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Uncontrolled Delivery: How the Fast and Furious Scandal Leads All the Way to the White House

Morgen on October 5, 2011 at 7:32 am

With all of the speculation over whether there was a more conspiratorial, political motive for the ATF’s Fast and Furious operation (i.e. gun control), it’s gone largely unnoticed that not only have ATF officials admitted they allowed guns to be “walked” into the hands of Mexican cartels, they have also said that the operation was derived directly from a strategy put in place at the highest levels of government, including the White House. In other words, the ATF was just following orders – executing the mission that was assigned to them. If true, this would mean high level officials within the Obama Administration have yet to be held responsible for a reckless operation which led directly to the murder of more than 200 people including U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The trail of evidence, including a document to be revealed here for the first time, shows that responsibility for these deaths goes all the way to the top.

Perhaps under pressure from the Mexican government to do something about the outbreak of border violence, or just to demonstrate that a Democratic administration can be tough on crime, President Obama ordered a revamp of the government’s strategy to deal with the Mexican drug cartels soon after assuming office. Here’s what he had to say about this at only his second press conference on March 24, 2009 (emphasis added):

President Calderon has been very courageous in taking on these drug cartels. We’ve got to also take some steps. Even as he is doing more to deal with the drug cartels sending drugs into the United States, we need to do more to make sure that illegal guns and cash aren’t flowing back to these cartels. That’s part of what’s financing their operations, that’s part of what’s arming them, that’s what makes them so dangerous. And this is something that we take very seriously and we’re going to continue to work on diligently in the months to come.

Just two weeks earlier the White House had announced the nomination of Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy – the new Drug Czar. At a press conference introducing Kerlikowske to the nation, Vice President Biden said the following (emphasis added):

And as drug czar the Chief will play a central role in developing and implementing a southwest border strategy — one that improves information sharing, harnesses the power of new technologies, strengthens federal, state and local law enforcement efforts against violent criminals, and increases the interdiction of both drugs coming into the United States and weapons and cash flowing out of the United States into Mexico. It’s a strategy that we need to bring in order to bring the situation under control, to protect our people, and to bring about the demise of the Mexican drug cartels.

The National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy was jointly released by Kerlikowske, Attorney General Eric Holder, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on June 5, 2009. It was the first time that stemming the illegal purchase and transport of firearms was incorporated as a central component of a federal drug enforcement strategy. From the introduction to the report (emphasis added):

As the President has stated, stemming the inbound flow of narcotics and other contraband is not enough. We must acknowledge the full range of factors that contribute to the current situation on the Southwest border in order to successfully address it. In Chapters 6 and 7, this strategy provides a plan to support the dedicated efforts of the Mexican Government in its fight against the cartels by addressing the role that the United States plays as a supplier of illegal cash and weapons to the cartels.

Just three months later operation Fast and Furious was commenced by the ATF. In testimony to the congressional committee investigating Fast and Furious on July 26, 2011, William Newell, the ATF agent in charge, linked the operation directly to the Southwest Border strategy produced by the White House.

The DOJ Strategy recognized the ineffectiveness of merely interdicting weapons absent identifying and eliminating the sources and networks responsible for transporting them. It was [with] this guidance in mind that Operation “Fast and Furious” originated.

Another document cited by Agent Newell as justification for Fast and Furious reads like a smoking gun for this whole scandal. “Project Gunrunner: a Cartel Focused Strategy“, published by the ATF in September 2010 just 3 months before Brian Terry was killed, makes crystal clear two things. First, that this strategy was a departure from past practices at the ATF, and second that the strategy came down from the White House and the DOJ:

Furthermore, over the past few months enforcement strategies (and other guidance) that address firearms trafficking to Mexican cartels have been developed and released by the White House and the Department of Justice. It is essential that ATF efforts support strategies promoted by the White House and Department of Justice. An examination of these and other strategies reveals similarities among the strategies, but also suggests that some revisions to ATF’s current strategy are necessary.

What type of revisions?

The strategy is premised on the notion that a significant share of the violence, drug trafficking and corruption along the Southwest border is perpetrated by a relatively small number of hierarchical criminal organizations. The DOJ strategy concludes that “the most effective mechanism to attack those organizations is the use of intelligence-based, prosecutor-led multi-agency task forces that attack all levels of, and all criminal activities of, the operations of the organizations.” A significant component of the DOJ strategy pertains to attacking the southbound flow of firearms. The strategy states that “given the national scope of this issue, merely seizing firearms through interdiction will not stop firearms trafficking to Mexico. We must identify, investigate, and eliminate the sources of illegally trafficked firearms and the networks that transport them.”

If “merely seizing firearms” was deemed an ineffective strategy for halting weapons smuggling into Mexico, it’s easy to surmise how the decision was made to not seize them. As we now know, ATF allowed guns to walk in order to, as the document states, “identify, investigate, and eliminate the sources of illegally trafficked firearms and the networks that transport them.” This is consistent with Agent Newell’s Fast and Furious testimony where he stated: “our agents, in compliance with ATF policy, were engaged in a strategic effort to determine who the decision makers and actual purchasers of the firearms were in order to disrupt the entire criminal organization”.

