When the story about ATF’s Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious broke in March, the mainstream press jumped on it, offering readers a fast and, as we now know, far too easy analysis: federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had been engaged in an arms trafficking ‘sting’ that facilitated the sale of mostly semi-automatic weapons from US gun shops along the US-Mexico border.
Again, ATF and early press reports describe the operational objective as an attempt to infiltrate the world of illegal arms trafficking along the US-Mexico border, and to nab the bad guys somewhere down the line—the kind of anti-trafficking initiative Mexico has been pushing the US to undertake for some time.
The initial drop-kick coverage of Operation Fast and Furious, which coincided with the visit of President Felipe Calderon to the White House in early March, was, in a number of ways, a boon to the Mexican leader, who has been ‘staying on message’ with three key points, all anti-US, for years.
Calderon blames cartel violence in Mexico on 1) Washington’s lack of financial support and inadequate sharing of US intelligence, 2) the US government’s lax attitude toward cross-border arms trafficking, and 3) the drug habits of the American people.
In other words, send more money south, reinstate the ban on the sale of assault rifles in the US, and give America’s eight million drug addicts what they really need most–treatment and prevention (as opposed to prosecution and jail time).
Hmmmm . . .where have we heard this before? Could this be what they call ‘the intersection of politics and policy’?
An interesting aside: on March 3, Calderon, sharing a podium at the White House with President Obama, appeared unperturbed by the news about the ‘secret’ ATF operation, a surprise given Calderon’s typical ire regarding any US violation of Mexico’s ‘sovereignty,’ and the inviolability of the Brownsville Agreement which prohibits any unilateral US investigations into Mexico’s affairs–please note that Mexico claims it had no knowledge whatsoever of Operation Fast and Furious.
But if that’s so, why has it taken so long, weeks after the ATF ‘intrusion’ became public knowledge, for Mexico to express its official ‘outrage’? Why so slow off the block, when Calderon had a chance to defend Mexico’s ‘national sovereignty’ on March 2 in Washington, DC? Good manners?
Am I the only one who’s confused?
No, but Ms. Millar is less confused than she intimates:
Ok. Let’s get to the point.
You see, the discovery of that AK-47, which may well have been ‘planted’ at the site of Agent Brian Terry’s murder (ask a homicide detective how often a murderer leaves the murder weapon behind at the crime site—never?) had unintended consequences, because the fact is that none of this information—the operational details of Operation Fast and Furious, the fact that ATF was assuring US gun dealers that suspicious and illegal sales to straw buyers were ‘ok,’ part of an official investigation, or the links between that ATF operation and the AK-47 recovered at Terry’s murder site—none of it would have come to light except for the impassioned decision of our single career ATF agent, John Dodson, to go public with the facts—after he had registered as an ‘official government whistleblower’ in an attempt to protect himself from agency retaliation.
And that means…
The perfect PR storm–if Dodson hadn’t talked.
Dodson’s decision to lay out the connections between the weapon that killed fellow-Agent Brian Terry and an ATF operation he clearly viewed as poorly conceived and improperly (if not illegally) implemented made the current congressional investigation into Fast and Furious inevitable.
But let’s say Agent Dodson hadn’t talked.
Let’s just suppose.
The AK-47 used to gun down fellow federal agent Brian Terry, once recovered, would no doubt have been identified by ATF as a weapon recently purchased from a US gun dealer on the southwest border (ATF would have had, after all, the serial numbers and other identifying documentation).
There would have been no need to mention the existence of any ATF ‘secret sting,’Operation Fast and Furious, or any links between these ATF endeavors and the movement of the weapon used to murder Terry across the US border and into the hands of his Mexican assailants. . .
Instead, the discovery and identification of the AK-47 used to gun down a US agent as one sold by a US gun dealer and then trafficked ‘illegally’ over the border into Mexico and into the possession of the cartels might have created a ‘perfect PR storm,’ neatly reinforcing the arguments put forth, first, by Mexico’s government, which contends there would be no gang violence in that country if the US didn’t supply gangs with guns; second, by higher-ups in the US government who favor tougher gun-control laws and non-intervention in Mexico (DOJ and the Obama Administration); and, third, by the public anti-gun lobby in America.
