"It is essential that our efforts support the strategies and policies of the President and the Attorney General and where possible, complement the strategies of other agencies." -- "Project Gunrunner: A Cartel Focused Strategy," internal ATF report, September 2010, Page 2.
An Obama meeting.
"Things like this happen because of meetings. People sit in meetings and they decide what they want to happen. And then they take decisions, make policy and implement that policy to achieve those ends." He added, "That's why State is so nervous. They signed off on this. In a meeting."
Gunrunner, I pointed out to him, predated the Obama administration. "Yes, but 'walking guns' didn't." I told him it seemed to me that given the dates on the documents that the meetings crafting this policy must have taken place sometime in mid-2009. "And who took power in January, 2009?" he replied.
He continued, summing up this way. The gun issue was known to be radioactive. Every time the Democrats embraced it they got killed at the polls the next election cycle. What was needed, in Rahm Emanuel's parlance, was a good crisis to exploit, something to change the paradigm. The gun confiscationists had always danced in the blood (my term, not his) of every mass shooting and gotten nowhere, to their chagrin and frustration. What was needed was a game changer. Something that fit the meme of "we've got to tighten up on American gunowners, gun stores and gun shows because they are feeding the slaughter." Mexico was perfect. The ATF controlled the reporting of the statistics, the headlines were lurid and if the rest of us gunnies knew that you don't get automatic weapons, hand grenades and RPGs from gun shows and gun stores, most of the American people were too ignorant of the issue to care about the distinction. But the fact was, as the IG report and other sources concluded, the amount of weapons from those legitimate American sources did not meet the allegation. More importantly the statistics didn't meet the policy need. So, how to "fix" that? Project Gunwalker. If there weren't enough semi-auto "assault rifles" in Mexico, the ATF could fix that. And the murders would follow, justifying the policy change of cracking down on "assault rifles," gun shows and the like.
"So," I said, "you're saying that this was a deliberate attempt by policymakers at the highest levels of the Obama administration to subvert the Second Amendment and further diminish the free exercise of firearm rights of honest citizens?"
"You got it. Sucks, huh?" He laughed bitterly.
I thought of Zed in "Men in Black."
He added, "Of course the meeting transcripts won't reflect the truth so plainly, but then neither did the Wannsee Conference. These bastards always talk in riddles about what they're really after. Watch what they do, not what they say." -- "The blame shifting & leaping to illogical exculpatory conclusions begins, but Obama's Gunwalker was a deliberate conspiracy vs. the 2nd Amendment," Sipsey Street, 8 March 2011.
One thing is certain, now after three hearings and hundreds of leaked documents and press revelations. The Gunwalker Scandal did not begin in Phoenix, Arizona. William "Gunwalker Bill" Newell did not arise from his bed one fine morning in late 2009 and decide, after brushing his teeth, "Today I'm going to start my own foreign policy, facilitate the smuggling of weapons to Mexico and commit numerous acts of war on a sovereign nation."
In a bureaucracy -- especially the current federal law enforcement bureaucracy -- policies, and demand for actions to carry out those policies, come from above. Where, then, did Gunwalker come from? Or, specifically, from what meetings?
Regular readers will recall my story from 14 May drawing attention to The Official ATF Field Manual of the Gunwalker Scandal, which included the comment from a long-time DC insider "This report might as well be the outline for Gunwalker hearing questions."
The "field manual" referred to, which had been hiding in plain sight thanks to an ATF leak to Michael Isikoff, was intended to exculpate the ATF from the criticisms in the OIG's 2009 Interim Report on Project Gunrunner failings, and especially to try to influence the language in the final report.
Isikoff's September 2010 article was entitled "ATF targets gun dealers to stem sales to Mexican cartels. New strategy comes in wake of stinging criticism of current interdiction effort." He wrote:
The new strategy was prepared in recent weeks by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)’s Office of Field Operations, in the wake of stinging criticism of current ATF efforts to stem the flow of weapons to the cartels by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The strategy appears to accept many of the criticisms in the Justice Department inspector general’s report, especially the ATF’s past emphasis on targeting low-level “straw buyers” hired by cartel operatives to buy weapons at U.S. gun stores. It notes that straw purchasers are easily replaced and often are selected by higher level traffickers because they have no serious criminal records, making them undesirable candidates for prosecution.