This is the only plausible law enforcement justification for the ATF’s decision to knowingly allow the transfer of firearms into the hands of the Mexican cartels. The goal was to gather intelligence on the criminal networks responsible for smuggling guns – and drugs – to and from Mexico. It’s important to note here that Fast and Furious was actually part of a multi-agency task force focused on Organized Crime Drug Enforcement, the OCDETF, funded and overseen by the Department of Justice. The operation wasn’t just linked to the Administration’s drug enforcement strategy by a series of documents, it was funded and overseen by an agency task force focused on bringing down the Mexican drug cartels.

It should come as no surprise then that the ATF tactic which is at the heart of this scandal, gun-walking, is derived from a law enforcement technique much more commonly used to prosecute drug dealers. The law enforcement term for intentionally allowing contraband into criminal hands for the purpose of gathering evidence is a controlled delivery. With one notable exception, the ATF’s actions under Fast and Furious conform perfectly to the textbook definition of an international controlled delivery:

The term is defined as: the technique of allowing illicit or suspect consignments of firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials to pass out of, through, or into the territory of one or more states, with the knowledge and under the supervision of their competent authorities, with a view to identifying persons involved in the commission of offenses…

This was the stated goal behind Fast and Furious, to “identify, investigate, and eliminate the sources of illegally trafficked firearms.” Allowing these firearms to cross the border into Mexico was the tactic employed to achieve it. In other words, these were controlled deliveries, or perhaps more accurately un-controlled deliveries since, clearly, the guns did not remain “under the supervision of their competent authorities.” In any case, this is the only legal justification for any government authority to knowingly and lawfully allow the sale or transfer of any illicit material, especially across international borders.

At this point, the direct line between the tactics employed by the ATF under Fast and Furious and the White House and DOJ strategy which spawned the operation should be pretty clear. This started with a goal set by the President; was quickly translated into a detailed strategy overseen by the new White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske; and then in a matter of months was put into action by the DOJ/ATF with Fast and Furious, and no doubt other operations that have not received the same attention. The DOJ’s announcements on Project Xcellerator and Project Coronado are just two examples of the type of results the top brass no doubt hoped to achieve with Fast and Furious. But that all changed with the death of agent Terry in December 2010.

The facts seem indisputable on this, but one question still remains: did Eric Holder, Janet Napolitano, Gil Kerlikowske, or anyone else within the upper levels of the Administration know the ATF was going to implement their strategy by allowing the illegal purchase and transfer of firearms? In other words, did they tacitly if not explicitly approve of the use of controlled deliveries, or gun walking, by the ATF to achieve the Administration’s goals?

A document which has not previously come to light in the context of this story strongly suggests that the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, and that the idea for the operation itself may even have originated directly from the White House. In a statement by Gil Kerlikowske on June 5, 2009 announcing the Southwest Border strategy (published in a document subsequently removed from the White House web site) he said the following (emphasis added):

We won’t beat back this tough challenge through border interdiction alone. The best way to partner with President Calderon and the Mexican authorities is to gain a deep understanding of the traffickers’ operations. That means we have to collect, analyze, and disseminate vast quantities of information, invest the time in complex investigations, use all of the legal investigatory tools available to us, and conduct operations such as controlled deliveries of drugs, money, and weapons which enable us to see deeply into drug trafficking organizations.

This is Fast and Furious in a nutshell, outlined by a direct adviser to President Obama three months before the program even existed. It was a DOJ/ATF sanctioned transfer of firearms to known criminals in order to “see deeply into” the networks responsible for trafficking guns into Mexico. A tactical implementation of the anti-cartel strategy published by Kerlikowske’s office within the White House, and formulated with the direct participation of Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, in response to President Obama’s directive. This was a major law enforcement focus for the Administration, with Holder and Napolitano also participating in the event launching the Southwest Border strategy.

From the outset of this scandal observers have questioned how a decision as monumental as allowing guns to walk into Mexico, with such obvious diplomatic and national security implications, could have been made without explicit approval from the highest levels of our government. It simply defies belief that such a decision would be made by agents in the field. But what if not only the underlying strategy, but also the decision to allow the gun-walking tactic itself, was directed by the White House and/or the DOJ? The evidence presented here is clearly suggestive of that possibility, and would go a long way towards explaining the delaying tactics, and the false or misleading statements put out by officials from the DOJ and ATF in response to the congressional investigation. The cover-up in other words, with Eric Holder’s potential perjury being the most recent and glaring example.

The shame of it is that there is actually a lot to commend in the Administration’s strategy for dealing with the Mexican cartels, and in the speed with which they put this strategy into action. Few would disagree that government resources should be directed at rooting out the drug cartel networks and prosecuting higher level conspirators, and gathering intelligence is undoubtably the most effective way to do this. But things must have been moving too fast, and too furious, given the irresponsible and ultimately tragic decision to allow guns to disappear into the hands of known criminals. It’s well past time for those ultimately responsible for this operation to accept the consequences for their actions.

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Category: Crime & the Law |

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