Operation Fast and Furious


Operation Fast and Furious

Operation Fast and Furious was a sting run by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Phoenix Field Division between 2009 and 2010 as part of Project Gunrunner, the Southwest Border strategy first implemented in 2006 to stem the flow of illegal firearms trafficking into Mexico. The stated purpose of the operation was to permit otherwise-suspected straw purchasers to complete the weapon's purchase and transit to Mexico, in order to build a bigger case against Mexican criminal organizations suspected of being the ultimate buyer.[1] The operation started in the fall of 2009 and ended in late 2010 shortly after the death of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent and has since become the subject of controversy and a U.S. congressional investigation. During the operation, the sale of at least 2,000 guns were facilitated by ATF knowing most would be trafficked to Mexico. By June 2011, the guns have been linked (through eTrace, ATF's electronic tracing program) to some 179 crime scenes in Mexico.[2][3] By August 2011, 21 additional guns were recovered from violent crime scenes in Mexico.[4] Of the 2,000 guns knowingly released by ATF agents, only 600 are reported as recovered by officials. The remaining 1,400 guns have not been recovered.

On November 8, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder stated in Congressional testimony that the the operation was "flawed in its concept and flawed in its execution", and he stated that his office had inaccurately described the program in previous letters sent to Congress. He remarked that his staff had not kept him informed about the program and denied any personal wrongdoing.[5]

Contents

Background

According to a twenty-year ATF veteran, Jay Wachtel, letting guns "walk" was done in the past in a controlled manner that involved surveillance and eventual seizure of the weapons before they disappeared.[6]

On December 14, 2010, United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a gun fight near Rio Rico, Arizona while trying to apprehend a group of armed suspects. Two weapons found at the crime scene were traced to a Glendale, Arizona gun store that had cooperated with ATF officials in "Fast and Furious." ATF field agents monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border had intended to apprehend gun smugglers attempting to cross over into Mexico with large numbers of guns, but were told by their superiors to stand down and let the smugglers pass.[7]

On February 15, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was shot to death by Mexican drug cartel members in northern Mexico. Federal investigators traced the gun used to kill Zapata to a Dallas-area man,[8] but there have still been reports connecting the shooting to the Phoenix-based Operation Fast and Furious. [9]

Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held hearings in June and July 2011 where ATF officials based in Phoenix, Mexico, and headquarters in Washington testified before the committee.[10] One ATF agent testified, "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest."[11]

A gun used by drug cartel criminals to shoot at a Mexican military helicopter, forcing it to land, was found to have been one allowed into Mexico by the ATF.[12]

Two AK-47s sold as part of Operation Fast and Furious and recovered by Mexican police were determined to have been used by members of the Sinaloa cartel in the high-profile kidnapping of attorney Mario González Rodríguez.[13]

ATF Fast and Furious whistleblower Agent Vince Cefalu was served with termination papers, in a move by the agency he described as politically motivated retaliation.[14]

As of July 2011, the family of Brian Terry is considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States Government over the operation.[15]

In September 2011, the New York Post reported that ATF Special Agent John Dodson, had carried out orders to purchase four Draco pistols, which Dodson then resold to known criminals. Dodson had done this under the orders of his supervisor, David Voth.[16]

According to the Los Angeles Times, federal court records and trace documents from the ATF show that in April 2011, 40 of the weapons from the operation were found by Mexican police at a home owned by Torres Marrufo in Ciudad Juárez. Marrufo is thought to be the top enforcer for the Sinaloa cartel, which U.S. intelligence officials consider to be the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world.[17]

Congressional investigation

This program is being investigated jointly by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. As reported by the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA):[18]

  • "... the ATF knowingly allowed as many as 2,500 firearms to be sold illegally to known or suspected straw purchasers. One of those purchasers accounted for over 700 illegal guns."
  • "... the ATF ordered its agents working the program not to arrest illegal gun buyers or to interdict thousands of guns that were allowed to "walk" into criminal hands."
  • "... Senior ATF officials in Washington were regularly briefed on the operation and approved of the tactics employed."
  • "... the ATF agents who opposed the operation and who raised objections were told to 'get with the program' and threatened with job retaliation if they continued their opposition."

The initial findings have been detailed in a joint staff report prepared by the staffs of Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Committee and ranking member Charles Grassley of the Senate Committee. The report details the testimony of whistleblower agents who provided information about the operation to the Committees.

Former BATF Agent John Dodson testified that he and other agents were ordered to observe the activities of gun smugglers but not to intervene.[19]

Over the course of the next 10 months that I was involved in this operation, we monitored as they purchased hand guns, AK-47 variants, and .50 caliber rifles almost daily. Rather than conduct any enforcement actions, we took notes, we recorded observations, we tracked movements of these individuals for a short time after their purchases, but nothing more. Knowing all the while, just days after these purchases, the guns that we saw these individuals buy would begin turning up at crime scenes in the United States and Mexico, we still did nothing.