“Straw purchasers must be held accountable for their conduct and made ineligible to purchase or possess firearms in the future,” the report states. “However, straw purchasers should more frequently be viewed as persons whose conduct should be investigated as part of a larger conspiracy and as persons whose information, cooperation and assistance should be exposed to the extent possible in further of the ultimate goal of identifying key members of the trafficking enterprise.”
It also calls for ATF agents to work more closely with other federal agencies, particularly the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) run by local U.S. Attorney’s offices and involving all federal law enforcement agencies. The draft inspector general report had sharply criticized ATF agents for not sharing intelligence and working more cooperatively with other federal agencies, especially the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)
The OIG's report of its investigation of Gunrunner was issued in September of 2009. The final report wasn't issued until November, 2010, the following year. But the investigation had begun in May 2009:
In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) and in fiscal year (FY) 2009 appropriations, ATF received $21.9 million in funding to support and expand Project Gunrunner. In May 2009, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) opened an evaluation of Project Gunrunner, which is ongoing. We are issuing this interim report on Project Gunrunner plans as ATF is expanding the project. -- OIG Interim Report.
Obviously, ATF management was aware the OIG investigation from the beginning. ATF management jumped on this threat to their bureaucratic careers at once. Says the "field manual":
On April 27, 2009, the Department of Justice released guidelines for the consideration of OCDETF designation in firearms related cases involving Mexican cartels. The memorandum identified firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico as contributing to the escalating levels of cartel-related violence and as a particular concern for law enforcement on both sides of the border. The memorandum emphasized the important role that the OCDETF program plays in connection with the United States' government-wide efforts to stem the southbound smuggling of arms to Mexican drug trafficking organizations and stated that investigations principally targeting firearms trafficking are eligible for OCDETF designation if there is a sufficient nexus between the firearms and a major Mexican drug trafficking organization. It is not necessary that every OCDETF prosecution include specific drug charges, but every OCDETF prosecution must be drug-related. The specific charges may be firearms, explosives, or other non-drug violations as long as the targets have been identified as major drug violators and otherwise meet OCDETF standards.
In June 2009, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released its National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. The strategy represents another key contribution to the U.S. response to the threat along the Southwest border. The strategy acknowledges the close link between drug trafficking and firearms trafficking and the increasing powerful nature and sophistication of the firearms acquired and used by Mexican drug trafficking organizations. In fact, Chapter 7 of the strategy is devoted to weapons and contains significant language pertaining to ATF investigative responsibilities and enforcement programs. The strategy includes the goals of improving intelligence and information sharing relating to weapons trafficking among Federal, State, local, and tribal law enforcement partners; increasing interdiction of illegal weapons shipments destined for Mexico; enhancing cooperation with international partners in weapons investigations; strengthening domestic coordination on weapons investigations and increasing the likelihood of successful Federal prosecution of weapons cases.
On June 25, 2009, ATF released a memorandum detailing a revised national firearms trafficking enforcement strategy focusing on among other things the identification and investigation of specific domestic trafficking corridors. While not a Southwest border focused document, the national firearms trafficking enforcement plan makes reference to Project Gunrunner and firearms trafficking cases with an international nexus. The document is referenced here since it provides guidance for conducting firearms trafficking investigations generally and may include information pertaining to investigative, technical, and preventive tactics that may be applicable when investigating matters related to the Southwest border.
The memorandum "detailing a revised national firearms trafficking enforcement strategy" was only part of a concerted ATF effort to do what their executive branch masters wanted them to do, consistent with the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy.
The "field manual" continues:
On January 7, 2010, the Department of Justice reemphasized its commitment to combating firearms trafficking to Mexican cartels and the use of the OCDETF program as a means of disrupting the cartels by releasing its own strategy. The strategy is premised on the notion that a significant share of the violence, drug trafficking and corruption along the Southwest border is perpetrated by a relatively small number of hierarchical criminal organizations. The DOJ strategy concludes that “the most effective mechanism to attack those organizations is the use of intelligence-based, prosecutor-led multi-agency task forces that attack all levels of, and all criminal activities of, the operations of the organizations.” A significant component of the DOJ strategy pertains to attacking the southbound flow of firearms. The strategy states that “given the national scope of this issue, merely seizing firearms through interdiction will not stop firearms trafficking to Mexico. We must identify, investigate, and eliminate the sources of illegally trafficked firearms and the networks that transport them.” The DOJ strategy calls for closer collaboration between ATF and the efforts of multi-agency drug task forces along the border, including OCDETF strike forces. All ATF field divisions with an OCDETF strike force must consider assigning a complement of special agents to the multi-agency strike force and/or establishing a collocated ATF-led OCDETF group within the strike force.
