First, we learned about Operation Fast and Furious, a program run from the Arizona offices the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, in which American guns were “walked” into Mexico. Straw buyers for drug cartels would make big purchases at American gun shops, while ATF agents watched on closed-circuit TV. The ostensible purpose of this project was to track the guns to their cartel end-users and take them down, but testimony to the House Oversight committee has revealed very few serious measures to track the weapons were ever in place, and not many arrests were made.
The whole thing fell apart in a hurry when U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed by border-hopping thugs, and weapons from Operation Fast and Furious were recovered from the scene of the crime. Dozens Fast and Furious guns have begun turning up at crime scenes north of the border.
Then we learned about Operation Castaway, a similar program operating from the ATF’s Florida offices, which put guns into the hands of Honduran criminals. One of the most violent gangs in the world, MS-13, has strong ties to Honduras.
Now the Washington Examiner has an exclusive story about a domestic Gun Walker operation, in which the ATF watched straw buyers haul firearms out of a gun shop in Indiana:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has acknowledged an Indiana dealer’s cooperation in conducting straw purchases at the direction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Exclusive documents obtained by Gun Rights Examiner show the dealer cooperated with ATF by selling guns to straw purchasers, and that bureau management later asserted these guns were being traced to crimes.
Some of these straw buyers had felony convictions that should have stopped the gun sales, but the FBI overrode the system so the purchases could go forward.
The ATF eventually started hassling the gun dealer in question, due to “an unusually high number of traces of new crime guns with a relatively short time-to-crime.” His lawyer patiently explained to the chief of the ATF’s National Tracing Center, Charles Houser, that his own agency made those gun sales happen:
Specifically, my client participated with and cooperated in certain law enforcement operations during 2009/2010 at the behest of ATFE enforcement officers from the Evansville, Indiana office (Agent Kevin Whittaker) and in the course of doing so, followed their instructions regarding the completion of certain transactions and the delivery of firearms to purchasers who did not clear the standard NICS [National Instant Check System] background check and were suspected of being involved in the purchase and transportation of handguns out of state despite passing NICS’s background checks.
The attorney asked for a list of the crime guns Houser was interested in tracing, but instead he got a voice mail from Houser promising to drop his client from the ATF’s gun-walking program. Then the story gets really weird, because later that day, a completely different person named Brenda Bennett called the attorney, claiming she was the chief of the National Tracing Center, and stating that the dealer would be dropped from the ATF’s demand list for tracing information.
This all suggests that a number of the Indiana gun-walking weapons might have found their way into mischief, and the ATF is experiencing the same kind of institutional panic that struck after Agent Terry died. As the Gun Walker bloodhounds at Sipsey Street Irregulars note, “the principal markets for straw-purchased weapons in Indiana is Chicago.” Uh-oh.
David Codrea of the Washington Examiner wonders what the Special Agent in Charge of the region, Robert J. Browning, knows about these events, and tops it off by asking a Big Question best expressed through Congressional subpoenas:
It’s also fair to ask if it seems credible that such similar operations would develop independently in the Southwest (“Project Gunwalker”) and the Midwest (“Project Gangwalker’?), without authorization from and oversight coordination by Main Justice.
Meanwhile, back at the Phoenix ATF office that produced so many of our cherished Gun Walker memories, there’s a freak-out in progress over a gentleman named Jean Baptiste Kingory, who was released by the ATF after he was caught supplying hand grenades to the Mexican cartels. Evan Perez of the Wall Street Journal reports:
ATF agents arrested Mr. Kingery in Arizona in June 2010 after months of surveillance and seized 116 grenade hulls and parts in his possession, the officials said.
The suspect told investigators he helped operate a mill in Mexico manufacturing improvised explosive devices made from the U.S.-sourced grenade components, they said. Mr. Kingery allegedly said he supplied the weapons to a cartel called La Familia Michoacana and also helped the cartel convert semiautomatic rifles into military-style machine guns.
That decision is at the crux of a bitter fight between ATF agents and prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix. The lead ATF agent on the grenades case, Peter Forcelli, “was horrified with the thought of releasing this individual” and “practically begged” senior prosecutor Emory Hurley “for permission to arrest the suspect on a criminal complaint,” according to an Aug. 31 letter sent to a congressional committee on Mr. Forcelli’s behalf by an attorney with the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, a group that provides legal assistance to law enforcement officers.
Officials from the U.S. attorney’s office dispute that Mr. Hurley, who oversaw both Fast and Furious and the Kingery cases, declined to prosecute, according to officials familiar with the accounts provided to investigators. These officials said prosecutors wanted to continue following the case and possibly bring charges at a later date.
Officials from the U.S. attorney’s office also have told investigators that the ATF agents freed Mr. Kingery because the agents wanted to make him an informant. Mr. Kingery maintained contact with agents for several weeks, then disappeared, the U.S. officials familiar with the case said.
Part of the Kingery saga involved setting him up with “hundreds of grenade parts” in the United States, then allowing him to cross the border into Mexico, as part of a sting operation in early 2010. Unfortunately, they “lost Mr. Kingery on the highway to the border, and Mexican authorities failed to stop him at the crossing.” Whoops!
Forcelli is one of the whistleblower agents who has testified about Operation Fast and Furious before the House Oversight committee. He’s being accused of letting Kingery walk without proper clearance, but insists he had “high-level approval.”
This led Forcelli to believe he may be the target of official retaliation, which prompted Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to investigate the grenade case as “an extension of their Fast and Furious probe.” Supposedly findings from the Justice Department review of this case were instrumental in bumping Acting ATF Director Ken Melson out of his office. We can only hope those grenades don’t find their way back across the border, as so many Fast and Furious guns have.