A botched weapons program run by the CIA and several Arab intelligence agencies to arm Syrian rebels is being compared to the ATF’s botched gun-running operation Fast and Furious, which ran guns to Mexican drug cartels.
A New York Times and Al Jazeera joint investigation found that weapons shipped into Jordan by the CIA and Saudi Arabia as part of the classified program known as “Timber Sycamore” were systematically stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold on the black market.
That program was shut down after it managed to train only a handful of Syrian rebels.
Jordanian and American officials described the weapons theft and subsequent investigation on the condition of anonymity because the Syrian rebel training is classified in the United States and is a government secret in Jordan.
While it’s impossible to know how many innocent civilians have been killed by these weapons, the FBI believes that some of the guns were used in a shooting last November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman.
The theft, involving millions of dollars of weapons, highlights the messy, unplanned consequences of programs to arm and train rebels — the kind of program the CIA and Pentagon have conducted for decades — even after the Obama administration had hoped to keep the training program in Jordan under tight control.
The Jordanian officers who were part of the scheme reaped a windfall from the weapons sales, using the money to buy expensive SUVs, iPhones, and other luxury items, Jordanian officials said.
The theft and resale of the arms — including Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades — have led to a flood of new weapons available on the arms black market.
Investigators do not know what became of most of the weapons, but a disparate collection of groups, including criminal networks and rural Jordanian tribes, use the arms bazaars to build their arsenals. Smugglers also buy weapons in the arms bazaars to ship outside the country.
ISIS has built a substantial arsenal of U.S. weapons taken from stockpiles captured from the U.S.-allied Iraqi military and Syrian rebels (who are infested with “Muslim Brotherhood types” and al Qaeda fighters.) The terrorists have to buy ammo for their American-made weapons on the black market.
A Christian woman from the besieged town of Maaloula who had fled to Damascus, tearfully told a BBC reporter about the Free Syrian Army & Al Qaeda Infestation, and begged Obama to stop sending them weapons “because they are killing us!” When asked what the rebels she saw terrorizing the town looked like, she said said they were wearing “Free Syrian Army” clothes.
That fall, the U.S. House and Senate introduced legislation aimed at stopping Obama from arming the terrorists.
The simple three-page bill, the Protecting Americans from the Proliferation of Weapons to Terrorists Act of 2013, would have prohibited the president from “using any funds on activities that would escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.”
The fact that the CIA lost track of these weapons should not come as a surprise to anyone. It’s been known for three years that they were falling into the hands of terrorists.
The FBI investigation into the Amman shooting, run by the bureau’s Washington field office, is continuing. But US and Jordanian officials said the investigators think that the weapons a Jordanian police captain, Anwar Abu Zaid, used to gun down two American contractors, two Jordanians, and one South African originally had arrived in Jordan intended for the Syrian rebel-training program.
The officials said this finding had come from tracing the serial numbers of the weapons.
Mohammad al-Momani, Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, said allegations that Jordanian intelligence officers had been involved in any weapons thefts were “absolutely incorrect.”
“Weapons of our security institutions are concretely tracked, with the highest discipline,” he said.
At least they tried to track them.
During the Fast and Furious fiasco, about 2,000 firearms — including AK-47 variants, Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, .38 caliber revolvers, and FN Five-sevens without any tracking devices — were bought by straw purchasers and allowed to cross the border into Mexico. Most of the guns went to the Sinaloa cartel; others made their way to El Teo and La Familia. Hundreds of Mexican civilians were killed by the guns. In December of 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot and killed by illegal immigrants armed with rifles that were traced back to a Phoenix gun store involved in the Fast and Furious operation.