Yesterday Newsday became the latest media organization to notice the astonishing “Operation Fast and Furious” scandal, which has evolved into both a serious of dangerous questions about the original operation, and growing awareness of a massive cover-up orchestrated far higher than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms:
Fast and Furious was designed to track guns that “straw buyers” purchased in Phoenix area shops in 2009. The goal was to trace the guns and make cases against traffickers supplying firepower to deadly drug cartels in Mexico. But agents quickly lost track of the weapons and many turned up at crime scenes, including the December shootout in Arizona where border agent Terry died.
The operation was something of a departure for the ATF, which generally moves to take illegal guns off the street as quickly as possible. In this new gambit, however, ATF agents couldn’t follow the path of many of the 2,000 or so AK-47s, high-caliber rifles and other guns that were purchased in the United States and later used by criminals in Mexico.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House committee investigating the operation, said there’s reason to believe the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration already knew the gunrunning kingpins the ATF was working to identify, and may even have had some of them on the payroll as informants. So there are two baseline questions crying out for answers in this nightmare, in which the ATF apparently didn’t know what the FBI and DEA were doing. First, a decade after 9/11, why haven’t federal law enforcement agencies heeded one great lesson of that attack, which is that it’s vital they communicate with one another? Second, how much lawbreaking should federal officials knowingly allow to occur in their pursuit of bigger fish?
(Emphases mine.) Newsday should have noted that not only did the ATF “lose track” of this huge pile of high-powered weapons, they never had a plausible plan for tracking them. In fact, ATF agents who tried to tail straw buyers were repeatedly ordered to stand down. Reporters should dig deep enough into Operation Fast and Furious to ask whether its execution bears any logical relationship to its stated goals, not just assume it was a risky operation that got a little out of hand.
I would also suggest reporters look at themselves in the mirror while asking Newsday’s first “baseline question” slowly and repeatedly. How is it possible that all these federal agencies just bumbled around, pumping guns into Mexico without co-ordination, less than a decade after 9/11? It’s either an astonishing breakdown in communications… or a deliberate policy imposed upon multiple law-enforcement agencies that normally do communicate with each other.
Which of those possibilities is more plausible? Before you answer, bear in mind that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a key component of enforcing gun laws, is run by the FBI, not the ATF. Operation Fast and Furious relied upon deliberate over-rides of NICS background checks, so that straw gun buys for Mexican drug lords on American soil could go forward. It’s not as if these agencies lack a history of close cooperation.
Newsday wants the cover-up to end:
[Rep. Issa and Senator Grassley] alleged a cover-up, which Justice Department officials have denied. Yet, the story continues to read like a screenplay that still has an unfolding and twisting plot. Holder has failed to answer the key question — what did the DEA and FBI know and when they know it? — saying only that “such information, to the extent it exists, should not simply be turned over to the committee.” Holder says he wants to protect what he calls “ongoing investigations.” That’s a dodge. It’s time to come clean.
They can get in line behind the Mexican government, which would also like the Obama Administration to come clean, as reported by the L.A. Times:
Months after the deadly lapses in the program were revealed in the U.S. media — prompting congressional hearings and the reassignment of the acting chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — top Mexican officials say American authorities have still not offered them a proper accounting of what went wrong.
Marisela Morales, Mexico’s attorney general and a longtime favorite of American law enforcement agents in Mexico, told The Times that she first learned about Fast and Furious from news reports. And to this day, she said, U.S. officials have not briefed her on the operation gone awry, nor have they apologized.
“At no time did we know or were we made aware that there might have been arms trafficking permitted,” Morales, Mexico’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, said in a recent interview. “In no way would we have allowed it, because it is an attack on the safety of Mexicans.”
This must be some of that “smart power” we were told the International Man of Mystery in the White House would project around the globe, to repair America’s tattered reputation.
Quite a few of the Mexican citizens who found themselves on the wrong end of Fast and Furious guns were members of law enforcement and the military. The L.A. Times recounts one such incident:
On May 24, a helicopter ferrying Mexican federal police during an operation in the western state of Michoacan was forced to land after bullets from a powerful Barrett .50-caliber rifle pierced its fuselage and armor-reinforced windshield. Three officers were wounded.
Authorities later captured dozens of drug gang gunmen involved in the attack and seized 70 weapons, including a Barrett rifle, according to a report by U.S. congressional committees. Some of the guns were traced to Fast and Furious.
The Mexican government wasn’t kept out of the loop by mistake. It was a matter of deliberate Obama Administration policy:
Email traffic and U.S. congressional testimony by ATF agents and others make clear that American officials purposefully concealed from Mexico’s government details of the operation, launched in November 2009 by the ATF field offices in Arizona and New Mexico.
In March 2010, with a growing number of guns lost or showing up at crime scenes in Mexico, ATF officials convened an “emergency briefing” to figure out a way to shut down Fast and Furious. Instead, they decided to keep it going and continue to leave Mexico out of the loop.
Just to make sure the heavily-armed cat was kept in the bag, the Administration made sure the U.S. embassy and Mexican ATF office were “also kept in the dark.”
You can see why the Mexican government might be growing a bit crabby about getting shoved into voice mail when they call Washington to ask about a covert U.S. government program that put heavy weapons into the hands of terrorists who want to topple them. A less polite government might use terms like “act of war.”
I’m sure the Mexicans will have their answers, once the full-court media press squeezes some answers about this astonishing scandal out of the Administration. I’m sure that pressure will be coming soon from a media that went berserk and provided wall-to-wall coverage of far less serious matters, like Iran-Contra and Watergate. Instead of cooking up new trillion-dollar tax schemes, President Obama should spend his time answering tough questions about this, and many other, scandals.
As Heritage Foundation communications director Rory Cooper noted via Twitter this morning: “Media hasn’t asked White House about Fast and Furious since JULY 5. Not in one briefing. I have questions, do you?” That was 77 days ago. The L.A. Times and CBS News are virtually alone in providing comprehensive mainstream-media coverage of the “Gun Walker” outrage. At what point does the remarkable media ignorance of this historic scandal become impossible to regard as anything less than willing co-operation in the cover-up?