Indeed, here’s how that story would have read: Mexico’s claim re the US fueling cartel violence is right, and worse yet, weapons trafficked from the US are no longer being used just to murder Mexicans, but to kill Americans as well.
We’re killing our own guys. . .
How fast can we say “Pulitzer Prize”?
But what if Fast and Furious was a ‘rogue operation,’ a let’s get together, guys, and just do it kind of undertaking?
Then ATF, the Attorney General and even the President of the United States may be staring down a long barrel of their own construction—a three-year Weaponsgate initiated and implemented by a US law enforcement agency that accomplished little else but the provisioning of Mexican cartels with more than 1800 assault rifles sold to them by gun dealers in the US who were, in turn, assured by ATF that this was not, in fact, illegal, but part of a ‘secret operation.’
Of course, if you follow this line of thinking to the end, you find yourself in possession of some very serious ‘what-if’s,’ threads which, if Congress decides to pull them, could unravel the careers of senior ATF officials, the Attorney General, and even the President of the United States.
That prospect isn’t stopping Representative Issa (R-Calif), who minced no words at the May 4 congressional hearing about what he sees as obstructionist ploys on the part of ATF/DOJ to escape accountability for an operation insiders say might, in a worst-case scenario, implicate the White House and DOJ in a ‘secret,’ politically-motivated US-Mexico agreement via which the US played a part in supplying concrete evidence for Calderon’s claim that US guns are fueling cartel violence.
The response to this kind of scenario could range from career-shattering scandal to criminal indictment and anywhere in between.
But Millar senses danger that the scandal may yet just go away.
Critics, including ATF whistleblowers, say OIG/DOJ and the White House have one priority in regard to Justice’s internal investigation: damage control. . .
The standoff between Issa’s committee and the Attorney General is an edgy situation. But oddly enough, the crisis has not captured the attention of the press.
In fact, it seems in danger of sliding off the public radar altogether.
Perhaps Representative Issa (R-Calif) and his staff seem are confused about the questions they should be asking?
Or maybe they’re unaware of the danger that ATF’s stonewalling presents—like it or not, there are standard ripostes, ”I’ don’t know,” the “We’re working on it” and “Let’s pretend it didn’t happen” that generally signal a cover-up is in the works.
Ask any experienced law enforcement investigator to explain the difference, in terms of efficacy, between obtaining a search warrant when you need to find concrete evidence quickly, and issuing a subpoena.
For all practical purposes, a subpoena is nothing more than ‘an order to shred’
And that’s what critics suggest is going on at DOJ and ATF—tactical stalls designed to allow time for the destruction of documents and the elimination of incriminating evidence, something that may be happening right now, as the House Oversight Committee continues to stew.
What Representative Issa (R-Calif) and Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) want and need to find out is who authorized Fast and Furious, and if the process by which the operation was authorized and implemented was “by-the-book’—or outside ATF’s legal authorities.
We also need to know why Fast and Furious materialized — the catalyst, the practical and political motives driving the initiative, and the authors of an undertaking, that from its conception through its implementation to its sad and confused conclusion, appears to have become an ‘orphan enterprise,’ with no one claiming responsibility or, in some cases, even knowledge of its existence.
Think about that.
Think NAFTA, the financial boon to US banks catering to ‘high net-worth’ Mexicans, the ideological bent and votes of anti-gun activists in the US, and the bend-over-backward machinations of US decision-makers to get past Mexico’s problems and on to its economic ‘potential.’
Then do some reverse-engineering: if the upshot of Fast and Furious, the endgame, was to provide Mexico with thousands of weapons that could be quickly and unequivocally traced back to US gun dealers, might one not assume, with no evidence to the contrary, that this was the operation’s intent? (Emphasis supplied, MBV.)
Serious accusations, to be sure.
Let Eric Holder prove them wrong.
Indeed. Millar continues:
A less cynical analysis, of course, might characterize Operation Fast and Furious as a bungled attempt (another one) on the part of ATF/DOJ to assuage the Mexican government by initiating a “tag and bag’ investigation that aimed to ‘track’ the progress of assault weapons from their purchase point (US gun dealers along the border), through their ‘illegal’ transport across the US-Mexico border, to their final destination—cartel gang members in Mexico who would, at some point, and in some not-yet-determined manner, be identified and apprehended.
