The House Oversight committee is looking into yet another Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms operation in which, as a source told the L.A. Times, “apparently guns got away again.” Hopefully the Bureau doesn’t lose track of alcohol and tobacco as often as they let firearms “get away” from them, or we’ll be looking at the kind of public health crisis the White House actually cares about.
The operation currently on the desks of “gun walking” investigators Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) was called Operation White Gun. Despite the odd code name, it had nothing to do with cracking down on heavily armed white supremacists. It was all about arming the Sinaloa cartel, the same murderous Mexican gang who got all those guns from Operation Fast and Furious.
Operation White Gun was supposedly more like a normal sting operation, where Fast and Furious simply threw 1,700 American guns across the border, without any real attempt to track them. As the L.A. Times recounts it:
According to documents that the ATF sent to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, an umbrella group of U.S. agencies that seeks to disrupt major drug trafficking and money laundering, White Gun targeted nine leaders of the Sinaloa cartel. The list included Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, who heads the cartel and is Mexico’s most wanted drug suspect.
In ATF reports, MacAllister wrote that U.S. intelligence showed cartel members were setting up military-type training camps in the Sierra de Durango mountains, near Guzman’s northern Mexico hide-out, and wanted to bolster their arsenal with grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns.
The agents focused first on Vicente Fernando Guzman Patino, a cartel insider who was identified as one of their weapons purchasers and who often used code words and phrases, saying “57” for “OK,” for instance.
In fall 2009, the ATF team sent an undercover agent posing as an arms dealer to Guzman Patino. Photos of weapons, including a Dragon Fire 120-millimeter heavy mortar, were emailed to his “Superman6950” Hotmail account.
According to the ATF documents, Guzman Patino told the undercover agent that “if he would bring them a tank, they would buy it.” He boasted he had “$15 million to spend on firearms and not to worry about the money.” He wanted “the biggest and most extravagant firearms available.”
Well of course you’re not going to get a tank, Mr. Patino. U.S. politicians aren’t interested in pushing any tank-control legislation.
The upshot of this little email exchange between the undercover ATF agent and the gun-happy Sinaloa quartermaster was a classic crime-drama meet outside a restaurant in Phoenix, where the ATF man popped open his trunk and showed the delighted Patino a stockpile of weapons, including “a Bushmaster rifle and a Ramo .50 heavy machine gun.” And then…
… well, we don’t know what happened next. The investigation suddenly ended. No documentation unearthed so far confirms whether Patino got any White Gun weapons or not.
Some lower-level stooges got busted by the same undercover agent after they tried to trade crystal meth for shoulder-launched missiles, but none of the cartel bigwigs targeted by White Gun seem to have been taken down in the operation.
ATF agent Hope McAllister, a leader in the Operation Fast and Furious disaster, reportedly spent some time in Mexico during the summer of 2010 looking for White Gun weapons among the ordnance seized from cartel killers by the Mexican government. That behavior is not consistent with a tightly-controlled sting operation run by people who know exactly where all the contraband merchandise went. “Sooooo… you guys wouldn’t happen to have seized any of the guns on this list, would you? No? Oh, well, just thought I’d ask. Adios!”
This is all very strange, because usually the Obama Justice Department is so meticulous with its paperwork, and so eager to show it off to congressional investigators and the public. The L.A. Times’ source inside the investigation said of the White Guns, “How many got into Mexico? Who knows?” I’ll bet the answer to that question, at least initially, will not be “Attorney General Eric Holder.”