The other day a friend asked me what the big deal was with the whole Fast & Furious/Gunwalker scandal: "Why is it a 'scandal' at all? Don't cops run stings all the time?" I told him that unless he had at least a half-hour I would have to get back him. I then sat down and started really looking at everything and realized I should have told him an hour, at least.
The facts: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed suspected straw buyers to purchase hundreds (estimates I've seen range from a few hundred to over 2,300) of firearms from Federal Firearm Licensed dealers which were then sent to drug gangs in Mexico. These facts are not in dispute. Despite what you may have read in the mainstream media there was no 'botching' of the operation. It was never intended for the weapons to be traced past the border. There was no coordination with Mexican authorities, and even the US Embassy to Mexico and the ATF agents working there were kept in the dark. Operation Fast & Furious did exactly what it was intended to do: It funneled guns purchased from US gun dealers to the Mexican drug cartels.
Let's be honest though, the acquisition of a few hundred or even a few thousand semi-automatic rifles by the cartels is a drop in the bucket when compared to drug war/military aid and direct commercial sales from the US o the Mexican government. Given that 150,000 soldiers deserted between 2002 and 2008 it is safe to assume that a whole bunch of military grade weapons went with them and that most of those weapons wound up in the hands of the cartels. No, what makes this a scandal are the program's motivations, the moral and legal questions (including the DoJ's lies and cover-up) surrounding allowing these firearms to be shipped the cartels, and the unintended consequences of the program.
Taking those items in reverse order, let's look first at the unintended consequences of the program (we'll address the question of whether they were, in fact, unintended in the motivations section). One consequence is the Fast & Furious weapons linked to the murders of two American LEOs, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona and I.C.E. Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico. At least two (and possibly three) weapons found at the Terry murder site were weapons which had been sold to a straw purchaser under the auspices of Fast & Furious and the straw buyer who purchased the weapon which killed Agent Zapata had been under surveillance by the ATF from before that purchase was made.
Another consequence would be the 200-plus murders of Mexican citizens that are linked to Fast & Furious weapons and the dozen or so violent crimes in the US which have been linked to Fast & Furious weapons. In fact ten of Arizona's fifteen sheriffshave called for a special prosecutor to investigate Attorney General Holder and any other administration officials who may have been involved. In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN Pinal County AZ Sheriff Paul Babeu stated:
"I'm fearful, not just my deputies, other officers, citizens in America that we're going to be facing the barrels of guns that have been put in the hands of the most violent criminals in North America and who's going to be held accountable for this?"
As for the moral question: What kind of myopic microcephalic moral midget thinks it is okay to ship thousands of weapons to people who are arguably the most vicious criminals in North America?!? Criminals who routinely kidnap, torture and kill police,prosecutors, family members of officials, journalists, and even bloggers? Criminals who leave dismembered bodies hanging from overpasses for morning commuters to enjoy? The leaders of the ATF, DoJ and other complicit alphabet agencies simply can not evade their moral responsibility for some of these atrocities regardless of whether the cartels could have gotten the weapons without the ATF's help. On top of that you have the moral question of ordering gun shop owners to complete suspicious transactions, assuring them that the guns they sell will be traced and interdicted while knowing that was a lie. How do you think the man who sold the guns that killed Brian Terry or Jaime Zapata felt when he found out his weapons were responsible for their deaths? How about the dealer who sold the two AK-47s implicated in the kidnapping, extended torture and eventual murder of Mario Gonzalez Rodriguez?
Now the legal questions surrounding Fast & Furious are spreading like ripples on a pond that's been hit by an artillery shell. We have, hell, they're not even allegations anymore, we have hard evidence (five memos addressed to Holder, from July and August of 2010) that AG Holder lied under oath to Congress when he stated in May of 2011 that he only heard about the operation "over the last few weeks", and was still lying when he offered a corrective statement "I probably could have said a couple of months".
We have evidence that the ATF and DoJ both deliberately gave false replies to Congressional inquiries. There are indications that, despite their denials, high level officials in the State Department and in the Department of Homeland Security were read-in on Fast & Furious, and the furious tap-dancing that Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano engaged in before Congress has only fueled speculation that they did know about Fast & Furious and are trying to distance themselves as far as possible from its consequences. Leaders of these agencies have stonewalled, dodged and obfuscated in desperate attempts to cover-up their roles in all the deaths and crimes associated with Fast & Furious weapons, apparently oblivious to the fact that they are (supposedly) answerable to Congress.
As for President Obama, despite his claims to have known nothing about Fast & Furious until the spring of 2011, we have visitor logs from the White House showing Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler visiting the President four times between May 7 and May 19 of 2010, which is about two months after he was thoroughly briefed on Fast & Furious and about two months before what The Los Angeles Times called "the height of Fast and Furious" during the summer of 2010. Even though DAG Grindler was a not infrequent visitor to the White House, out of the 40 visits he made, those were the only times he met directly with the President.