The evidence, if any is ever produced, could point either way. But, believe me, we’re way beyond any “he said, she said” scenarios.
If Issa’s Committee doesn’t press on, if investigative journalism doesn’t do its job, then why the weapon used to murder a US federal agent happened to be one supplied (illegally?) by US law enforcement to Mexican gunmen may remain a largely unasked and unanswered question.
For Brian Terry’s family, that doesn’t sound like an option. And the rest of us, I’m thinking—millions of US taxpayers—have a right to know if the people we pay to protect us are really doing something else.
But Millar doesn't think that "Gunwalker Bill" Newell just got up one morning in Phoenix and invented his own foreign policy that amounted to declaring war on Mexico:
An operation like Fast and Furious doesn’t just happen. Not if it’s legal.
A Group One Undercover Investigative Operation, and Fast and Furious fits that bill, would first require departmental approval from ATF and, second, approval from its parent organization, DOJ—plans and proposals, with mission, targets and specific outcomes ready for scrutiny.
That means signatures—a senior executive at ATF, and a John Hancock from no less than an Assistant US Attorney at Justice.
After Fast And Furious gets a green light from ATF and DOJ, the same fully fleshed-out proposal, the power-point presentation and the agency-department signoff travel upwards (step three) to what’s called an Undercover Operational Proposal Committee, a body composed of senior executives from every US enforcement agency—Justice, ATF, DEA, DHS, ICE, FBI, Secret Service et al—any department or agency whose interests might be affected or intersected by the operation.
Committee approval doesn’t happen easily.
If the Committee says yea, as opposed to nay, it’s because every agency member of the Committee has been convinced that ATF’s operation doesn’t imperil its own ‘turf,’ and/or that the ATF op won’t leave it (ICE, DEA, and so on…) holding the bag in front of a congressional hearing or a federal judge (…And why exactly did you surrender jurisdictional authority, Madam Director?).
The members of the Committee might also nix the proposal of a ‘competing’ agency if someone thinks the plan is too good, an op they recognize as one they should have thought of themselves. Kill it for ATF, and “we’ll replicate the operation under our own departmental umbrella down the road.”
Yes, our nation’s finest compete among themselves, all the time, for operational clout and glory.
If the Operational Proposal Committee gives an agency, in this case, ATF, the go-ahead, it’s still not over.
Every six months, ATF would be required to reconvene with that same group of ‘unfriendly friendlies,’ to report on the success and progress of Fast and Furious, how close it was conforming to mission objectives, to financial perimeters, to deadlines and other performance markers.
Now, let’s think about this.
What are the chances that an operation like Fast and Furious, whose aim is to send operational assault rifles to criminal cartels in Mexico (with no guarantee of mission success?), via ‘illegal’ sales to Mexican straw buyers, would be approved by an Undercover Operational Proposal Committee? Zip?
Unless, of course, they had orders fdrom above.
Well, wait—that’s step three.
Back up: do we think Fast and Furious was approved in the earliest stages at the agency level, by an Assistant US Attorney General, by ATF’s Acting Director, or by his boss, Eric Holder? Now, there’s a question for the House Oversight Committee….
I don’t know—but I suspect there is, indeed, an ATF signature on a piece of paper that may or may not, at this juncture, exist (return to definition of ‘subpoena’—ie, ‘order to shred’).
A few weeks ago, word on the street was that something resembling a copy of an MOU, signed in 2008 by reps from Mexico’s Justice Department and by senior ATF officials at the US Embassy in Mexico City, an agreement that may have jumpstarted Fast and Furious, does in fact exist, and was making the rounds at DHS-HQ in Washington, DC.
A document like that could be important: it would, for example, fly in the face of Mexico’s claims it knew nothing about the gun walking op (per the terms of the Brownsville Agreement), and might, in fact, implicate not just ATF, but also Mexico’s military and its government in the construction of a plan that, in the end, benefited no one but Mexico’s drug cartels.
Imagine: ATF facilitates (illegal) transport of 1800 assault rifles into Mexico with knowledge and support of Mexican authorities and those weapons are then sold to Mexican cartels . . .
Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Impossible? Who knows?
