Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fast & Furious = Watergate with dead people

I presented in Tucson, Arizona two years ago and got an ear full from a few friends about gun running, drug trafficking and, worst of all, human trafficking.  I'll be presenting in Phoenix in October, so I've been keeping an eye on the Fast & Furious debacle.  In light of the foregoing, and the fact that a number of the readers of the blog are from Arizona, I thought a short primer on Fast & Furious might be of interest.

For those unfamiliar with the program the federal agencies that brought us Waco and Ruby Ridge, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms  (ATF) and their handlers in the US Department of Justice (DOJ) joined forces with the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and few other alphabet soup agencies to deliberately "walk" guns purchased illegally by straw purchasers with money from the federal government across the border into Mexico.  The idea, apparently, was to allow weapons sold illegally to straw purchasers - with money provided by the the feds, aka taxpayers - to "walk" across the border into Mexico.  This would, in turn, allow US District Attorneys supervising the program to identify high level targets in the Mexican drug cartels for arrest and prosecution.  "Walking" guns, that is allowing the purchaser of illegal guns to carry the guns across the border - or anywhere following the illegal purchase - contravenes established policies and protocols in the DOJ, DEA and ATF.

Not surprisingly, the feds lost track of many of the guns "walked" across the border into Mexico.  (But they can probably handle our healthcare needs on a national basis just fine)  Ultimately, a border patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed by a Rip Crew - rival gangs trying to steal drugs from another drug cartel - in a canyon along the Arizona border with Mexico.  At least one Fast & Furious weapon was found at the scene.   Purportedly, ballistics tie the bullet that killed Agent Terry to a Fast & Furious weapon.  Later, an ICE agent named Jamie Zapata was killed in Mexico, and it is believed Fast & Furious weapons may have been found at the scene of that crime as well.

This felony STUPID program began under the Bush Administration, where it was called Wide Receiver.  Wide Receiver, closely coordination with the Mexican Government, "walked" 450+ guns into Mexico.  GPS tracking devices were planted in the guns to facilitate tracking them once they were "walked" across the border.  Mexican and US law enforcement officials successfully recovered many, but not all, of the guns "walked" during Wider Receiver.  Many guns were lost because the GPS tracking devices failed and or were discovered and removed by the gun runners / gun purchasers in Mexico.  To date, there have been no reports of anyone being killed by weapons "walked" during Wide Receiver.  The fact that Wide Receiver dodged any such bullet doesn't make it any less felony STUPID.

The US and Mexican governments wound down Wide Receiver after the program failed.  All involved, it seemed, realized how STUPID the program was, and shut it down.

After the Obama Administration took office the program was revived under the code name, Fast & Furious. Importantly, those responsible for launching Fast and Furious failed to advise their counterparts in Mexico that the "gun walking" program was being reactivated.  Further, two avoid issues related to discovery of GPS tracking devices those tasked with launching Fast & Furious simply omitted GPS tracking devises completed.  According stories published today and based on portions of the wire tap applications referenced in the Congressional Record:

The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes, was condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
Details of Wiretaps Placed in Congressional Record (Emphasis added)

If the wiretap applications, portions of which have now been placed in the Congressional Record, approve the tactic of "gun walking" because it "was intended to allow agents to track criminal networks by finding the guns at crime scenes" then head will, and should, roll at DOJ and the ATF.  Such tactics are beyond the pale and should never be tolerated.  Of course, Attorney General Holder has denied any and all knowledge of Fast & Furious prior to learning of it in the news a few weeks before he testified before Congress in early 2011, a few weeks after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.  Experienced federal prosecutors say the use of wiretaps is very carefully monitored by the DOJ, so Attorney General's contention that neither he nor any other higher ups were aware of the rogue program in Arizona ring hollow.

Having worked on and supervised numerous wiretapping investigations in eighteen years as a federal prosecutor in New York, I found these claims implausible. In my experience, the Justice Department reviews wiretap applications from the district U.S. attorney’s offices extremely carefully — Justice is mortally embarrassed if wiretap evidence gets suppressed due to misstatements, errors, or omissions in applications that the Justice Department headquarters has reviewed. Further, because wiretaps are resource-intensive and thus expensive and burdensome to conduct, they tend to be approved only in very important cases — the cases that get a lot of DOJ attention. Finally, Fast & Furious was an “OCDETF case”: the investigation qualified for extraordinary funding and resources under Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force — a coveted designation reserved for the Department’s most significant organized crime cases, the cases DOJ tracks most closely. (See here.)  It has been inconceivable to me that top DOJ officials would have been unaware of what was happening in Fast and Furious.
Fast & Furious Noose Tighten on DOJ (Emphasis added)

Following that testimony, DOJ sent a letter to Congress denying that "gun walking" occurred during Fast & Furious.  10 months later, DOJ withdrew that letter, expressly acknowledging the letter was false and that Fast & Furious did involve "gun walking".

Congress has now held Attorney General Holder in contempt because he has refused to release documents related to activities that occurred relative to Fast & Furious within DOJ after attorney General Holder denied knowledge of Fast and Furious, refused to acknowledge gun walking tactics were used and the date DOJ finally withdrew the false letter reiterating Attorney General's false testimony.

As always, the cover up is where the mistakes are being made.  The entire affair is reminiscent of Watergate, only the Fast & Furious scandal was triggered by the death of a Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, rather than a bungled burglary.  Regardless, lies have been told and answers have not been forth coming.  Brian Terry's family wants to know who authorized Fast & Furious and who is responsible for his death.  Attorney General Holder and the DOJ have, to date, completely stonewalled the investigation.  Last week President Obama leaped into the fray to protect AG Hodler by invoking Executive Privilege.  Nixon, Clinton and Bush did the same, with varying degrees of success.  We'll see how it works out this time.

If you are interested in learning more the article linked below provides interesting back ground and insights, and includes a detailed timeline.

Fast and Furious Timeline

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