Report unravels ATF’s ‘Fast & Furious’
by Dave Workman
It is the report that laid bare the operation that became a fiasco, and will be forever linked to the slaying of a Border Patrol officer.
The Joint Staff Report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) controversial Operation Fast and Furiousan offshoot of the bureau’s much larger Project Gunrunnerwas presented by Congressman Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley. Its release came on the night before Issa chaired a pivotal capitol hearing last month that named names and pointed blame for the botched operation toward the highest levels of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
As dramatic as the hearing was, it may pale in comparison to what is contained in the 51-page report, titled The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Accounts of ATF Agents. Filled with accounts from whistleblower ATF agents, the document mapped out a strategy gone horribly wrong, as ATF supervisors ordered their field agents to allow suspected gunrunners to walk repeatedly after multiple gun sales over the course of several months.
Virtually overlooked by nearly all of the general media since the report was released is the timeline, which began in the fall of 2009, months after the Obama administration took office. Although Project Gunrunner dates back to the second Bush administration, Fast-and-Furious was planned and carried out under Obama’s Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Eric Holder.
It was Holder in early 2009 who revealed that the administration might consider renewing the ban on so-called assault rifles in an attempt to curb the violence in northern Mexico. That was a period during which Holder and others claimed that 90% of the guns being recovered at Mexican crime scenes had been traced back to this country, and particularly to gun shops in four southern border states, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In early February, after Grassley twice tried to get information on the operation from ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson, a response came instead from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich. In his Feb. 4 letter, Weich insisted that the ATF had never knowingly allowed guns to walk into the hands of criminals.
The report reveals that this was not true. According to the report:
“In the fall of 2009, the Department of Justice developed a risky new strategy to combat gun trafficking along the Southwest Border. The new strategy directed federal law enforcement to shift its focus away from seizing firearms from criminals as soon as possibleand to focus instead on identifying members of trafficking networks. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) implemented that strategy using a reckless investigative technique that street agents call ‘gunwalking.’ ATF’s Phoenix Field Division began allowing suspects to walk away with illegally purchased guns. The purpose was to wait and watch, in the hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case.”
Critics, including some ATF insiders, have told Gun Week that this looks like another attempt by ATF management to “reach for a headline” rather than interdict known street-level gun traffickers.
Even more disturbing was the revelation that Melson had actually been able to monitor real time straw purchases in progress, thanks to a hidden camera at one gun shop in Glendale. This came after denials that officials in Washington, DC, had known much about it.
The report further disclosed that former Phoenix Special Agent in Charge William Newell apparently lied to reporters at a press conference that ATF had ever intentionally allowed guns to “walk.” When Newell responded “Hell, no!” whistleblower agents said they were stunned.
That was during a press conference in which Newell announced the indictments of 20 gunrunners, claiming that his operation had taken down the entire firearms trafficking ring. In actuality, the arrests only involved low-level straw-purchasers, not the higher-ups in Mexico.
Quoting ATF Agent Larry Alt, the report noted, “Candidly, my mouth fell open. I was asked later by the public information officer for our division…and I told him that I thought that…I was just astounded that he (Newell) made that statement and it struck me and I don’t know how he could make that statement.”
Another ATF agent, Olindo Casa, told congressional investigators that he also was shocked by Newell’s denial “because we, in my definition of walking guns, we had walked a bunch of guns. When I say we, Group 7. And under this case that we are discussing, a bunch of firearms were walked against the objections of some senior agents.”
Another bombshell disclosure in the report is that ATF agents “did not maintain surveillance of either the guns or the straw purchasers.”
“The guns were therefore lost,” the report says. “The next time law enforcement would encounter those guns was at crime scenes in Mexico and in the United States.”
Because ATF kept track of specific gun purchases by suspects, they had the serial numbers of all of the walked guns, so when guns were traced, they would know about it very quickly. However, according to the report, ATF field agents were ordered to not interdict gun trafficking but only keep suspects under surveillance, and then not all the time, either.
“Although senior ATF management cited (an existing order adopted in 1989) as justification for Fast and Furious,” the report noted, “it did not pass muster with street agents. They believed that it did not permit a total lack of intervention. Agents believed they must interdict at some point if they have knowledge of an illegal firearms transfer. Yet senior management used the Order to justify the notion that ATF would completely drop surveillance of the weapons and then wait until receiving trace requests when the weapons were eventually recovered at crime scenes. Such traces would supposedly create a ‘nexus’ between the drug cartels and the straw purchasers. The agents, however, did not agree with any interpretation of the order that would be consistent with that kind of strategy.”
It is this revelation that fuels conspiracy theories that the Obama administration was trying to boost the number of gun traces back to this country to justify its push for renewal of the semi-auto ban and additional gun laws.
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