More questions need asking about flawed Fast and Furious
October 1, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
On Sept. 2, The Detroit News published an editorial that urged Congress to continue its probe of the failed Fast and Furious operation that let guns reach the hands of criminals and narcotics traffickers in Mexico and the United States. They are not the first or the only newspaper to call for a thorough investigation.
However, based on almost daily new information revealed by various print, TV and Internet reporters, it doesn’t seem likely that the investigation will be abandoned or shut down any time soon. Even while congressional staff probers uncover or confirm new facets of the fiasco, as witness the story on Page 1 of this issue about “grenade walking,” more and more media news outlets seek even more information.
“Continued probing by Congress is needed into the botched federal gun-running sting known as Operation Fast and Furious,” The Detroit News editorial said. “This week, the acting head of the primary agency that ran the failed sting, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was removed and reassigned. But the real question is how much about the operation was known by senior members of the US Department of Justice, including Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.”
Well, the Michigan newspaper is correct in its desire to know more about what top officials at the Justice Department knew and when they knew it (but obviously didn’t make that knowledge public). Others are also correct in wanting to know how much the White House knew, and when they knew it.
But there is still more to be known.
For example, was the operating mounted in order to provide some sort of Machiavellian support for an unpopular administration policy regarding firearms sales and ownership in the United States?
Or, was the objective to placate Mexican government officials who had blamed the US and its laws for the criminal actions of the drug gangs they couldn’t control?
Even more sinister, is the question of whether American officialdom colluded with their Mexican counterparts in order to bring down only selected narcotrafficking enterprises?
Those are far-reaching questions with serious political consequences. There are other questions about the botched ATF and DoJ operation that need to be asked and answered. Fast and Furious was launched in 2009, obviously with some sort of tacit approval at the highest levels of the US government, and was an extension of Operation Gunrunner which was begun by the Bush Administration in 2007.
But until Fast and Furious started to unravel, no one had paid much attention to Operation Gunrunner, apparently because it followed different and less volatile rules.
Both operations may have shared some similarities. For instance, both used informants, who may have been guilty of violating one or more US laws. It is unlikely that the informants themselves were public spirited citizens. Most were people who had come to the attention of federal law enforcement agencies for one reason or another. In most cases, the charges against them had to be set aside or kept under wraps in order to assure their cooperation to continue to violate gun laws so that government agents could gain evidence against bigger and more dangerous criminal fish.
In Operation Fast and Furious, run out of the Phoenix office of the ATF with the cooperation of the local US attorney and other federal investigative agencies, the goal was to monitor the sale of weapons to purchasers who may have been acting as middlemen or “straw buyers” for Mexican drug gangs.
“The problem is that the agents lost track of nearly 2,000 of the weapons, some of which have turned up at crime scenes in the United States and Mexico,” The Detroit News summarized. “The issue has resonance in Michigan because two automatic weapons that federal agents let out of their sight were recovered at the Arizona murder scene of a US Border Patrol officer, Brian Terry. Terry attended high school in Flat Rock and was a former Metro Detroit police officer,” the newspaper continued.
But the guns recovered in connection with the Terry murder are not the only ones the ATF and the Justice Department failed to keep track of. Others that were allegedly being tracked by federal agents were lost, most estimates range between 1,400 to over 2,000.
And that is what prompts another series of questions.
Why didn’t ATF start rounding up the guns they could still track when they first discovered that some of the others had slipped through their fingers?
Why did it take so long for ATF or the Justice Department to begin rounding up suspects when they were first alerted to them by firearms retailers not just in the southwestern states, but elsewhere, as in Minnesota as has been previously reported? In some cases, months and even years passed before the agents took serious steps to apprehend the people they suspected of violating federal gun laws.
Now comes news that apparently they were also supposedly “investigating” and tracking an individual or group that was not just illegally transporting components for hand grenades, but possible hundreds of semi-auto firearms illegally converted to full auto subguns.
That story raises other questions, including why it took so long to move in on this suspect?
For instance, where were the grenade components coming from, since there is apparently no legal commercial market for such items?
And where was the guy that did the gun conversions trained? And by whom?
Finally, who was financing all of these transactions?
Some believe it was government money that was being used to not only compensate the informants but to pay for the guns and ammunition that were being allowed to “walk.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA), with their staffs, have been the driving forces behind the congressional investigation of Operation Fast and Furious. But now another question arises.
Why aren’t other members of the House and Senate taking a more serious interest in this case, especially committee chairs, like Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat leading the Judiciary Committee?
Of course, there are peripheral questions.
For example, at least one reporter has alleged that the State Department approved a shipment of military-grade arms to a private company owed by one of the Mexican drug cartels. If this is so, it smacks of an international conspiracy more serious than are used as plots for TV and movie thrillers.
There is no doubt that some high officials in the Obama Administration must know more about these puzzlingly flawed operations than they have said so far.
Attorney General Eric Holder, a Cabinet member appointed by President Obama, with the consent of the US Senate, has denied that he had knowledge of the Fast and Furious Operation until early this year, when it first started to unravel. Holder and other political appointees have been entrusted with not just the judicious conduct of the nation’s business, but with the nation’s safety as well. As high ranking Cabinet officials, they should demonstrate competence in administering their duties as well as trust, and forthrightness.
If they don’t know what’s going in the government departments they are responsible for, they should resign, as many have suggested and even urged Holder to do. Doing anything less puts the lives of more federal law enforcement agents, as well as the public at large, at greater risk.
As the evidence of more and more flawed policy and management mounts further, it is time that the truths about Operation Fast and Furious are exposed to full public scrutiny.
Return to Archive Index