Although I haven't been blogging about it, largely because the developments in the story have been coming so fast, I have been following the emerging scandal involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and its Operation Fast and Furious. The Christian Science Monitor just did a pretty decent write-up, but blogger Bob Owens has been watching the spectacle closely. Here is his really short summary of the background:
On December 14, 2010, a special unit of the U.S. Border Patrol came across a group of heavily armed suspects near Rio Rico, Arizona. The Border Patrol team identified themselves as law enforcement officers, at which point the armed men open fire. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was hit in the pelvis by a single bullet and died the next morning. One of the suspects was captured, and two AK-pattern semiautomatic rifles recovered at the scene were identified by serial number as weapons that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) — acting in concert with and with the blessing of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — allowed weapons smugglers to purchase at U.S. gun shops. The weapons were just two of more than 2,000 firearms that ATF supervisors and the highest levels of DOJ management allowed to be “walked” across the border to narco-terrorist drug cartels in Mexico, in a scandal that promises to be more damning and deadly than Iran-Contra.The House committee's report can be found here. Owens gives its pretty damning highlights:
The ATF named their operation Fast and Furious, but it will go down in history by its more descriptive title: “Gunwalker.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding hearings this week on Gunwalker, and seems to be squaring up for a political duel with the Obama administration, which is seeking to block all access to official information about the operation. To date, the information collected by the committee has come from ATF whisteblowers, agents inside the operation who fought against senior government officials who were “giddy” over the death and violence from the roughly 2000+ weapons that they allowed smugglers to take across the border — weapons that seemed to be raising the body count in what was arguably becoming a Mexican civil war.
“DOJ and ATF inappropriately and recklessly relied on a 20-year-old ATF Order to allow guns to walk.” The agencies misrepresented the intention of the order to justify their actions.Sounds bad, alright, but in fairness I have to apply a certain context: the US sends weapons to unsavory groups all over the world, thereby subjecting foreigners to danger or even death, to advance objectives in defense and foreign policy. It's not pleasant, it's not fun, but it's a necessary tool, though the determination of whether it's necessary or not must be determined on a case-by-case basis, based on the parties, the objectives and other variable factors.
“Supervisors told the agents to ‘get with the program’ because senior ATF officials had sanctioned the operation.” At least one agent was cautioned that if he didn’t stop complaining about the dangerous nature of the operation, he would find himself out of a job, and lucky to be working in a prison.
“Operation Fast and Furious contributed to the increasing violence and deaths in Mexico. This result was regarded with giddy optimism by ATF supervisors hoping that guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico would provide the nexus to straw purchasers in Phoenix.” ATF officials were seemingly unconcerned over the deaths of Mexican law enforcement officers, soldiers, and innocent civilians, noting that you had to “scramble a few eggs” to make an omelette, in a callous disregard of human life.
Senior ATF personnel including Acting Director Ken Melson, and senior Department of Justice officials at least up to an assistant attorney general, were well aware of and supported the operation.
Department of Justice officials hid behind semantics to lie and deny that they allowed guns to be walked across the border.
When asked by the Oversight Committee how many of 1,750 specific weapons that “walked” under orders of the ATF and DOJ could have been interdicted if agents were allowed to act as they were trained, the agents answered they could have stopped every single one.
The costs associated with this operation have been pretty high. Owens discusses the "collateral damage," as the Committee Report would later call it, in a post from June 14, 2011:
Rumors began to fly over a week ago that a .50 BMG weapon supplied to Mexican drug cartels by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) was used to bring down a Mexican military helicopter in May. According to CBS News, the use of that weapon can be confirmed, and it turns out the helicopter was one of two fired upon by suspected cartel members.So what was the objective of Gunwalker? According to the Committee Report:
The raid on the cartel that the helicopters were supporting was successful, netting more than 70 weapons, including the helicopter-down .50 BMG rifle and other weapons traced back to the botched ATF Operation Fast and Furious, also know as “Gunwalker.”
To date, the ATF operation, which encouraged gun shops in the American southwest to sell weapons to suspected criminals and let them carry the weapons across the border, has resulted in an estimated 150 Mexican law enforcement officers and soldiers shot with ATF-supplied weapons. While the theory behind the plot was different, the end result is no more deplorable than Iran’s arming of Iraqi terrorists.