The day after the report was released, the House Committee held a hearing at which Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Grassley testified, along with a second panel of witnesses, including the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and three of the whistleblowers from ATF. Senator Grassley's written testimony included a set of supporting documents and a slide presentation outlining what is known about the operation so far. The hearing also included a third session with the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs about its failure to provide complete and truthful answers to Congressional inquires about the operation.

After appearing at a congressional hearing, two supervisors of "Fast and Furious" William McMahon and William Newell were reported by the Los Angeles Times as being transferred and promoted by ATF.[20] ATF denied the transfers were promotions.[21]

On October 3, 2011, CBS News reported that internal DOJ emails showed that Attorney General Eric Holder had been sent briefings about 'Fast and Furious' as far back as July 2010. This contradicts Holder's testimony to Congress from May 3, 2011, where he had stated, "I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."[22]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Feds expand gun sales reporting requirements in four border states". CNN. 2011-07-11. http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/07/11/rifle.sales.reporting/index.html. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  2. ^ Redacted (210-06-15). "ATF Email". ATF Email (ATF). http://grassley.senate.gov/about/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=34198. Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  3. ^ Attkisson, Sharyl (2011-06-10). "Congress starting ATF "gunwalker scandal" probe". CBS News (CBS). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/10/earlyshow/main20070475.shtml. Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  4. ^ Weich, Ronald (2011-08-31). "Response". DOJ (politico.com). http://www.politico.com/static/PPM223_110901_leahy.html. Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  5. ^ Hennessey, Kathleen (9 November 2011). "Senate grills Holder on Fast and Furious gun-trafficking sting". Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-fast-furious-holder-20111109,0,3203255.story. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  6. ^ Pauline Arrillaga, "What led to `Project Gunwalker'?", Associated Press, 30 Jul 2011.
  7. ^ "House Panel Slams 'Fast and Furious' Gun Operation Tied to Border Agent's Death". FoxNews.com. 2011-06-17. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/15/house-panel-slams-fast-and-furious-gun-operation-tied-to-border-agents-death/. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  8. ^ "Gun Used to Kill ICE Agent in Mexico Traced to Dallas, U.S. Investigators Say". FoxNews.Com. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/02/27/mexico-nabs-suspect-agent-slaying/. Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  9. ^ "Congress expands "Fast and Furious" probe to White House". MarketWatch. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/congress-expands-fast-and-furious-probe-to-white-house-2011-09-10?mod=mw_outbrain&Link=obnetwork. Retrieved 2011-11-09. 
  10. ^ "Justice Officials in 'Panic Mode' as Hearing Nears on Failed Anti-Gun Trafficking Program". FoxNews.com. 2011-06-09. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/09/justice-officials-in-panic-mode-as-new-testimony-is-expected-to-reveal-depth/#ixzz1OpMAwABO. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  11. ^ "ATF agent calls gun-tracking program a 'disaster'". Usatoday.Com. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2011-06-15-ATF-border-guns-hearing_n.htm. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  12. ^ "'Gunwalker' guns linked to helicopter shooting - CBS News Investigates". CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20069270-10391695.html. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  13. ^ "Two AK-47s Used to Murder Mexican Lawyer Were 'Fast and Furious' Guns From U.S., Sources Say". FoxNews.com. 2011-06-17. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/17/two-ak47s-used-to-murder-mexican-lawyer-were-fast-and-furious-guns-sources-say/. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  14. ^ Lott, Maxim (2011-06-27). "'Project Gunrunner' Whistleblower Says ATF Sent Him Termination Notice". FoxNews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/27/atf-to-fire-gunrunner-whistleblower/. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  15. ^ "Family of Murdered Border Patrol Agent Considering Suing Feds Over 'Fast and Furious'". FoxNews.com. 2011-07-11. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/07/11/family-murdered-patrol-agent-seek-justice/?test=latestnews. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  16. ^ A 'Furious' revelation: Feds sold guns to drug gangs, New York Post, September 29, 2011
  17. ^ Fast and Furious weapons were found in Mexico cartel enforcer's home, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2011
  18. ^ "Hearing On "Fast And Furious" Uncovers Serious Failure At BATFE". National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). 2011-06-17. http://www.nraila.org/Legislation/Read.aspx?ID=6927. Retrieved 2011-07-26. 
  19. ^ Hugh Holub, Statement of John Dodson about ATF gunwalker scandal: "The very idea of letting guns walk is unthinkable to most law enforcement.", June 15, 2011, tucsoncitizen.com.
  20. ^ Serrano, Richard (2011-08-16). "ATF promotes supervisors in controversial gun operation". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times). http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/16/nation/la-na-atf-guns-20110816. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  21. ^ Serrano, Richard (2011-08-17). "ATF denies it promoted Fast and Furious supervisors". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times). http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/17/nation/la-na-atf-guns-20110818. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  22. ^ Attkisson, Sharyl (2011-10-03). "ATF Fast and Furious: New documents show Attorney General Eric Holder was briefed in July 2010". CBS (CBSNews.com). http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20115038-10391695.html?tag=stack. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 

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