Bilirakis questions Holder, Melson on Tampa gunwalking allegations
Exclusive Special Report by David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh.
WASHINGTON, DC: Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) wrote a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder and Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kenneth Melson expressing “deep concern about reports that [ATF and DOJ] have participated in multiple acts of ‘gun walking,’ purposely allowing firearms to pass from straw purchaser into the possession of criminals and other dangerous third party organizations.”
“These reports,” Bilirakis writes, “raise troubling questions about the motives, intentions, and competency of the ATF and DOJ.”
“In recent days,” he notes, “it has come to light that the ATF and DOJ may have participated in the act of ‘gun walking’ beyond the acts conducted within the scope of “Operation Fast and Furious’…and that similar programs included the possible trafficking of arms to dangerous criminal gangs in Honduras with the knowledge of the ATF’s Tampa Field Division.”
Referencing his membership on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Bilirakis asked for answers to the following questions, including whether ATF Tampa and DOJ “allowed weapons to be trafficked to Honduras.” Click here to see the complete letter and questions.
A point of clarification by Mike Vanderboegh, one of the two online journalists who broke the Tampa/Honduras gunwalking story, involves the appearance that Operation Castaway was necessarily the cover used for the trafficking. In an update filed today, Vanderboegh notes:
You will note the question mark in the header of the first story after "Part of Operation Castaway?"
Here is the exact wording:"Whether the allegations of our source refer to the on-going Operation Castaway remains at this hour unclear, but our source is certain that O'Brien has allowed the "walking" of straw-purchased firearms to Honduras using the same failed strategy as the Phoenix Field Division's Operation Fast and Furious. That Operation Castaway involved arms smuggling to Honduras is also certain."
This is careful language for a reason. We asked the question because although other sources suggested it might be related to Operation Castaway we could not confirm it. We went with what our central source (who was closest to the source of the story than anyone else) said, which was that although he was certain of gunwalking to Honduras he was not certain it was a part of the Castaway operation.
Our second story, my analysis piece on "Why Honduras?" and my letter to Melson included nothing about Castaway.
Elsewhere on the Internet and in the mainstream media, others made the connection to Castaway, which may have been related to a combination of this language in the DOJ press release on Castaway, "Operation Castaway remains an ongoing investigation…
Sources have reconfirmed to these correspondents that regardless of any Castaway connection that may or may not be established, they stand by the gunwalking allegations.
Sipsey Street Addendum:
Transcript of Congressman Bilirakis' letter.
July 12, 2011
Mr. Eric Holder
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20530
Mr. Kenneth Melson
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
99 New York Avenue NE
Washington DC 20226
Dear Attorney General Holder and Director Melson:
I am writing to share my deep concern about reports that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have participated in multiple acts of "gun walking," purposely allowing firearms to pass from straw purchasers into the possession of criminals and other dangerous third part organizations. These reports raise troubling questions about the motives, intentions, and competency of the ATF and the DOJ.
The ATF has noted that illegal weapons trafficking is a "problem with consequences on both sides" of our border, and that ATF's objective should be to prevent dangerous foreign groups and organizations from obtaining firearms "which they employ to murder rival drug traffickers, civilians, as well as political, military, and law enforcement figures in order to strengthen their grip on the lucrative drug and firearms routes into and out of the United States." However, two weapons found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were traced back to the ATF's "Operation Fast and Furious" -- a gun walking operation conducted by the ATF's Phoenix Field Division. This evidence suggests that the federal government has severely failed the very objective it proposed for Project Gunrunner, the ATF's comprehensive strategy to reduce violent crime associated with foreign criminal organizations.
In recent days, it has come to light that the ATF and DOJ may have participated in the act of "gun walking" beyond the acts conducted within the scope of "Operation Fast and Furious." Recent reports have suggested that Project Gunrunner may not have been limited to weapons trafficking to Mexico and that similar programs included the possible trafficking of arms to dangerous criminal gangs in Honduras with the knowledge of the ATF's Tampa Field Division and the Department of Justice's Middle District of Florida through an operation known as "Operation Castaway."
As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I find it troubling that the United States government would willfully allow weapons to be acquired by dangerous criminal and drug trafficking organizations, in direct contravention of our strategic and national interests.
I would therefore appreciate your answers to the following questions:1. Can you confirm whether or not the ATF Tampa Field Division and/or the Department of Justice's Middle District of Florida participated in a "gun walking" scheme that allowed weapons to be trafficked to Honduras?
2. If so, does the ATF or the DOJ have knowledge of any of these firearms ending up in the possession of the notorious MS-13 gang?
3. How many guns have been allowed to pass into Honduras and how many have since been accounted for?
4. Were trafficked weapons subject to any special monitoring processes once they left the United States?
5. Has "Operation Castaway" been terminated? If not, does the DOJ or ATF plan to terminate this program or urge its termination?
6. Has the DOJ or the ATF established any criteria or guidance pertaining to what is admissible for future operations aimed at preventing firearms from being obtained and used by dangerous foreign criminal organizations in crimes similar to the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry?
It is my belief that the ATF and the DOJ operated in an extremely misguided manner in allowing guns to walk across the border and end up in the possession of dangerous criminal organizations. These actions have already resulted in the loss of human life and property. I hope that you would agree that we must not allow flawed programs to continue to operate to the detriment of the safety and security of the United States of America.
In that regard, I look forward to receiving your answers to these questions in a timely manner.
Gus M. Bilirakis,
Member of Congress.