The 2009 undercover operation, dubbed “Fast and Furious” conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), was so badly botched that both Congress and the Administration must take serious steps to insure such a tragedy never again occurs. Thus far, no one seems prepared to seriously address the problem.
The operation was not unlike other investigations conducted by ATF with the cooperation of FFL (Federal Firearms Licensee) retailers, designed to stem the flow of weapons into Mexico. However, instead of immediately arresting suspected straw purchasers, ATF allowed them to walk across the border hoping they would lead agents to cartel kingpins.
This strategy so concerned a number of ATF agents, that they took the unusual step of raising objections within the agency. They were assured the firearms were being properly tracked; in fact, they weren’t. ATF allowed some 2,000 weapons to be sold during the operation, including more than 360 guns to a pair of convicted felons.
The results of Operation Fast and Furious (dubbed by critics, “Operation Gun Walker”) were sadly predictable. The weapons ended up in the hands of some of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels; who use the weapons to gun down rivals, police, government officials, and random citizens.
According to a report released last week by House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), high-powered guns and other munitions connected to the ATF’s Phoenix office, out of which the operation was run, began turning up at crime scenes in Mexico. ATF officials in Mexico were blindsided by the discoveries.
Carlos Canino, acting ATF Attaché to Mexico, has been particularly outspoken about the operation, calling it a “perfect storm of idiocy.” Canino’s concern is well-founded. In December, Brian Terry, a Border Patrol Agent, was shot and killed during an incident near the Arizona-Mexico border. Two of the guns found at the scene were connected to Operation Fast and Furious.
Thus far, no one in Washington has admitted that the disastrous consequences of this operation were the government’s fault. However, there are steps that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder can and should take, to assure the American people such problems will not recur.
First, the Attorney General and the President need to work with Republicans in the Senate to agree on a nominee to head the ATF. The Agency has not had an administrator confirmed by the Senate since a federal law made this post subject to confirmation in 2006. A federal agency – particularly one with law enforcement powers – operating with an “acting” director for any length of time, is an agency in which bad decisions and serious accidents are perpetually just waiting to happen; and often do.
Obama should not insist on sending forward names of possible directors completely unacceptable to 2nd Amendment advocates. Similarly, pro-gun Senators and outside advocates should resist demanding a director 100% in synch with all their views. There are many highly qualified men and women who would fit into such an acceptable group; but it must not be someone connected in any way with this operation.
Second, this mess offers the Attorney General an opportunity to clarify the circumstances and rules under which the ATF is permitted to conduct undercover operations with FFLs; implementing tighter controls and providing clearer assurances to the retailers. Holder should seize the opportunity.
Finally, Holder should make clear – publicly – he is directing the Department of Justice to conduct a thorough investigation of Operation Fast and Furious, and that he will let the chips fall where they may; even if it means heads will roll.
Damage already done cannot be undone. But if these steps are taken, some good can yet come out of this tragic blunder.
by Bob Barr — The Barr Code