Maybe we should be looking for a shadowy figure lurking in an underground garage off Mass Ave. Or thinking about Calderon’s strangely muted response to news of the gun walking op on March 2-3. Or wondering why no one’s taken Eric Holder or Kenneth Melson to the woodshed over an undercover op Mexico keeps saying it knew nothing about.
Or maybe we should just keep our eye on the ball: if certain ICE or DHS officials suddenly enjoy new international career opportunities, (promotions to high-paying postings in foreign capitals), via recommendations from the Mexican government, the House Oversight Committee may want to ask why.
Silence is a valuable commodity.
But Millar says:
Back to step three: signoff from the Undercover Operational Committee…
Now, this is a different can of worms—and, I’m happy to say, not nearly as brain-bending as the ‘riddle wrapped in the mystery inside the enigma’ dilemma we encounter when we think about who in ATF and DOJ signed-off on the original gun walking plan.
Because inquiries into the decisions of a multi-agency undercover committee take us, mercifully, outside the maneuvers of the Praetorian Guard, past the close-hold machinations of an inner circle that insiders say may be operating, in this case, within ATF/DOJ.
Here’s what I’m thinking—that when ATF told reporters, in early March, that Fast and Furious was a ‘secret’ arms trafficking operation (as opposed to ‘covert’), maybe they weren’t just whistling Dixie.
The question is, ‘secret’ from whom?
The notion that the plans and proposals for Fast and Furious made it past a multi-agency law enforcement committee is hard to believe—but, again, it is just as difficult to believe that senior officials at a lower level—at ATF/DOJ—were not in on the plan.
Melson, Holder, and Obama stand before us—pawn, knight, king.
Take a moment.
If this game goes south, in which order do you figure the pieces will fall?
What does Washington think?
Depends on who’s talking.
But I’ve heard rumblings, a sneaking suspicion that a coalition of like-minded individuals, a group whose various interests might be served by a shared agenda, gave a subtle nod to a plan whose existence was never intended to be acknowledged, particularly by men like Senior ATF Agent John Dodson in the agency’s Phoenix office—apparently the operational heart of Fast and Furious.
We don’t need no stinkin’ Committee?
Again, whose interests stood to be served?
The Obama Administration’s? Yes.
The anti-gun lobby? Of course.
ATF’s — the “little agency” with a big (once-in-an-agency-lifetime) opportunity? Ambitious ATF agents in the Phoenix office?
You tell me.
There’s a comment block directly under this post.
Of course, there’s more.
If Fast and Furious was a ‘legal’ undercover operation, one sanctioned by agency/departmental and Committee approval, the ATF agents running it would still have had to do a fair share of hop, skip, and jumping to make it work—through strict State Department regs involving the Export Control Act; across agency ‘turf’ owned, not by ATF, but by ICE; and over a treaty, the Brownsville Agreement, which would have prohibited ATF from mounting an unilateral undercover operation involving Mexican nationals—without the knowledge and involvement of the Mexican government.
You still with me?
Did Clinton issue exemptions to ATF agents?
I hope so, because now we’re talking Hillary Clinton, the Big Girl who runs the US Department of State.
The US State Department ‘owns’ a piece of legislation known as the Export Control Act, which prohibits the sale of certain deadly weapons and serious military hardware to foreign nationals without the express consent and the issuance of an exemption from State. Generally, in a case involving cross-border trafficking of these weapons, it is ICE which is authorized to oversee any operation or investigation involving such exemptions.
This means that even in a case where ATF and DOJ officials had signed off on Fast and Furious, even in a case where a multi-agency Operational Committee might have approved the gun walking op and ATF’s request to appropriate jurisdictional authority belonging to ICE, ATF agents would have still been compelled by law to obtain an exemption re the Export Control Act from the US State Department—each and every time they ok’d the sale of one or a bundle of weapons from a US gun dealer to a Mexican straw buyer (as part of a ‘secret’ operation).
And in every case. (How often do you think ATF would have had to go to State for exemptions to transport 1800 weapons across the US-Mexico border?)
Now, that means that Hillary Clinton, or a high-level State Department representative with the authority to act for her, knew all the details re Operation Fast and Furious.