At least two American law enforcement officers have been murdered with ATF weapons as well. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed with “Gunwalker” firearms in Arizona, while ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata was killed in an ambush in Mexico with a gun the ATF allowed to be sold to a cartel gun smuggler in Dallas.
The operation’s goal was to establish a nexus between straw purchasers of assault-style weapons in the United States and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. Straw purchasers are individuals who are legally entitled to purchase firearms for themselves, but who unlawfully purchase weapons with the intent to transfer them into the hands of DTOs or other criminals.Owens is not so sure:
The most damning revelations coming out of the hearings on Operation Fast and Furious held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are the unmistakable indications that the program was never designed to succeed as a law enforcement operation at all.The key point:
A quartet of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agents and supervisors turned into whistleblowers to bring the operation down, but only after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down in the Arizona desert. Two of the weapons recovered at the scene of Terry’s murder were traced to the operation.
Fast and Furious, also known by the more accurate “Gunwalker,” allowed known straw purchasers to buy large quantities of firearms — often a dozen or more semi-automatic rifles — at a time with the full knowledge of ATF agents and executives. The guns were then smuggled into Mexico, as frustrated front-line ATF agents watched, under strict orders to do nothing.
ATF agents testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee could not explain how the operation was supposed to succeed when their surveillance efforts stopped at the border and interdiction was never an option.If the objective was not law enforcement, then what was it? From Clarice Feldman:
Operation Fast and Furious was a bit of nincompoopery worthy of the creative genius of Joseph Heller of "Catch 22" fame; it has all the hallmarks of the ludicrous "Syndicate" of that work. Briefly, the ATF violated the National Firearms Act and the Arms Export Control Act, requiring arms sellers to allow straw purchasers to buy more than 2,000 firearms --including 1,700 AK-47 style rifles and other high powered weapons -- and smuggle them across the border to Mexico. Two of these weapons were found in Arizona at the site of a shootout which took the life of Brian Terry, a Customs and Border Protection agent. Others turned up at the scenes of over 150 murders in Mexico, including a high profile lawyer whose brother was the attorney general of the state of Chihuahua.That is the conspiracy theory in a nutshell, albeit one with evidentiary support. Short story long:
The proffered purpose of this operation was to trace the smuggler's trail to the Mexican criminals to track the major Mexican weapons dealers but if that was the purpose it failed to meet its objective. One ATF whistleblower, Vince Cefalu, charges "there is no huge gun-trafficking operation, no Iron Pipeline" of firearms traveling from the U.S. to Mexico -- just lots of buyers who can make a couple thousand dollars selling weapons across the border."
Mr. Cefalu also charges that the Mexican Government and the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico were not apprised of the operation.
Some commentators believe the real purpose of the operation was to provide "evidence" that U.S. arms were behind the gang violence in Mexico to provide a basis for further restrictions on U.S. arms sales, pointing to comments by Hillary Clinton and the New York Times editors on the need for further restrictions to limit the weaponry of the Mexican drug cartels. While the supposition is far from unreasonable, stronger evidence supporting such claims is to date missing.
When this business of American firearms in Mexico first became news two years ago, I was immediately skeptical of the numbers proclaimed by the mainstream media: 90% of the cartels' guns were coming from the U.S. The liberal media had a heyday with a story where America was against the villain, even though common sense told me there were far easier ways to get guns into Mexico than smuggling them across its most heavily guarded border. With thousands of miles of coastline and a porous southern border with Central and South America, and hundreds of major arms dealers worldwide eager to ply the lethal products trade*, why choose the high-risk route? Fox News alone of the media shared my disbelief. And even though the liberal media and liberal Democrat politicians immediately used the story as further evidence of American perfidy and blame, it simply didn't stand up to common sense analysis, unless...Owens agrees:
Unless of course the Obama Administration was deliberately allowing, even encouraging, the cross-border transshipment of firearms, which we now know was indeed the case. While the media and the gun control lobby were screaming that lax gun laws were to blame, it was in fact our own federal government facilitating the smuggling operations, supposedly in an attempt to ensnare the Mexican cartels. How that was to be accomplished has still not been explained. Once those guns crossed into Mexico, the U.S. lost jurisdiction over their use and the Mexican government's inability to disarm the cartels or even track captured weaponry is glaringly obvious. What then was the true objective of the Obama Administration?