Lastly, ATF’s 2010-2016 Strategic Plan provides broad direction intended to guide ATF operations over the next few years and includes information regarding ATF’s efforts to combat firearms trafficking, to include trafficking along and across the Southwest border. The document reiterates that one of ATF’s fundamental responsibilities is addressing the threat posed by firearms violence associated with drug trafficking and specifically the threat posed by Mexican based drug trafficking organizations that acquire firearms from the United States. The document summarizes a wide variety of ATF capabilities useful in suppressing firearms trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Additionally, in June 2009, ATF and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) intended to address areas of mutual concern and responsibility. To the extent possible, this revised cartel focused strategy will conform to agreements between ATF and ICE and other law enforcement partners that may exist.
Ah, yes, the MOU with ICE. When I wrote the May story on the "field manual," I did not pay enough attention to when and where that was signed. It was the occasion of much hoopla and was just a part of something the ATF dubbed: the "National Violent Crime and Firearms Trafficking Summit."
The press release:
DOJ Officials to Speak at National Violent Crime and Firearms Trafficking Summit
Mon Jun 29, 2009 6:00pm EDT
WASHINGTON, June 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Officials from the U.S.Department of Justice (DOJ) will join Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, U.S. Attorneys, states attorneys, local prosecutors and law enforcement executives to discuss national policy development and strategies at the Violent Crime and Firearms Trafficking Summit in Albuquerque, N.M. Also at the Summit, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) formalizing a partnership to combat firearms trafficking.
Media are invited to attend the opening session Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 8:00 a.m. MDT and the separate signing event at 9:30 a.m. MDT. For media not able to attend the signing event, a national news teleconference will be hosted at 10:15 a.m. MDT.
David W. Ogden, Deputy Attorney General, DOJ
Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General, DOJ Criminal Division
H. Marshall Jarrett, Director, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys
Kenneth E. Melson, Acting Director, ATF
John Morton, Asst. Secretary, ICE, DHS
Violent Crime and Firearms Trafficking Summit (Opening Session)
ATF, ICE MOU Signing Ceremony, Question and Answer Session
Tuesday, June 30, 2009, 9:00 a.m. MDT - Opening Session
9:30 a.m. MDT - Signing Ceremony
10:15 a.m. MDT - National News Teleconference Begins
Conference Call-in #: 1-888-469-3045 (call will be moderated; media encouraged to dial-in up to 15 minutes in advance)
Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown Hotel 2600 Louisiana Blvd, NE Albuquerque, N.M. 87110
Note: Media attending the opening session of the summit and/or the MOU signing ceremony will need to present valid media credentials. Media should be set by 7:45 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom for the opening session and pre-set by 9:15 a.m. in Baldwin Room for the signing event. Any inquiries concerning DOJ officials should be directed to the Office of Public Affairs at (202)514-2007. Any inquiries concerning the Summit should be directed to John Hageman at (609) 743-2987.
SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, +1-202-514-2007, TDD+1-202-514-1888
This was a big deal. In addition to speeches by Deputy Attorney General Ogden, and Assitant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, ATF Acting Director spoke, as did NM U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and H. Marshall Jarrett, Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. Even Andrew Traver was there, as was, according to my sources, Phoenix ATF Field Division SAC William Newell, aka now as "Gunwalker Bill."
John Morton's speech does not seem to have been posted on the net, the careful man.
Lanny Breuer makes it clear where the new effort and energy on firearms trafficking came from:
You just heard from my partner at ICE John Morton; we are all in great hands over there. John and I worked briefly together in the Criminal Division, where John was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General before becoming Assistant Secretary at ICE. He's a spectacular public servant. It's my privilege to share a podium with John and all my distinguished colleagues from DHS and DOJ, including the Deputy Attorney General from whom you will soon hear.
As many of you know, a little over two months ago, the Attorney General stood on Mexican soil with his law enforcement counterparts from the Mexican government. At that time, the Attorney General announced a firm commitment by the U.S. government to work with Mexico to attack the plague of gun trafficking and related violence that has infected the U.S./Mexico border and regions deep in Mexico itself.
Since the Attorney General's visit to Cuernavaca, the Justice Department, under the leadership of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, has taken a number of positive steps to address the southwest border issues, including increasing the resources that are focused on the southwest border and, specifically, firearms trafficking.
(Coming later: "Meetings, Part 2." David Ogden's speech and "Who is H. Marshall Jarrett?")