Senator Charles Grassley (R–IA) and Representative Darrell Issa (R–CA), the ranking members on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, respectively, have issued the first part of a promised three-part report entitled “Fast and Furious: The Anatomy of a Failed Operation.”
The report chronicles the case from the perspective of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Were the consequences not so tragic, the report might have the makings of a good Keystone Cops script. Despite being hamstrung by a lack of cooperation by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the report does an admirable job in laying the chronology, supported by copious and detailed documentation, of what happened, what went wrong, and how it went wrong.
The ATF has a checkered history, as evidenced by the fiascos at Ruby Ridge and Waco. While agents with the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) command respect within the law enforcement community, ATF agents often do not. While it is the job of the DEA and the FBI to go after the leaders of drug cartels and other drug trafficking organizations, it is the job of ATF to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys. At its heart, Operation Fast and Furious appears to have been an attempt by certain individuals within ATF, supported by senior DOJ officials, to play with the “big boys” by targeting kingpins within the Sinaloa drug cartel.
It is patently obvious that, far from keeping guns out of the hands of bad guys, and in the interests of developing a bigger case that would attract tremendous national media attention, ATF allowed a relatively small group of individuals to buy a massive arsenal of over 2,000 high-powered weapons (despite the reticence of cooperating firearms dealers to sell them), which ended up in the hands of ruthless Mexican drug thugs with predictable results—mayhem and death. (For more details about Operation Fast and Furious and the President’s invocation of executive privilege, click here.)
Compounding this colossal exercise of extremely poor judgment was the fact that supervisors within DOJ and ATF, all the way up the chain to the ATF director and the Attorney General’s office, seemed not to understand that it was, in fact, their job to actually supervise those who were conducting this out-of-control investigation, including putting a stop to it.
As outlined in the report, high-level officials within DOJ and ATF—who should have known better and who had plenty of notice amid a sea of red flags about what was actually going on—talked about an “exit strategy” but ultimately chose to do nothing to implement one. In short, they were asleep at the switch and permitted this reckless and feckless operation to continue for months on end.
Then, when things went horribly wrong and U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed (as opposed to the scores of Mexicans who had already been killed with Fast and Furious guns, which did not seem to arouse sufficient concern), the implicated individuals decided to circle the wagons, and a cover-up began that persists to this day to prevent the disclosure of clearly embarrassing, and possibly criminal, information.
On December 17, 2010, two days after Terry’s death, a Texas ATF supervisor wrote to another ATF agent that “maybe Phoenix should start preparing their explanation for the way that they conducted their straw purchases there. They should probably hire a media expert anyway to assist them in explaining the 2000 firearms and the possible connection in the murder of a Border Patrol Agent.”
Since then, there have been lots of explanations but not much candor. The American public and the victims of Operation Fast and Furious deserve better.