“That is, I mean, this is the perfect storm of idiocy.” -- Carlos Canino, Acting ATF Attache in Mexico City, when he finally realized that gunwalking occurred in Operation Fast and Furious.
A report released as part of today's third Gunwalker Scandal hearing conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by California Congressman Darrell Issa presents further evidence of the national scope of the scandal.
Among the findings presented in the report:
** In the fall of 2009, ATF officials in Mexico began noticing a spike in guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes. Many of those guns traced directly to an ongoing investigation out of ATF‟s Phoenix Field Division.
**As Operation Fast and Furious progressed, there were numerous recoveries of large weapons caches in Mexico. These heavy-duty weapons included AK-47s, AR-15s, and even Barrett .50 caliber rifles – the preferred weapons of drug cartels.
**At a March 5, 2010 briefing, ATF intelligence analysts told ATF and DOJ leadership that the number of firearms bought by known straw purchasers had exceeded the 1,000 mark. The briefing also made clear these weapons were ending up in Mexico.
** ATF and DOJ leadership kept their own personnel in Mexico and Mexican government officials totally in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, ATF officials in Mexico grew increasingly worried about the number of weapons recovered in Mexico that traced back to an ongoing investigation out of ATF‟s Phoenix Field Division.
** ATF officials in Mexico raised their concerns about the number of weapons recovered up the chain of command to ATF leadership in Washington, D.C. Instead of acting decisively to end Fast and Furious, the senior leadership at both ATF and DOJ praised the investigation and the positive results it had produced. Frustrations reached a boiling point, leading former ATF Attaché Darren Gil to engage in screaming matches with his supervisor, International Affairs Chief Daniel Kumor, about the need to shut down the Phoenix-based investigation.
** In spite of assurances that the program would be shut down as early as March 2010, it took the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in December 2010 to actually bring the program to a close.
** ATF officials in Mexico finally realized the truth: ATF was allowing guns to walk. By withholding this critical information from its own personnel in Mexico, ATF jeopardized relations between the U.S. and Mexico.
** The high-risk tactics of cessation of surveillance, gunwalking, and non-interdiction of weapons that ATF used in Fast and Furious went against the core of ATF‟s mission, as well as the training and field experience of its agents. These flaws inherent in Operation Fast and Furious made tragic consequences inevitable.
Less emphasized, but no less important, are these facts presented within the body of the report supporting the long-held suspicion that Fast & Furious was part of a national program of "gunwalking."
Beginning on page 23 of the report:
G. March 5, 2010 Briefing
FINDING: At a March 5, 2010 briefing, ATF intelligence analysts told ATF and DOJ leadership that the number of firearms bought by known straw purchasers had exceeded the 1,000 mark. The briefing also made clear these weapons were ending up in Mexico.
Two months after the January 5, 2010 briefing, ATF headquarters hosted a larger, more detailed briefing. Not part of the normal Tuesday field ops briefings, this special briefing was dedicated to Operation Fast and Furious. David Voth, the Phoenix Group VII Supervisor who oversaw Fast and Furious, traveled from Phoenix to give the presentation. On videoconference were the four southwest border ATF SACs: Bill Newell in Phoenix, Robert Champion in Dallas, J. Dewey Webb in Houston, and John Torres in Los Angeles. (Emphasis supplied, MBV)
In addition to the usual attendees of the Tuesday morning field ops briefings (the Deputy Assistant Directors for Field Operations, including Bill McMahon, and Mark Chait, Assistant Director for Field Operations), Deputy Director William Hoover also attended. Joe Cooley, a trial attorney from the gang unit at Main Justice, also joined. After a suggestion from Acting ATF Director Ken Melson in December 2009, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer personally assigned Cooley as a DOJ representative for Operation Fast and Furious. Kevin Carwile, chief of the Capital Case Unit at Main Justice, may have also been present. According to Steve Martin, the inclusion of Main Justice representatives was unusual.
