House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his Senate Judiciary partner Charles Grassley (R-IA) have just released a new staff report about their investigation of the widening “Gun Walker” scandal. They begin with a quote from ATF deputy attaché Carlos Canino: “That is, I mean, this is the perfect storm of idiocy.”
Canino and his boss, ATF Attaché to Mexico Darren Gil, noticed the huge surge of American guns rolling into Mexico back in 2009. So many weapons were seized that the ATF ran out of space in the Phoenix evidence vault to store them. Canino and Gil “communicated their worries to the leadership in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., only to be brushed aside.” According to Gil’s testimony, many of his phone calls to ATF supervisors were never returned at all.
What’s more, ATF personnel based in Arizona “denied ATF personnel in Mexico access to crucial information about the case, even though the operation directly involved their job duties and affected their host country.” Eventually, the ATF brass got tired of all the complaints from its Mexican office, and straight-up lied to them about ending “Operation Fast and Furious,” which was actually brought to a screeching halt six months later by the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Truly, the Obama era is the Age of Transparency.
What kind of guns are we talking about? Pistols and stuff, right? No, “these heavy-duty weapons included AK-47s, AR-15s, and even Barrett .50 caliber rifles – the preferred weapons of drug cartels.” A Barrett .50 is a great weapon for getting in touch with someone long distance, and reversing the charges.
Over a thousand weapons crossed the border, which made Gil suspicious about the true purpose of the operation. “I mean, after 500 or so seizures, I think you should have had enough data collection on what you’re trying to show or prove,” he told congressional investigators. He discovered that his access to electronic trace information on Fast & Furious weapons was being deliberately blocked by ATF supervisors.
Gil said he believes he was locked out of the operation because high ATF officials were worried he’d tell the government of Mexico what he knew, and they were very eager to keep the Mexicans in the dark. “I know I asked… why I can’t be briefed on this,” he said. “Well, they’re afraid that you would brief the GOM officials, Government of Mexico officials or… brief the ambassador. They were just worried about somebody leaking whatever was unique about this investigation.” (Emphasis in the original report.)
Mexican officials eventually began complaining that the Spanish electronic trace system, which they were trained to use at great expense, kept responding “trace results not available.” If people weren’t dead because of this, it would be darkly comical.
One of the people killed by Operation Fast and Furious was Mario Gonzales Rodriguez, whose brother is the attorney general of Chihuahua. The ATF knew he was killed with one of their guns, but they refused to inform the Mexican government for eight months. When Canino couldn’t take the stonewalling any more, he got in touch with Mexican Attorney General Maricela Morales, who he regards as “a personal friend” and committed foe of the drug cartels, and took it upon himself to tell her about the ATF connection to the Rodriguez murder weapon. He describes her reaction as a shocked, “Oh, my God.” Canino worried that Mexico might have ejected the ATF from the country entirely, if he hadn’t passed the information along to them through back channels.
Many of the Fast and Furious guns ended up in the hands of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which is now better armed than most military forces, thanks to the Obama Administration. A profile in today’s L.A. Times describes the Sinaloa organization as “channeling a nonstop river of cocaine onto trucks bound for cities in the U.S.” If you recall that Operation Fast and Furious received funding from the Obama stimulus package, we might finally have concrete evidence of shovel-ready jobs being saved or created.
Some of these weapons had a “time-to-crime of just one day,” meaning they turned up at crime scenes in Mexico within 24 hours of being purchased in Arizona. The cartels began using their “Gun Walker” weapons to shoot down Mexican Federal Police helicopters. Despite this, Gil and Canino were repeatedly told that “everything was under control,” and the operation they were so pointedly excluded from was “producing good intelligence.”
One of the high officials blowing smoke at the Mexican ATF attaches was Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, whose deep involvement in the “Gun Walker” project is made clear by the new Issa and Grassley staff report. Besides flying to Mexico to serve Gil and Canino a heaping helping of Washington baloney, he was involved in a January videoconference that also included the top local officers of the Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles headquarters of the ATF. If the national scope of this operation was ever in doubt, those doubts have been conclusively laid to rest. This was not a debacle cooked up by a couple of knuckleheads in Phoenix. A top official from the Justice Department was right in the middle of it.
Issa’s Gun Walker hearings are resuming today. He’s got his work cut out for him. The “perfect storm of stupidity” was not only intense, but huge. The damage done to our relationship with Mexican law enforcement is, to use one of the President’s new favorite words, incalculable. If Gun Walker’s true purpose was building leverage for U.S. gun control politics, then will all due respect to Deputy Attache Canino, “stupid” isn’t the right word for it.