Fast & Furious called ‘perfect storm of idiocy’
by Dave Workman
A controversial gun trafficking sting operation that flooded Mexico with an estimated 2,000-2,500 guns was called a “perfect storm of idiocy” by Carlos Canino, acting attaché to Mexico for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) who testified before Congress that the agency threw its own guidelines “out the window.”
The report was issued just hours before a third hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Congressman Darrell Issa, explored Operation Fast and Furious and its impact in Mexico. Canino was one of several witnesses to testify at that hearing, along with his former boss, now-retired ATF Special Agent Darren Gil, one of the original whistleblowers who exposed this case.
Among the startling revelations in the report, prepared for Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, was that ATF and Justice Department officials “kept their own personnel in Mexico and Mexican government officials totally in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, ATF officials in Mexico grew increasingly worried about the number of weapons recovered in Mexico that traced back to an ongoing investigation out of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division.”
The report also revealed that ATF officials in MexicoGil and Canino“raised their concerns about the number of weapons recovered up the chain of command to ATF leadership in Washington, DC.”
“Instead of acting decisively to end Fast and Furious,” the report stated, “the senior leadership at both ATF and DOJ praised the investigation and the positive results it had produced. Frustrations reached a boiling point, leading former ATF Attaché Darren Gil to engage in screaming matches with his supervisor, International Affairs Chief Daniel Kumor, about the need to shut down the Phoenix-based investigation.”
One of the more blistering revelations is that within 24 hours of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, former Phoenix Special Agent in Charge William Newell asked for a count on the number of Fast and Furious guns that had been recovered in Mexico at that dateDec. 16, 2010and when he got the data, he forwarded it to ATF Deputy Assistant Director William McMahon with a note that stated, “I don’t like the perception that we allowed guns to ‘walk’.”
However, according to the report, by that time, approximately 241 firearms had been recovered in Mexico, and 350 more had been recovered on this side of the border.
McMahon and Newell both testified before Issa’s committee, and it was Newell who came under the heaviest criticism for repeatedly dodging questions and evading answers. At one point, Issa called Newell, who is now assigned to ATF’s Washington, DC headquarters, “a paid non-answerer.”
Even Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) expressed dissatisfaction with Newell, telling him bluntly, “your testimony has been very frustrating to both sides.”
Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar told Newell that the committee “could not get an answer from you” and said “This is absurd.”
The 60-page Joint Report offered details of two briefings in early 2010, one on Jan. 5 and the other on March 5. At the January briefing, according to the report, participants “expressed concerns about Operation Fast and Furious.”
What this indicates is that as early as January 2010, ATF officials knew that guns from the operation were showing up in Mexico, yet they did nothing to shut down the operation for months. It was only after the death of Brian Terry that the operation was shut down.
At the March 5 meeting, a Justice Department attorney, Joe Cooley, who had been assigned by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer as the Justice Department representative on the Fast and Furious matter, allegedly made the observation that “the movement of so many guns to Mexico was ‘an acceptable practice’.”
While the Issa/Grassley report is revealing, the hearing was even moreso, with Newell and Canino leaving starkly different impressions with the committee.
When quizzed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) about whether he had advised Canino of the operation and the fact that guns had moved into Mexico, Newell insisted that Canino knew, and that he assumed that Mexican authorities also knew.
However, moments later, under questioning from Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Canino forcefully responded, “I want to make it perfectly clear to you, the American people, the Mexican government, my family, my friendsat no time ever did I know that ATF agents were following known, suspected gun traffickersone of which bought 700 guns and we knew about his guns showing up in Mexico six weeks after we opened up that investigation.
“I had no clue that we were allowing these guys to operate like this,” he added. “There was no interdiction.”
But the most startling revelation was yet to come. Labrador turned his attention to Newell and asked whether he knew Kevin O’Reilly, and Newell confirmed he did. O’Reilly is a member of the Obama administration’s National Security Council. It was during this segment that Newell acknowledged having communicated with O’Reilly about the gunrunning operation, late in the summer or early fall of 2010. And to underscore that, a slide was displayed that carried the image of an e-mail Newell sent to O’Reilly.
“You didn’t get these from me,” Newell wrote, as though to keep the message confidential.
“The first attachment is what we were going to hand out to the media prior to our planned August 26th press conference,” the message stated. “We will still use this IF we ever do a press conf. It had been vetted through ATF HQ. The second Word doc is what we were going to give to ATF DD Melson as notes in case he got asked specific questions about our Industry Operations efforts during GRIT.”
Suddenly, there was a White House connection. Gun Week learned from sources close to the Fast and Furious investigation that word of the e-mail had leaked over the weekend prior to the hearing.
Upon further questioning by Gowdy, Newell acknowledged that it appeared his e-mail to O’Reilly seemed inappropriate.
“I shouldn’t have been sending him that, obviously,” Newell testified, “I recognize that, it being a friend.”
Moments later, though, Newell insisted that it was not an improper communication.
“He’s been a friend of mine for a long time,” Newell said, “and he asked me for information, so I gave him information that…it’s probably an improper use of the term or phrase.”
Democrats on the committee, primarily Carolyn Maloney and Eleanor Holmes Norton, used their time largely to make statements about the need for stronger gun controls and the appointment of a permanent ATF director.
More hearings are likely. The committee still has to hear from former Phoenix Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillett and Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson. And there may be other witnesses and whistleblowers whose identities are not yet known.
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