An extremely detailed synopsis of the current details of the investigation ensued, including the number of guns purchased, specific details of all Operation Fast and Furious weapons seizures to date, money spent by straw purchasers, and organizational charts of the straw purchasers and their relationship not only to each other, but also to members of the Sinaloa DTO. . .
The only person that did speak up was Robert Champion, SAC for the Dallas Field Division participating by videoconference, who asked “What are we doing about this?” According to Lorren Leadmon, in response, Joe Cooley from Main Justice simply said that the movement of so many guns to Mexico was “an acceptable practice.”
Shortly after the March 5, 2010, presentation on Operation Fast and Furious, OSII stopped giving briefings on the program to ATF management during the weekly Tuesday meetings. OSII personnel felt that nobody in field operations heeded their warnings, and OSII no longer saw the point of continuing to brief the program.
And beginning on page 39 comes more confirmation of a story first broken by Sipsey Street on Friday, 4 February here, just a little over a month into the public knowledge of the scandal: "I Accuse! Meet the Assistant Attorney General at the center of the Project Gunwalker Cover-up: Lanny Breuer."
C. Lanny Breuer and the Department of Justice
Gil and Canino received the same message of support for Operation Fast and Furious from Main Justice. During a visit to Mexico, Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division demonstrated his awareness of the case:Mr. [Breuer] kind of summed up his take on everything at the end, and one of them was that there's an investigation that ATF is conducting that looks like it's going to generate some good results and it will be a good positive case that we can present to the Government of Mexico as efforts that the US Government is taking to try and interdict weapons going into Mexico. And that was about – that was it. That was just a general statement. Myself and my deputy I believe were in the room and we kind of looked at each other. We‟re aware of this case, and so we assumed that‟s what he was mentioning. And we just wanted to make sure – we look at each other going, hope the ambassador [Carlos Pascual] doesn't ask any questions because we really don't know anything about the case. And luckily the ambassador did not.
Canino also remembered a visit from Breuer where he touted the Phoenix case:Q. And during meetings with Mr. Breuer, did this subject come up?
A. I mean, I was in a meeting, it was a country team meeting, or it might have been a law enforcement team meeting . . . Ambassador, Mr. Breuer was there, Darren was there, Mr. Breuer . . . the Ambassador was saying hey, you know what . . . we need a big win we need some positive, some positive [firearms trafficking] cases. And Lanny Breuer says, yeah, there is a good case, there is a good case out of Phoenix. And that is all he said.
* * *
Q. But do you remember the specific incident with the Ambassador talking about the success stories?
Q. And that is when Breuer mentioned this large case in Phoenix?
A. Yeah. He said we got, there is a good case out of Phoenix.
Q. And is it your impression that the case he was referring to is what now what you now know to be Fast and Furious?
A. Yeah, when he said, I thought, oh, okay . . . he knows. He knows about this case.
The Justice Department, and more specifically, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, clearly knew about Operation Fast and Furious. Further, the Department‟s Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO) approved numerous of the wiretap applications in this case. These applications were signed on behalf of Deputy Attorney General Ogden in the spring of 2010. Instead of stemming the flow of firearms to Mexico, Operation Fast and Furious arguably contributed to an increase in weapons and violence.
Additionally, the U.S. Attorney‟s office in Arizona – another DOJ component – was inextricably involved in supervising Operation Fast and Furious as it was part of a “prosecutor-led” and OCDETF funded strike force. According to many agents, the U.S. Attorney‟s office intimate day-to-day involvement was to the detriment of ATF‟s Phoenix Field Division. Furthermore, although DOJ knew about the operation, it kept key people who needed this information in the dark.
Thus today's hearing will continue to build the case for a wider, national scope to the Gunwalker Scandal. There also exists, according to my sources, a golden opportunity for the Committee to take this story even farther up the chain of command, to the doors of the White House itself.
Whether Darrell Issa and his boys are willing to go there or not remains to be seen. We'll find out later today.
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