By Jim Kouri
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday announced the release of the first of three new reports laying out the facts about what Issa termed the reckless Obama/Holder program commonly known as Operation Fast and Furious.
“The [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] ATF and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office failed to consider and protect the safety of Americans, Mexicans, and fellow law enforcement personnel throughout Operation Fast and Furious,” stated Issa upon promulgating his committee’s report throughout the nation’s capital.
“Testimony and a persistent reluctance to fully cooperate make clear that many officials at ATF and the Department of Justice would have preferred to quietly sweep this matter under the rug. Though they are among the most vocal objectors to oversight by Congress, this investigation has also shown that both agencies are among those most in need of additional scrutiny and attention from Congress,” claims Chairman Issa.
“The ATF wasted time, money and resources on wiretaps and put agents in harm’s way trying to learn about the links that other agencies had already made,” Sen. Grassley said.
“It’s a classic case of government agencies’ failure to connect the dots. The ATF leadership claims it didn’t get the full picture from the FBI until after the case was over. We know the [Drug Enforcement Administration] DEA was actively giving information to the ATF, but the ATF dropped the ball. Whistleblowers put the spotlight on Operation Fast and Furious. The ATF clearly needs to clean up its act, and the Department of Justice needs to make certain this kind of program is never allowed to happen again. This report provides a road map of what went wrong,” noted the Republican Senator.
The report, titled “Fast and Furious: The Anatomy of a Failed Operation, Part I of III,” is based on transcribed interviews with 24 individuals, some covering multiple days; informal interviews with more than 50 individuals; and the review of more than 10,000 pages of documents.
Issa and Grassley allege that while Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Justice Department withheld tens of thousands of pages of documents and denied access to numerous witnesses, the investigation did “find sufficient evidence to draw conclusions concerning the origins of Operation Fast and Furious, the detrimental effect of inter-agency miscommunications and turf issues, flawed strategies, delays, and an overall failure to effectively supervise subordinate offices.”
According to the report: “From the outset, the case was marred by missteps, poor judgments, and an inherently reckless strategy. In the summer of 2009, the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. promulgated a ‘Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels.’ The new aim was to zero in on the firearms trafficking networks. Agents were advised that ‘merely seizing firearms’ purchased illegally by straw buyers should take a back seat to gathering information in hopes of dismantling entire firearms trafficking networks. To effectuate the new plan, ATF agents in Phoenix convinced local gun dealers to cooperate by supplying ATF with real-time information on the straw purchases, even though ATF knew the buyers were illegally obtaining firearms destined for the Mexican drug cartels. The gun dealers were reassured that ATF was closely monitoring the transactions, and interdicting the weapons. That was false.”
The report also reveals that although Attorney General Holder admitted during his testimony before the House and Senate panels that the [gun-walking case] was “fundamentally flawed” and President Obama has stated that mistakes may have been made, all responsible ATF officials still work either at the ATF or within the Department of Justice.
“The two men most closely identified with the failed strategy of the case and who bear the brunt of responsibility for supervising the operation on a day-to-day basis, William Newell and David Voth, have both kept their jobs at ATF,” the report states.
DEA painted a target for the ATF agents
Shortly after the case began, in December 2009, DEA supplied ATF with extensive information on what would become the ATF agents prime target.
At that point, ATF should have shut Fast and Furious down, but it failed to recognize the significance of the information the DEA had shared. Instead, ATF continued with its plan to identify all the players in the trafficking network rather than disrupt or deter them through confrontation and arrest, the report indicates.
Sadly, according to the House/Senate report, hundreds of guns flowed into the waiting hands of criminals while two of the trafficking network’s customers, who were its connection to the Mexican drug cartels, were already known to U.S. law enforcement.
“Both the FBI and DEA had key information on the network’s connection drug cartels in Mexico by the time ATF’s wiretaps were approved,” the Issa/Grassley-led investigation revealed.
“This report is not intended to imply in any way that the mistakes and responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious are limited to ATF and other federal officials who were based in Arizona. While mistakes by figures in Arizona were immense, the joint Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious will issue a second report detailing the mistakes and culpability of Department of Justice officials based in Washington, D.C.”
Operation Fast and Furious was the largest firearms trafficking case involving the U.S.-Mexico border in the history of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The operation began in the fall of 2009 in ATF’s Phoenix Field Division under the leadership of Special Agent in Charge William Newell, an agent with a history of sanctioning the dangerous investigative technique known as gunwalking.
Newell had been reprimanded before by ATF management for pushing the envelope with discredited tactics. But Newell had an audacious goal. He intended to dismantle the U.S.-based gun trafficking network that supplied the formidable Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. When the Obama administration resurrected an earlier case in which his division used reckless gunwalking tactics, Newell saw his opportunity.”