Univision has done some outstanding investigative reporting on Operation Fast and Furious, the ill-conceived and disastrously executed gun-smuggling operation that was designed to identify the kingpins of a Mexican firearms-trafficking network but resulted in the transfer of approximately 2,000 high-powered weapons into the hands of dangerous thugs connected with the drug cartels. A recently issued report from the Justice Department’s inspector general criticizes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, and senior DOJ officials for their roles in this botched investigation. The report cites “a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
President Obama remains in denial about Fast and Furious. When asked about it two weeks ago, he responded: “Well, first of all, I think it’s important to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program, begun under the previous administration. When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it.” This is wrong on two counts. First, Operation Fast and Furious began in the fall of 2009, under the current administration. Second, it ended on December 15, 2010, the day it was discovered that two Fast and Furious weapons were found at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered. That was two full months before Attorney General Eric Holder claims to have known about the operation.
Operation Fast and Furious began in 2009, after federally licensed firearms dealers informed ATF that several individuals were purchasing large quantities of AK-47-style rifles and FN 5.7 caliber pistols. These pistols are known as “cop killers” in Mexico because the bullets fired from them can penetrate the Kevlar vests worn by law-enforcement authorities. At the time, the northern Mexican states were a veritable battlefield, where the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels were fighting for control and the increasingly powerful Zetas were seeking to enlarge their territory. ATF encouraged gun-store owners to continue selling to the straw purchasers it was monitoring to avoid alerting the criminals to the presence of law enforcement.
Former Mexican attorney general Victor Humberto Benítez Treviño estimates that approximately 300 Mexican citizens have been killed with Fast and Furious weapons, and hundreds of guns remain unaccounted for. Some victims had been identified even before the Univision report. For example, there was Mario Gonzalez Rodriguez — the brother of former Chihuahua state attorney general Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez — who was kidnapped by members of the Sinaloa drug cartel in October of 2010. His tortured body was later discovered in a shallow grave. Following a shootout with Rodriquez’s suspected kidnappers, Mexican police seized 16 weapons, two of which were traced to Operation Fast and Furious.
But Univision has made some startling new and tragic connections. On the night of September 2, 2009, twelve hit men, looking for members of the Sinaloa cartel and carrying AK-47s they had acquired thanks to Fast and Furious, forced open the main door of Casa Aliviane, a drug-rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juárez. Once inside, they sprayed the building with bullets. Of the 19 young recovering addicts, 18 were killed. The massacre was ordered by José Antonio Acosta Hernandez (also known as “El Diego”), the leader of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juárez cartel.