Committing perjury in furtherance of a cover-up (even if it was sufficient to bring down the Nixon administration) is the least of the crimes committed during Fast & Furious. As lawyer David Hardy points out in his blog Of Arms & the Law, Fast & Furious violated 22 U.S.C. § 2778, the Arms Export Control Act. Unless, that is, Secretary of State Clinton was lying about her knowledge of and involvement with Fast & Furious, because only she has the authority to issue the permit that DoJ and ATF would have required to lawfully walk guns across the border. Furthermore, as Hardy points out, all the supervisors and decision-makers up the chain of command would be liable under 18 U.S. C. §2 as 'principals' to the criminal act. The penalty (for both actors and principals) for violating the Act is a prison term not to exceed ten years, a fine not to exceed $1,000,000, or both, for each violation. Let's see now, 2,000 weapons is 2,000 violations . . . umm, carry the two, so that would be a prison term not to exceed twenty thousand years and/or a fine not to exceed two billion dollars for each and every bureaucrat involved, all the way up the chain to . . . acting ATF head Kenneth E. Melson? Attorney General Holder? President Obama? Thus it does become important to find out what each of these individuals knew and when they knew it.
In addition to the Arms Control Export Act, James Stinebower (Former Navy Intelligence Officer, Professional Staff Member to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Naval Attaché) writes that Fast & Furious almost certainly violated both the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. § 1701) and the Kingpin Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 1901-08), which was an extension of the IEEPA. Mr. Stinebower is in a position to speak authoritatively on this since he helped write the Kingpin Act. Furthermore the IEEPA explicitly applies to U.S. Government departments and agencies and permits no exceptions for law enforcement operations unless, prior to initiating Fast & Furious, AG Holder obtained a waiver from the Secretary of the Treasury, authorizing the op. Since Holder claims not to have even known about Fast & Furious until the spring of 2011 it will be rather difficult for him to now say he got the authorization.
On top of perjury and violations of the Trading with the Enemy Act, Sheriff Babeu pointed out in an interview with Fox-TV: "If somebody gives a gun to somebody knowing they’re going to commit murder, guess what we call them? We call them accomplices." Indeed officials in the Mexican Government have called for the extradition of any ATF and DoJ officials who authorized or participated in Fast & Furious. Mexican Senator Santiago Creel, the likely successor to President Calderone, suggested that officials should be tried in both the US and Mexico, stating "What can't happen is that this now ends on an administrative sanction, or a resignation. No, no, no. Human lives were lost here." While some might think this is an overreaction, Fox News commentator William Lajeunesse made the comparison of what the US would do if we discovered that officials of the Mexican government had enabled and permitted thousands of kilos of pure cocaine to cross into our country, resulting in hundreds of deaths of our citizens. I think calling for extradition and prosecution of the officials responsible would be the mildest of our reactions.
Now we come to the real meat of Operation Fast & Furious: what possibly could have motivated agencies of the United States Government engage in these activities? According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, "'Operation Fast and Furious was conceived to get some of the bigger fish down there,' said one official close to the congressional investigation" and according to this story from CNN "the ATF allowed people suspected of being straw-purchasers of weapons to sell their weapons, hoping to build bigger cases against Mexican criminal organizations." The only problem with this official story is how in Hades was it supposed to work? National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea (one of the two men most responsible for bringing this story to light, the other being Sipsey Street Irregular blogger Mike Vanderboegh) explains it this way:
"You don’t let thousands of guns escape into the wild, totally losing control of them, and knowing they will be found at crime scenes and traced back to U.S. gun stores, and then think that following a trail between a small-level buyer and a smaller-level user is going to lead you to the crime lord."
Indeed, the official story reminds me of nothing so much as the S. Harris 'then a miracle occurs' cartoon, and like the senior mathematician in the cartoon we should all be saying to the ATF "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."
So if the official motivation is just plain silly, then why do it? There a several different theories floating around the internet, and like so many internet theories some are less plausible than others. One I would call the least plausible is that this was actually a CIA operation to strengthen the Sinaloa cartel because they were afraid Los Zetas were getting strong enough to actually topple the Mexican government. Left unexplained by that particular theory is why the CIA would choose to buy semi-auto rifles from border gun stores.
To my mind the most plausible theory is one being loudly derided by the antis as nothing more than paranoia: Operation Fast & Furious was launched to boost the ATF's statistics showing that an "iron river" of US guns was flowing into Mexico. This would then provide the Obama administration with the pretext they needed to tighten US gun control laws. Before my gentle readers accuse me of paranoia, let me point out that the "iron river" argument has already been used to tighten gun sales regulations in the states bordering Mexico and that Operation Fast & Furious itself has been used by Senator Feinstein to call for strengthening the ATF and stricter gun control laws. Also you can look back to before Fast & Furious hit the news and see the coordinated effort by the Obama and Calderone administrations to push for more gun control. By repeating the lie that 90% of Mexico's crime guns came from the US over and over and over and over and over the stage was being set to push forpassage of a new Assault Weapons Ban. Yes it was called a renewal, but the proposed legislation was much stricter in its definitions and increased hugely the number of weapons that would be affected. Only in the face of strenuous opposition and the collapse of the 90% lie did Obama cease his efforts to get a new ban.
Operation Fast & Furious provides an almost textbook example of the banality of evil, and those who came up with the idea, the supervisors who implemented the plan and quashed dissent on the part of the street level agents need to go to prison. Period.