Did the ATF Deliberately Walk Guns into Mexican Drug Cartels?

Monday, July 02, 2012

guns (barjack/flickr)

The title 'Fast and Furious' has come to mean more than the popular street-racing movie. It's now synonymous with a scandal that implicates the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm and Explosives (ATF) in a world of “rivalry, murder and political bloodlust." Operation Fast and Furious alleges that the ATF deliberately “walked guns” into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The case has become so controversial that last Friday, House Republicans won a historic fight to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

But following a six-month investigation, an article by Katherine Eban in Fortune revealed that many of the allegations brought by accusers against the ATF are unfounded.

"But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic," Eban wrote. "They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn." 

Eban found that ATF agents were fighting for the authority to arrest buyers of large quantities of legally purchased firearms in Arizona. "What I did find was a protracted battle between the ATF agents and prosecutors over what constituted probable cause to seize the weapons in question," Eben says.

The report comes at a time when the issue is becoming highly politicized. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa has spearheaded the GOP's demand for documents that detail the operation. Eban says that politics is at the root of why Attorney General Holder has not defended himself and the federal government with the findings of this article.

"The last thing the Obama administration wanted was a debate over gun control in the run-up to a presidential election," Eban says. "My sources were telling me that what the administration wanted to do was to basically hold this down in Phoenix. If there was going to be a firestorm of blame, then say mistakes were made at the Phoenix level, whether by prosecutors at the Justice Department or ATF agents in Phoenix, and basically protect political appointees in Washington."

Guests:

Katherine Eban

Produced by:

Maquita Peters

Comments [9]

Nice post, John. It amuses me to hear the right wingers fulminate against the "mainstream media." They had no such qualms about the alarmist CBS News report last December that stoked their gun-nut paranoia with the hint that the ATF was after stricter gun laws in the wake of Fast & Furious. The concept that Second Amendment absolutism is causing more harm than good in the fight against the cartels goes conveniently missing when the gun lobby is pandering to its paying customers.

The NRA has every reason to try to control the F&F narrative and keep the heat on Holder and his minions. What would happen if people realized that lax gun laws have made the Southwest a Wild West Wal-Mart where the cartels send their henchmen to shop for artillery? I've never heard a gun-nut admit that Brian Terry's death wasn't the aim of Fast & Furious, but rather the inevitable result when straw purchases are absolutely legal. If it's up to the ATF to try to stem the flow of guns to the cartels when prosecutors' hands are tied by gun-lobby shenanigans, border agents are in a very dangerous situation.

Why can't we outlaw straw purchases? Why can't we set limits on the amount and type of guns people can buy? Why can't we balance Second Amendment rights against the safety of our society? Ask the NRA.

Jul. 03 2012 08:19 AM
John Lester

"The Congressional oversight investigation isn't about prosecuting mistakes made in the ATF investigation. Rather it is about how the Obama might have been gaming the entire fiasco to avoid political damage, to encourage its own pro-gun control agenda, and possibly obscure the truth from the public."

So you basically admit it. No one actually cares about Brian Terry, or what actually happened in Phoenix. They care about politics. The Republicans want to get the President, and the President and the Attorney General try to blame the whole thing on Phonenix VII, so they don't have to have a debate on gun control in an election year.

Shouldn't what actually happened in Phoenix be important? Isn't it important weather guns were intentionally walked or not? Shouldn't the COC, be questioning agents involved in the operation? Shouldln't the Justice Department be doing the same thing?

By the way you will also be interested to know that many guns rights advocates believe that the COC investigation is hurting gun rights. The guns in this case were deemed to have been legally bought. Do you really want give the ATF the authority to take them away?

Your liberal media snipe against Eban is really nothing more than an attempt to divert from facts she uncovered in her article. Facts which I haven't seen any conservative columnist dispute.

Jul. 02 2012 09:41 PM

"Thank goodness there are outlets by which people can get both sides of the story."

You didn't suggest there was more than one side to the story. You seem to believe Fast & Furious was nothing less than the Obama Administration's diabolical and incoherent plot to destroy our sacred Second Amendment freedoms. In addition, you paint anyone with less than complete credulity for this alt-media hoaxery as a race-baiting liberal in deep denial over Obama's corruption.

As I said in my previous post, it wasn't the ATF or Holder who created a Wild West environment in Arizona. In the gun fanatic's utopia, why wouldn't people be able to buy hundreds of guns legally, and transport and distribute them where they please? Who's more responsible for Brian Terry's death, the DOJ who was trying in vain to shut down the straw purchasers, or the NRA who opposed any sane control on the sale of deadly weapons?

Jul. 02 2012 02:52 PM
Charles

To illustrate my point below:

Click on the "Fast and Furious" subject-tab:
http://www.thetakeaway.org/tags/fast_and_furious/

You will see, that The Takeaway's coverage of this story is little more than the minimal coverage that James Carney might be forced to approve.

The only story that I can think of, that has been more deliberately and studiously avoided by the producers of The Takeaway, is the story of Elizabeth Warren's supposed Cherokee heritage and its supposed lack of impact on her hiring at Harvard.

Jul. 02 2012 02:30 PM
Charles

This is a remarkable example of the one-sided belligerance of The Takeaway and its WNYC producers.

