Gun Walker Hearings: ATF Agents Feared Link To Giffords Shooting


House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been holding hearings on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ “Gun Walker” project, in which American guns were deliberately sold to Mexican drug cartels, ostensibly to entrap them on firearms charges.  If the news were not filled with economic collapse, horrifying displays of cluelessness from the President, and Anthony Weiner’s underwear, this would be one of the biggest stories in the world.  People died because of this unbelievably stupid program.

During the Issa hearings, it was revealed that ATF agents panicked when they thought some of those people might have died in a certain parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. 

After Gun Walker automatic rifles were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder, an agent testified that “there was a sense like every other time, even with [Representative Gabrielle] Giffords’ shooting, there was a state of panic, like, oh, God, let’s hope this is not a weapon from that case.”  There was more panic when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was shot while sitting in his car in Mexico. 

To the relief of the ATF, it does not appear that Gun Walker weapons were used in either the Giffords or Zapata shootings, but that doesn’t make Agent Terry any less dead.  The House Oversight Committee concluded his death was “likely a preventable tragedy,” and the Gun Walker project “contributed to the increasing violence and deaths in Mexico”… a result met with “giddy optimism by ATF supervisors hoping that guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico would provide the nexus to straw purchasers in Phoneix.”  Hopefully the Mexican government will be relieved to know its citizens died for a good cause.

“The term I used among my peers is pucker factor,” explained ATF special agent Larry Alt, describing the apprehension felt by unhappy agents as Gun Walker corpses piled up.  It’s time for the people who authorized this madness to start ramping up their pucker factor.

The House Oversight report says “Agent Alt described in great detail his disgust at the self-satisfaction of ATF leadership for sending guns into what they knew would be a war zone.”  Other agents testified they issued repeated warnings to their superiors, but were told to “get with the program” because “senior ATF officials had sanctioned the operation.” 

Some agents described “screaming matches” over the radio when they were denied permission to arrest gun traffickers.  An email from a top ATF supervisor clarified that “people of rank and authority at HQ are paying close attention to this case, and they also believe we are doing what they envisioned.”

“I cannot see anyone who has one iota of concern for human life being OK with this,” said ATF agent John Dodson.  He spoke of watching “a 22-year-old girl” walk into a gun store and “dump $10,000 on AK-47s in a day, when she is driving a beat-up car that doesn’t have enough metal to hold hubcaps on it.”  The anguished agent asked, “How are we not responsible for the ultimate outcome of these guns?”

It has long puzzled observers of the case how the ATF planned to keep track of over 1,700 firearms dumped into Mexico by this operation.  Based on agent testimony before the House Oversight Committee, it looks like there was never any real thought given to tracking the weapons.  The geniuses who designed the Gun Walker concept and its “Operation Fast and Furious” were just waiting for crimes to be committed with the guns, presumably against Mexican civilians.  They planned to work backward from chalk outlines in Mexico to straw purchases in the United States.

The plan was a miserable, bloody failure.  “Unfortunately, ATF never achieved the laudable goal of dismantling a drug cartel,” the House Oversight report concludes. “In fact, ATF never got close.”  After eighteen months, the program produced only twenty indictments… and all of them were gun buyers who were known to the ATF before Operation Fast and Furious began.  The committee blasted claims of sweeping success by Special Agent in Charge William Newell as “incredible, false, and a source of much frustration to the agents” who voiced their concerns.

“Some people say Fast and Furious is a good idea that was just managed poorly,” stated Rep. Issa. “Whether you think is good idea and badly run or just a bad idea, it’s very clear this administration is not overseeing this in a way that protects the American people.” 

Worse than that, they’ve been stonewalling the investigation like crazy, going so far as to ignore subpoenas.  ATF supervisors, and Agent Terry’s family, are due to testify before the committee today.  The only thing that should become more “fast and furious” is this investigation.

Update: Rep. Issa released three important emails from ATF supervisors during his opening remarks this morning.  According to a press release from the House Oversight Committee:


The first e-mail from March 10, 2010, to Operation Fast and Furious Group VII Leader David Voth indicates that the two most senior leaders in ATF, Acting Director Kenneth Melson, and Deputy Director Billy Hoover, were “being briefed weekly on” Operation Fast and Furious.  The document shows that both Melson and Hoover were “keenly interested in case updates.”

A second e-mail from March 12, 2010, shows that Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon was so excited about Fast and Furious that he received a special briefing on the program in Phoenix – scheduled for a mere 45 minutes after his plane landed.

A third – and perhaps the most disturbing – e-mail from April 12, 2010, indicates that Acting Director Melson was very much in the weeds with Operation Fast and Furious.  After a detailed briefing of the program by the ATF Phoenix Field Division, Acting Director Melson had a plethora of follow-up questions that required additional research to answer.  As the document indicates, Mr. Melson was interested in the IP Address for hidden cameras located inside cooperating gun shops.  With this information, Acting Director Melson was able to sit at his desk in Washington and – himself – watch a live feed of the straw buyers entering the gun stores to purchase dozens of AK-47 variants.