“These guns went to ruthless criminals,” Carlos Canino, ATF Acting Attaché to Mexico said in testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday regarding the scandal-plagued Operation Fast and Furious. “It’s alleged that over 2,000 guns were trafficked in this investigation. To put that in context, upon information and belief, the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment has approximately 2,500 rangers. That means that as a result of this investigation, the Sinaloa cartel may have received almost as many guns that are needed to arm the entire regiment. Out of these 2,000 weapons, 34 were .50-caliber sniper rifles. That is approximately the number of sniper riles a Marine infantry regiment takes into battle.”
The Department of Justice proposed a southwest border strategy in October 2009 to combat Mexican cartels, with final plans for the operation now known as Operation Fast and Furious coming in January 2010. The new “strategy” included multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, ICE, the IRS and the FBI. This operation entailed ATF agents watching straw purchasers buy hundreds of high-powered weapons and allowed them to go back or “walk” into Mexico, with a goal of “tracing” them back to cartel leaders. As Americans learned in the second hearing about this operation on June 15, guns were lost, not traced, and now a cover-up has begun.
“The Acting Director of the ATF, in a transcribed interview with investigators, has said that the Justice Department is trying to push all of this away from its political appointees. That is not the response this committee, Congress and the public, should expect from the ‘most transparent administration in history,’” Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said during opening statements. “To date, President Obama has been keen to talk about who didn’t know about the program and who didn’t authorize it. These answers will not suffice. The American people have a right to know, once and for all, who did authorize it and who knew about it.”
A new report released by Issa’s office shows ATF agents working in Mexico were left in the dark about the details of Operation Fast and Furious. The report shows that in late 2009, ATF officials in Mexico began to see increasing amounts of guns traced to the Phoenix ATF Field Division office showing up at violent crime scenes. Former ATF Attaché to Mexico Darren Gil and ATF Acting Attaché to Mexico Carlos Canino expressed their concerns to officials in the Phoenix Field Office and in Washington D.C. but were ignored. The report shows ATF and DOJ “failed to share crucial details of the of Operation Fast and Furious with either their own employees stationed in Mexico or representatives of the Government of Mexico.” Specifically, personnel in Arizona denied ATF agents working in Mexico information directly related to their jobs and everyday operations.
“I would like to inform this committee and the American public that I believe what happened here was inexcusable – and we in Mexico had no part of it,” Carino said in testimony Tuesday. “We were aware of this investigation but were never aware of the policy to walk guns in this investigation.”
To make things worse, ATF leadership deliberately lied to agents working in Mexico, telling them Operation Fast and Furious would end in July 2010, but the program didn’t end until December 2010, only after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed by a cartel member in the Arizona desert using a gun issued through Operation Fast and Furious.
“This was not even knowing of the potential for gun walking. This was just . . . not shutting this investigation down and letting another 300 weapons come into the country after the first 300 weapons,” Carino said in an interview issued in the Oversight Committee report. “What these guys did was basically grab the ATF rule book on trafficking and threw it out the window. This is indefensible. It is indefensible.”
Every time agents working in Mexico asked about the investigation, their “U.S. based ATF counterparts in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. continued to say they were ‘working on it’ and ‘everything was under control,’” according to the report.
At this point, 48 different recoveries of weapons have occurred in Mexico, and the public has only seen the beginning of the violence as a result of Operation Fast and Furious.
One suspect was able to purchase and transfer over 600 weapons to cartel members before he was arrested.
“I recall my first days at the ATF academy, where it was drilled into us as new agents that under no circumstances would any firearms, in any investigation, leave the control of ATF. Instructors stressed that even if a weapon was lost “by accident,” the agent was still subject to termination,” former ATF Attaché to Mexico Darren D. Gil said in testimony.
“Unfortunately, as a result of this operation, it is the Mexican people who will continue to suffer the consequences of narco-related firearms violence. I have no doubt, as recent media reports have indicated, that American citizens will also be exposed to more firearms-related violence as a result of this operation,” Gil said.
The media report Gil is referring to comes from internal emails that show weapons issued by ATF were being used to commit crimes in the Phoenix area.
Up until now, nobody within ATF or DOJ has been terminated as a result of purposely losing 2,000 high powered weapons in Mexico; however, one ATF agent has alleged he was fired for coming forward and acting as a whistleblower on the deadly program, and Issa has said the Obama administration is intimidating agents in an effort to prevent their testimony before Congress. ATF Associate Chief Counsel Barry Orlow has sent letters to ATF agents called to testify to the Oversight Committee under subpoena, warning them to watch what they say. Senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich, both nominated by President Obama, have repeatedly stonewalled the oversight committee investigation and have not complied with multiple congressional subpoenas to submit Operation Fast and Furious documents.
“I was skeptical when the first whistle-blower came to this committee with allegations of hundreds, maybe thousands of guns being allowed to “walk” into the country of Mexico. I could not believe that someone in ATF would so callously let firearms wind up in the hands of criminals. And that this activity has seemingly been approved by our own Justice Department and ATF management in the misguided hope of catching the “big fish,” Jose Wall, ATF Senior Special Agents based in Tijuana, Mexico said. “These firearms that are now in the hands of people who have no regard for human life pose a threat to all of us, a threat to which none of us is immune.”
Former ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell would not condemn Operation Fast and Furious and allowing guns to walk into Mexico during testimony and questioning. In fact, Newell went so far as to say he was unaware of guns walking into Mexico, despite internal emails showing he did know. Newell admitted the agency made mistakes but would not admit the program was a bad idea and exposed that he was in communication with a member of the White House national security team. His testimony also conflicted with previous testimony given by Special Agent John Dodson of the Phoenix Field Division who said on June 15, “Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals, this was the plan. It was so mandated.”
“At no time in our strategy was it to allow guns to be taken to Mexico,” Newell said, adding that at no time did his agency allow guns to walk.
“You’re entitled to your opinion, not your own facts,” Issa responded.
ATF Team Leader Lorren Leadmon disagreed and directly countered Newell’s testimony that is was not the plan of ATF to give dangerous cartels weapons, that there was no doubt weapons were going to criminal organizations as early as 2009.
This, is the perfect storm of idiocy,” Canino said in an interview issued in the Oversight Committee report. “You don't lose guns. You don't walk guns. You don't let guns get out of your sight.”