Why did the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives stand by and watch as guns were transported across our southern border to Mexico, to be used by violent drug cartels?
The phenomenon of “gunwalking” appears to be a standard sting-operation tactic that in this case has gone wildly awry. The idea was that federal authorities would approve firearms purchases that seemed suspicious, and then monitor the buyers to see where the guns ended up. But the scale of the purchases was massive, and the agents on the ground kept anxiously waiting for the order to stop monitoring and intervene, according to stunning accounts from ATF agents and documentation uncovered by CBS News and other sources. As early as March 2010, ATF agents were finding the “monitored” firearms in the hands of suspected criminals in Mexico. One ATF e-mail reported,“Our subjects purchased 359 firearms during March alone,” including “numerous Barrett .50 caliber rifles.”
According to the dozen ATF agents who have come forward as whistleblowers, the concept was not the half-baked idea of a rogue manager. Reported CBS:
ATF Agent John Dodson and other sources say the gun walking strategy was approved all the way up to the Justice Department. The idea was to see where the guns ended up, build a big case and take down a cartel. And it was all kept secret from Mexico.
ATF named the case “Fast and Furious.”
Last Wednesday, President Obama said that neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder approved the operation. But who within the Justice Department did authorize the dangerous operation? And who decided to ignore the judgment of the agents in the field? An e-mail from a group supervisor told ATF agents who were upset about the operation’s risks, “Whether you care or not, people of rank and authority at HQ are paying attention to this case and they also believe we are doing what they envisioned the Southwest Border Groups doing.”
Even the gun shops themselves were wary of selling the firearms; the purchasers were paying with cash out of paper bags. But the sellers were assured by the ATF that they should go forward with the transactions. One of the purchases was for 575 semiautomatic rifles for “personal use.” One agent estimates the total number of guns purchased by suspicious buyers under ATF monitoring at 2,500; other officials put the number closer to 2,000. Nearly 800 were recovered “as a result of criminal activity on both sides of the border.”
Worst of all, the guns that the ATF agents were ordered to let slip into Mexico were not merely used in cartel violence in Mexico, but were used against American citizens and law enforcement. CBS News noted:
On Dec. 14, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terrywas gunned down. Dodson got the bad news from a colleague. According to Dodson, “They said, ‘Did you hear about the border patrol agent?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said ‘Well it was one of the Fast and Furious guns.’ There’s not really much you can say after that.” Two assault rifles ATF had let go nearly a year before were found at Terry’s murder.
Only after Terry’s death did the ATF round up and charge 34 individuals believed to be involved with moving the guns across the border.
The Department of Justice initially denied the whistleblowers’ claims. Last week, however, DOJ sent a confidential memo to U.S. Attorneys in southwestern border states, declaring, “We should not design or conduct undercover operations which include guns crossing the border. If we have knowledge that guns are about to cross the border, we must take immediate action to stop the firearms from crossing the border, even if that prematurely terminates or otherwise jeopardizes an investigation.”
So, the DOJ appears to have initially lied about the circumstances, and it is now insisting the men at the top didn’t know what was going on. The Department of Justice at first referred the allegations to its own inspector general, an unusual choice in that the whistleblowers claim they already contacted the IG and never had their phone calls returned. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) is pushing for an outside investigation. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, wrote ATF acting director Kenneth Melson, charging that “you are not cooperating with congressional inquiries about Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious.” Issa has asked for documents about the genesis of the operation as well.
An ATF assistant director told the Center for Public Integrity that new tactics aimed to collect evidence that would help dismantle major drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico, instead of focusing on the prosecution of small-time straw buyers.
The revelations are a new wrinkle in the strange record of the Obama administration when it comes to guns. President Obama’s record in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Senate demonstrates a hostility to the Second Amendment. He is accurately characterized as an anti-gun president, who selected an anti-gun vice president, an anti-gun secretary of state, and an anti-gun attorney general.
Shortly after he was confirmed, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Obama administration would seek to reinstate the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. But that proposal spurred quick and vehement opposition from 65 pro-gun House Democrats, making passage of a new ban all but impossible. Since then, when President Obama has mentioned the word “guns,” it has usually been in appearances with the Mexican president, talking about the need for “an enforcement strategy that slows the flow of guns into Mexico.”
With the president himself talking about the need to stop guns from crossing the border,why would the ATF allow just that to happen? Why would they take such an enormous risk of harming innocent life in both Mexico and the United States, to say nothing of risking exactly the sort of embarrassment and outrage that the current revelations are generating? What made this operation worth overruling the objections of the agents on the ground monitoring the transactions?
What we know about the “gun-walking” operation is already deeply troubling; nothing less than a full investigation to the satisfaction of the whistleblowers, Grassley, and Issa will suffice. The facts at present point to a dangerous and extraordinarily risky operation executed without the knowledge or consent of the top officials in our government, accurate claims initially falsely denied, and whisteblowers dismissed and ignored by the official watchdogs.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO. Cam Edwards hosts NRANews’s Cam & Company on Sirius XM from 9 p.m. to midnight weeknights.