What the hell is going on in this country? And why don’t our federal officials just man up and admit when mistakes have been made?
Now, keep in mind, I don’t write about politics, so this is not a partisan attack. I write about crime and justice. So, take what I’m about to say in that spirit.
And remember the name “Fast and Furious” because I predict you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the days ahead.
Here’s the back story: Someone at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF is a division of the Justice Department) decided a couple of years ago that it would be a good idea to allow thousands of firearms to flow into Mexico from Arizona to help identify gun routes and the drug cartel kingpins buying illegal weapons. The idea behind the program was that if we followed the weapons, massive arrests would surely follow.
Yeah, well — it didn’t quite turn out that way. We promptly lost track of most of the 2,000 firearms involved. And, sadly, some of those weapons are linked to the death of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent.
The official record doesn’t reveal exactly when Fast and Furious came to be, but it started sometime in 2009. The operation focused on Arizona gun shops, and ATF agents were ordered to watch for buyers with suspected ties to Mexican drug cartels. These mules were then supposed to be monitored to see which cartel leaders took possession of the smuggled weapon.
This plan was so secret our government never informed Mexican officials that it was under way.
According to a congressional report, the purpose of Fast and Furious was “to wait and watch, in hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case.” Well, that didn’t work out because there was no plan to adequately track the buyers and the weapons once they crossed into Mexico.
ATF’s field agents, who were used to stopping suspicious gun sales, began to complain up their chain of command about the weaknesses of the program. It was impossible to follow all the guns, they said, and Fast and Furious wasn’t rooting out any Mexican kingpins. The agent’s biggest fear was that the guns might be used to commit crimes in the United States. But the program continued.
And, sure enough, their fears were realized. On the night of Dec. 14, 2010, a deadly gun battle broke out in a border canyon near Rio Rico, Ariz. When the dust cleared, U.S. Border agent Brian Terry, 40, was dead, and near his body were two or three (depending on which account you believe) of those suspect firearms.
The attorney general of Mexico said at least 200 Mexican deaths were traced to weapons from the Fast and Furious program.
Our attorney general, Eric Holder, has told Congress he didn’t know anything about his ATF’s Fast and Furious program until things went bad. But then documents surfaced indicating Holder had been briefed about it nearly a year earlier. When challenged, Holder dismissed his critics as “politically motivated” and took no responsibility for the misguided plan.
Holder’s chief at the ATF in Washington certainly knew about Fast and Furious. He was getting weekly briefings and, according to a congressional report, “was able to sit at this desk in Washington and ... watch a live feed of straw buyers entering the gun stores and purchasing dozens of AK-47” rifles.
Earlier last week, Congress took the bold step of slapping Holder with a wide-ranging subpoena. The House Oversight Committee has demanded massive amounts of emails and other communications that flowed between Holder’s office and those running the Fast and Furious project. Sad that it takes an act of Congress to find out the truth.
Think of what this program did. It introduced huge numbers of top-shelf firearms into an area of the world that has suffered through 40,000 drug-related murders in the past five years. Who in the world thought the solution to that murderous drug rampage would be to add more guns into it?
The creator of Fast and Furious has never been identified, and neither has its total price tag.
There are so many questions. Why, after the scandal was exposed, were four top ATF officials in charge of Fast and Furious promoted to higher-paying positions? Why has no one taken responsibility for this monstrous waste of manpower and taxpayer dollars? Why is our top law enforcement official, Holder, being so defensive instead of aggressively going after a special prosecutor to look into this boondoggle? The Justice Department should not investigate itself.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill last June, the mother of slain agent Brian Terry was asked if she had anything she’d like to say to whomever came up with the Fast and Furious idea. Josephine Terry’s emotional response was, “I don’t know what I would say to them, but I would like to know what they would say to me.”
Someone in our government owes Mrs. Terry — and all of us — an apology. I doubt we’ll ever get one.