one of the Mexican soldiers at the fence had a camera as well [seen in the photo] and that the photos sent to Border Patrol in El Paso may well have come from the Mexican side of the border.
As to why Cordero insists that there are “no official reports” of a joint U.S./Mexican operation targeting the alleged stash site, Plumlee suggests that it may be simply that Cordero was not clued into the operation due to a failure of intelligence coordination within Borer Patrol or because Cordero was not privy to the information or otherwise in a position to “officially” confirm the existence of such an operation.
Despite Border Patrol spokesman Coredro’s comments casting doubt on his agency's alleged support role in the raid of the Mexican stash site, it is clear that a number of Plumlee’s past reports, including those involving a U.S. task force operating in Mexico, have since proven to be on the money.
Plumlee claims the Mexican stash site just east of the Columbus/Palomas border crossing has been active for years and is part of a larger narco-trafficking and gun-running network that is operating on both sides of the border in that region.
In fact, in 2009, according to media reports, a narcofosa [a mass grave] containing some 10 bodies was discovered not far from the ranch that Plumlee claims was raided earlier this week. The following year, yet another nacrofosa, this one containing some 18 bodies, was discovered near Palomas.
Prior press reports also claim that Columbus is awash in narco-trafficking activity:
As far back as 2009, the Associated Press published a story about Columbus with the following headline: “Drug smugglers allegedly move into N.M. town: Police say Mexican traffickers’ money revving up local economy.”
Ironically, one of the individuals quoted in that AP story saying he planned to get tough on crime was Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega, who has since become one of the Columbus 11 (a group of village residents that also includes the mayor and a village trustee) who were indicted earlier this year on gun-running charges.
Plumlee, too, as far back as 2009, was making public his concerns about the illegal activity in Columbus. In a May of that year, Plumlee, who flew numerous missions as a CIA contract pilot during the Iran-Contra era, as evidenced in Congressional testimony and letters, told Narco News that Columbus had become a haven for narco-traffickers, specifically a paramilitary group known as the Zetas — who were using the village and surrounding area as a staging site for arms trafficking.
Plumlee contends that Border Patrol agents stationed in the area also knew this and reported their concerns to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — specifically related to two homes in Columbus suspected of being used by narco-traffickers as weapons stash sites. It was not until January of 2010, nearly a year later, however, that ATF initiated its investigation into the arms-trafficking activity of the Columbus 11 — which resulted in an indictment in March 2011.
From the ATF’s PR announcement on the indictment in Columbus:
The indictment alleges that, between January 2010 and March 2011, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to purchase firearms for illegal export to Mexico. During this 14-month period, the defendants allegedly purchased about 200 firearms….
The ATF press release also makes clear that only about 40 of those 200 or more weapons were recovered by the agency. More from the ATF press release, issued at the time of the indictment of the Columbus 11:
The indictment alleges that twelve firearms previously purchased by the defendants later were found in Mexico and were traced back to these defendants. As part of the investigation, every effort was made to seize firearms from defendants to prevent them from entering into Mexico, and no weapons were knowingly permitted to cross the border.
However, a close reading of court pleadings filed in the case against the Columbus police chief, the mayor and the village trustee, and the eight others comprising the Columbus 11, indicates that the ATF press release appears to have left out some important details not so far reported in the media.
In addition to the gun running by the Columbus 11, federal court pleadings in the case against them also allege that the corrupt U.S. officials may well have been involved in drug smuggling as well.
U.S. attorneys allege in a court motion filed on March 30, 2011, in U.S. Court in New Mexico that while acting as the Columbus police chief, “[Angelo Vega] … was paid thousands of dollars by [village trustee] Blas Gutierrez and other co-conspirators for 'protection services,' among other things ... [and] conspired to alter a Village of Columbus van to transport 600 pounds of illegal narcotics.”
On another and far more bloody front, there are, to date, according to court pleadings, a total of 15 firearms (three more than reported in the ATF press release) that have been recovered in Mexico and are linked to the Columbus 11 gun-smuggling “conspiracy.” And even more disturbing, court records show, is the fact that six of those 15 weapons were discovered at murder scenes in Mexico involving a total of five victims in Palomas and three victims in Juarez — the murder capital of the drug war. That's eight homicides in Mexico involving only six of the smuggled weapons, with nearly 150 weapons seemingly still unaccounted for as part of the Columbus 11 investigation.
And at least one of those murders, court pleadings show, was supposedly carried out with a weapon (an AK-47 pistol) purchased by one of the Columbus 11 in July 2010 — some six months after ATF initiated its investigation. It was later smuggled into Mexico where it was recovered at a murder scene in Palomas in February of this year — a month prior to the indictment of the Columbus 11 and some 13 months after ATF opened the investigation.
It should be pointed out that ATF is already under the public microscope due to alleged bungled investigative practices that have allowed thousands of illegally purchased firearms to be smuggled into Mexico by warring narco-trafficking organizations.
As part of an operation dubbed Fast and Furious, ATF whistleblowers contend that at least 1,800 firearms illegally purchased in the U.S. were allowed to “walk” across the border in an effort to target the kingpins behind Mexico’s gun-running enterprises.
Two of the guns linked to the Fast and Furious operation allegedly were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot to death by Mexican border marauders in Arizona late last year.