... [T]here are many of us who believe this may well have been part of the "under the radar" approach that Obama told gun control zealots that he was employing to effect stricter gun control laws in America. Those of you inclined to be skeptical should bear in mind that Obama and his closest advisors hail from Chicago, where all firearms must be registered with the police. Some suburban governments there actually ban handgun possession, but are under fire by the U.S. Supreme Court which has declared the tough restrictions unconstitutional. As conservatives know, this is just a bump on the road for true believers in gun control; those suburbs are busily seeking ways to circumvent the Court's ruling.
... Gunwalker’s objective was never intended to be a “legitimate law enforcement interest.” Instead, it appears that ATF Acting Director Ken Melson and Department of Justice senior executives specifically created an operation that was designed from the outset to arm Mexican narco-terrorists and increase violence substantially along both sides of the Southwest border.As they say, "But wait! There's more!"
Success was measured not by the number of criminals being incarcerated, but by the number of weapons transiting the border and the violence those weapons caused. An ATF manager was “delighted” when Gunwalker guns started showing up at drug busts. It would be entirely consistent with this theory if DOJ communications reflected the approval of the ATF senior officials they were colluding with — but as we know, Holder’s Department of Justice refuses to cooperate.
At the same time in 2009 that federal law enforcement agencies (the ATF, the DOJ, and presumably Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security) were creating the operation that led to the executive branch being the largest gun smuggler in the Southwest, the president’s team was crafting the rhetoric to sell the crisis they were creating.
On television, in various news outlets, and even in a joint appearance with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama pushed the 90 percent lie, implying that 90% of the guns recovered in Mexican cartel violence came from U.S. gun shops.
At the same time they were damning gun dealers in public, the administration was secretly forcing them to provide weapons to the cartels, by the armful and without oversight. More than one gun industry insider suggests that the administration extorted cooperation and silence from these gun shops. As the ATF has the power to summarily shut dealers down for the most minor of offenses, that is very, very possible.
This appears to have been a multi-state, multi-agency modus operandi. The ATF's Tampa division sold military-grade weaponry to MS-13:
MS13 is the most dangerous gang in the world.Allegedly, the Tampa operation was separate from Gunwalker. It may have involved ICE.
Leaders of the transnational organized criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) even ordered a hit on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent in New York.
There are now reports that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Tampa Field Division, ran a gun-running investigation that was walking guns to Honduras using the techniques and tactics identical to Fast and Furious. 1,000 of those guns were sold to MS13 buyers. (emphasis in original)
There was yet another separate operation, run out of Texas:
On February 15, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were returning to Mexico City, where they were assigned after a meeting, when they were ambushed by members of the Zetas cartel on a highway near San Luis Potosi.While the ATF was selling guns to the Sinaloa cartel and MS-13, the State Department was allegedly selling military-grade weapons to the Zetas cartel. All with cover from the FBI and the Justice Department. Maybe even the White House.
Agent Avila was lucky. While seriously wounded in the attack he managed to survive, and is on the long road to recovery back in the United States. Agent Zapata died as a result of the ambush, and it was determined that he was killed with a weapon smuggled across the U.S. border.
... [W]hat is known is that these two agents were shot at point-blank range by a gunman armed with a weapon that had been purchased in a gun store in the United States. Agent Zapata’s death is commonly accepted as the second U.S. fatality related to “Operation Fast and Furious.”
But that isn’t entirely true.
The weapon used to shoot these agents was not sold in the Phoenix, Arizona, area that was the hub of Operation “Fast and Furious,” also known as Gunwalker, which allowed gunrunners to acquire the gun that was used to murder Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December. Instead, one of the weapons used to shoot these two ICE agents came from Lancaster, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.
Brothers Otilio and Ranferi Osorio and their neighbor Kevin Morrison were arrested in Texas after Zapata’s death, but only after ATF and DEA agents had organized a transfer of some 40 weapons in November. It was one of those rifles that was traced back to Agent Zapata’s murder.
Senator Charles Grassley noted that these three men had actually been stopped by local police after the transfers took place, but they were not arrested — presumably on orders from the Department of Justice.
The men were trailed as part of a multi-agency operation similar to Fast and Furious, that to date has not been named, in the Dallas Field Operations area, which encompasses southwest Texas, north Texas, and Oklahoma.