It also means that, with that reassuring knowledge in hand, the State Department ok’d every ATF request for an exemption to the Export Control Act each time ATF convinced a gun dealer on the US-Mexico border to let his weapons go . . . that it was not only ‘ok’ to sell to Mexican straw buyers, but almost patriotic.
This was an ‘official ATF operation,” after all.
Do we think that Hillary Clinton’s State Department bought into this arrangement?
Is that why no one from State has emerged to set the House Oversight Committee straight?
State has been strangely silent, haven't they? So, asks Millar:
Who ‘owns’ Fast and Furious?
Then we have the question of ‘jurisdiction,’ moot of course, if ATF/DOJ took the proposal for Fast and Furious before a multi-agency committee and got its approval.
But let’s pretend that didn’t happen.
ATF has no jurisdictional/legal authority to run a covert arms trafficking investigation—this responsibility belongs to ICE, which operates within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
So, how did ATF grab a ball rightfully belonging to an ‘opposing team’ (I’ve worked for Customs/ICE and know first-hand how unlikely the agency is to surrender its ‘turf’ without a fight) and run with it–for three years, no less?
And without anyone at ICE/DHS knowing the ATF operation was in play, or anyone from ICE/DHS emerging after-the-fact to deny or acknowledge the legitimacy of Fast and Furious?
Why ATF? Says Millar:
ATF’s big break seems to have materialized in 2008, when Project Gunrunner first appears on the radar screen.
Critics suggest that a seamless chain of command and communication from Obama to Holder might have made ATF the agency of choice in a situation where the goal was to assuage Calderon’s concern (or possibly reinforce his claim?) regarding the ‘substantial, on-going flow of US weapons’ into Mexico.
Involving DHS/ICE in an attempt to direct ICE to the same end would have been far more complicated, success less than guaranteed.
Too many bureaucratic speed bumps.
The operation would have been more likely to have garnered the attention of Congress and the media. An in-house operation, an Obama-Holder-Calderon production, might have looked like the best way to go.
Of course, it had to work.
If Fast and Furious was a cooperative venture with Mexico, we should know that. Mexico says ‘no,’ and while a press release on the ATF website noted Mexico-US cooperation re Project Gunrunner, the agency has not admitted a link between the subordinate investigation, Fast and Furious, and Mexico. Either the US cooperated with Mexico on Fast and Furious, or ATF undertook a unilateral ‘secret’ investigation involving Mexico’s internal affairs and violated the Brownsville Agreement.
What’s going on here? We need to know.
Because any evidence that the US did in fact sign such an agreement with Mexico, authorizing ATF, in cooperation with Mexican authorities, to implement the gun-walking ‘sting’ that provided Mexican gunman with killing tools used to fire on and murder US agents would corroborate the intent and involvement, at the highest levels, of ATF officials, of the Attorney General (either Holder or his representatives would have had to sign off on the operation), and of the President of the United States—who, as Holder’s supervisor, must be held accountable for the decisions and actions of his subordinates.
It is difficult, as well, to believe that Eric Holder would have undertaken such a risky endeavor, such a politically sensitive gamble, without a discussion having occurred between Holder and Obama before the implementation of the ATF operation. The stakes, in terms of US-Mexico relations, would have just been too high.
This should be the focus of the investigation conducted by the House Oversight Committee.
It’s time to start connecting the dots.
We have an ATF operation that no one in Washington will acknowledge as ‘legal’ or ‘legitimate.’ We have no evidence that the operation was conducted ‘by the book.’
We know that Fast and Furious facilitated the sale of at least 1800 semiautomatic weapons to cartel gang members, and we know that at least several of these weapons were used, deliberately it seems, to murder our own agents. We know that these weapons were thrown down at the scene of the crime by cartel criminals.
I can think of no answer except one: that the AK-47 used to gun down US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was deliberately left at his murder site (by whom? Cartel members? Mexican federal police?) to corroborate, for the US and international media, and for the world, Calderon’s claim that weapons illegally trafficked from the US are fueling the violence in Mexico. Wag that dog.
Because whoever threw down that weapon made a mistake: he underestimated the courage of Brian Terry’s colleagues in US law enforcement, and the need of ATF Agent John Dodson, to tell the truth.
The only question now for Representative Issa’s Committee and the American people is—do we have the guts to listen?