Celeste Headlee introduces this story, by mentioning the contempt resolutions in the House, which she says were "led by House Republicans." In fact the first vote was an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 255-67, with 17 Democrats joining the Republicans. Of course, the Congressional Black Caucus walked out on the vote, for reasons that only they could possibly explain, since there is no racial issue in the underlying case.

The story by Katherine Eban at the CNN-Fortune website is a grand exercise in missing the point. The Congressional oversight investigation isn't about prosecuting mistakes made in the ATF investigation. Rather it is about how the Obama might have been gaming the entire fiasco to avoid political damage, to encourage its own pro-gun control agenda, and possibly obscure the truth from the public.

What I see in the writing of Ms. Eban is a continuation of the left's general goal of making the Fast and Furious story all about lax gun control laws, which is precisely what is suspected on the part of the Obama Administration in the aftermath.

Naturally, The Takeaway will continue to dig into this story (but won't join in pressing the Attorney General for more documents?!?)... right. Just like it hasn't dug into this story until it had been supplied with a narrative favorable to the Obama Administration.

Reading Katherine Eban's bio reads like a directory of the mainstream left-leaning media... The New York Times... ABC... 60 Mintues... 20/20... Nightline... NPR.

Thank goodness there are outlets by which people can get both sides of the story.

Jul. 02 2012 01:30 PM

I'm thinking that truly progressive patriots are hoping that President Obama's "information shaper" is on the job concerning this calumny against a career public servant.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585

http://www.salon.com/2010/01/15/sunstein_2/

Jul. 02 2012 10:20 AM

One thing that's gone unnoticed in the discussion of Fast & Furious is that there's nothing technically illegal about purchasing multiple guns for resale. Thanks to the NRA, people too young to buy beer can walk into a gun shop in Arizona, drop cash on the counter, and walk out with twenty AK-47s. One of the reasons this operation went awry was that prosecutors can't act until there's proof that the guns are being trafficked across the border. Look it up: most of the convictions of straw purchasers are for giving false information on a background check.

So the NRA would have us believe that there's no need to put limits on the amount of guns someone can buy, institute waiting periods, or require more extensive reporting of gun sales. Meanwhile, they can cry crocodile tears over the deaths of border agents and pretend it's all the Feds' fault that guns made it to the cartels.

Jul. 02 2012 09:58 AM
listener

After months of ignoring this story the media finally think they have an acceptable spin on it.

However doesn't this bolster the theory that this lethal operation had political motives?
Set up gun dealers to knowingly pass weapons to criminals without any detection devices
or attempt at tracking and then blame the gun rights supporters for the carnage and then impose costly laws and regulations?
Isn't this like the government pressuring banks to make loans they know will not be paid back and then blame the banks when the housing market collapses and then impose Dodd/Frank regulations?
Even in Holder's apology he made sure he blamed Bush even though it was a different and more responsible program under Bush.
Rather than botched it sound like the program went as planned until the border agent's demise.
How many innocent Mexicans were lost due to this program and will that become a campaign issue?

Is this further evidence that political gain for the Obama Administration is the main priority above all else?

Jul. 02 2012 08:02 AM
Lorraine Conley from Tempe Arizona

Something I am learning about, to think they can get away with it they must have some people who agree with their system "if you are going to make an omelet you are going to scramble some eggs". Obama/Holder is attempting to obscure in a systemic system "if you are going to make an omelet you are going to scramble some eggs", inside of you and me, the voter. Katherine Eban may be of that belief also.

Operation Fast And Furious: The Other Side Of The Border (Part 2 of 3) http://youtu.be/G2Bb9kViNjs

435 votes of yea for Eric Holder's contempt charges isn't asking too much.

The system "if you are going to make an omelet you are going to scramble some eggs" Obama/Holder is attempting to obscure in a systemic system "if you are going to make an omelet you are going to scramble some eggs", inside of you and me, the voter.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer knew the tactic of "fast and furious" for certain Wednesday February 2nd 2011; Acting ATF Director Melson knew the tactics for certain Tuesday AM, February 8th 2011.

Friday, February 4th 2011 3:49 PM, the memo was sent. However the memo was about the meeting Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had in Mexico with Mexico's high level government officials Wednesday February 2nd 2011.

Paragraph 3 (Pg 8/9) "Propose Cross-Border Operation.
AAG Breuer suggested allowing straw purchasers to cross into Mexico so SSP can arrest and PGR can prosecute and convict. Such coordinated operations between United States and Mexico may send a strong message to traffickers.RC -6".

Paragraph 1 (Pg 8/9) "Arms Trafficking...(Please note that the ideal of holding a High Level Meeting in the spring also came up during the meeting with Secretary Clinton's visit to Mexico last week)."

Memo Tuesday, February 8th 2011 7:19 PM
Paragraph 3 (Pg 9/9) Controlled Delivery, again on Tuesday AM, February 8th 2011 this time Acting ATF Director Melson asked again to let guns walk into Mexico from United States.

Public released "fast and furious" memos.
http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2012/01/DOJdocs.pdf

(2:45/5:30) Federal Agent John Dobson I was told " if you are going to make an omelet you are going to scramble some eggs" Federal Agent John Dobson: I was ordered to let U.S. guns into Mexico - CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/03/eveningnews/main20039031.shtml

Jul. 02 2012 06:05 AM

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