This is in addition to considerable circumstantial evidence that the Houston Field Operations area, which is made up of central and southeastern Texas, may have been responsible for shipping a large percentage of the recovered guns linked to Mexican cartels in central and southern Mexico. How large is the alleged Houston operation? It could possibly dwarf the Arizona operation now so infamously known as the source of the weapons recovered at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder.
“Fast and Furious” in Arizona, “Castaway” in Florida, unnamed operations in both the Dallas and Houston Field Operations areas — how many operations like “Fast and Furious” were run concurrently by the ATF, FBI, DOJ, IRS, DEA, and DHS?All this just to provide support to the claim that 90% of the guns in the Mexican drug war came from the United States, and, thus, justify new gun control measures?
Are the confirmed operation in Arizona and the three suspected operations in Texas and Florida just the tip of a wider conspiracy run across the entire southern border?
Just how many individual operations are there in what appears to be a multi-jurisduction, multi-state Gunwalker scandal, which perverted the largely successful Gunrunner program launched in cooperation with Mexico under the previous administration?
What was the ultimate goal of these projects? Was it a cynical and criminal enterprise to manufacture cartel-linked murders in order to generate domestic support for harsh gun control measures[...?]
That makes no sense. Too much effort for way too little return. Even if the administration succeeded in proving its 90% claim, who cares? Most Americans don't care about what happens in Mexico. Oh, they do on the border, but they don't in, say Minnesota. You could never build up a critical mass of support for gun control laws based on violence in Mexico.
Phoenix ATF agents recently testified that during [Gunwalker], they knowingly allowed weapons to slip into the hands of buyers who would then distribute the weapons to known criminals.But wait! There's more:
The strategy was supposed to lead ATF officials to drug cartel leaders, but agents admitted they never followed the weapons to see where they went.
As a result, they testified, hundreds of weapons are now on the streets in the United States and Mexico.
The ABC15 Investigators have uncovered new information showing weapons linked to that case and strategy are turning up in crimes in Valley neighborhoods.
For months we've been searching through police reports and official government documents to uncover whether assault weapons linked to a controversial ATF plan put Valley communities at risk. (emphasis mine)
The ABC15 Investigators have linked an additional 43 weapons recovered during a Phoenix traffic stop to the controversial Fast and Furious ATF case.So, the guns sold in Gunwalker are showing up in the Phoenix area. Ay-yi-yi. Remember, too, that Agent Terry was murdered inside the United States. As mentioned above, MS-13 put a contract on an ICE agent in New York, but their primary area of operation is the American Southwest, especially Southern California.
According to court paperwork, Phoenix Drug Enforcement Administration agents discovered the guns in mid-April. They pulled over a vehicle near 83rd Avenue and Interstate 10, near the Phoenix and Tolleson border.
Agents recovered at least 59 weapons during the bust. The ABC15 Investigators found 43 are connected to the Fast and Furious case with certainty.
We reviewed official ATF Suspect Gun Summary documents – a sort of “watch list” for suspicious gun sales and gun buyers. We matched serial numbers within the ATF documents to gun serial numbers contained within the federal court documents.
Most of the recovered weapons connected to the Fast and Furious case included Romarm/Cugir GP-WASR 10/63 UF Rifles and Romarm Cugir Draco pistols. Agents also recovered at least one FN Herstal pistol.
We found evidence that multiple buyers purchased the weapons seized in the bust and some buyers purchased multiple weapons during one sale.
The news is far from surprising. It was, after all, the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry within the U.S. — in the Arizona desert — that triggered whistleblowers within the operation to come forward. Two “Gunwalker” guns were recovered at the scene of Terry’s murder. ICE Agent Jaime Zapata was also killed with Gunwalker guns, and a fellow ICE agent was seriously wounded.The deaths of Mexican nationals, even Mexican law enforcement, could never produce the critical mass of American public support needed for new domestic gun control laws. But the deaths of US citizens, especially civilians, easily could.
These are just two confirmed American deaths. We don’t know how many Americans have been murdered by guns provided by the Obama administration to narco-terrorists, and they certainly aren’t going to volunteer that information.
With the porous southern border, intentionally kept that way by Washington, regardless of party in power, there was no way one could not expect at least some of these weapons to end up on the streets of US cities.
And to harm US civilians.
I am not saying this is true -- give them the benefit of the doubt, for now -- but someone does need to ask: was this the real objective of Gunwalker?