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ATF whistleblower prompts GOP investigation of Biden admin

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 27, 2018. (Saul Loeb/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
March 27, 2024

Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has requested U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland provide information regarding President Joe Biden’s administration’s decision to shut down a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) operation that had successfully targeted U.S. weapons smuggling networks providing weapons to the Mexican cartels. The request comes after the senator’s office received information about the operation from ATF whistleblowers.

Retired ATF Assistant Director Peter Forcelli told Bearing Arms that Grassley’s office had contacted him months ago as part of an investigation into Project Thor, which targeted cartel weapons trafficking.

“So I sat down with them some time ago and explained what happened back then,” Forcelli said.

While Forcelli said the Republican senator’s office did not disclose everything the investigation is covering, the retired assistant director claimed that the investigation appears to be concentrated on “why that program [Operation Thor] got defunded” and “how the cartels are securing weapons.”

The retired ATF assistant director also suggested that the senator’s office is investigating other Biden administration officials besides the ATF.

“In reading between the lines I got the impression that they were also looking at some of the decisions made by State Department, possibly as high up as the ambassador to Mexico,” Forcelli told Bearing Arms. “I know they have whistleblowers who have come forward.”

Last week, Grassley sent a letter to Garland requesting additional information on the ATF’s Project Thor, which the Iowa senator said was a program “that used a whole of government approach to ‘target U.S. based firearms trafficking networks supplying the cartels in order to shut them down, seize the real property associated and indict, extradite and prosecute the heads of those networks,'” based on public reports and information provided by ATF whistleblowers.

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Grassley wrote that while Project Thor, which was launched in 2018, was “praised for its success,” the ATF “shutdown and defunded” Project Thor in Fiscal year 2022.

Grassley added, “An ATF document in my possession shows that Project Thor was designed to limit the ability of Mexican cartels to wage their drug war through violence, terrorism, and intimidation by disrupting their access to U.S. sourced firearms and their financial networks to purchase them.”

The Republican senator explained that an investigation into Project Thor has shown that the ATF operation’s success was linked to the “whole of government” approach that connected illegal firearm smuggling operations in the United States with Mexican cartel leadership and Mexican trafficking operations.

In contrast to the success of Project Thor, Grassley said reports on the Biden administration’s strategy to prevent U.S. firearm trafficking to Mexico have described the administration’s efforts as “ineffective.” As a result, the Republican senator said, “Questions have been raised about law enforcement, intelligence, and diplomatic agencies’ commitment to dismantling cartel gunrunning networks operating across the U.S and in neighboring countries.”