Friday, June 22, 2012

Your everything-you-need-to-know-complete guide to Fast & Furious...

Lordy, this is gonna be a long one.

I’m getting a little tired of supposedly smart people like Jon Stewart screwing up the Fast and Furious story, so I decided to do a little research on my own. My starting point was the rather well-laid out timeline Randi Rhodes started with on her June 20, 2012 Broadcast. She used the Wikipedia listing for ATF Gun Walking which itself used a Washington Post Story from July 25, 2011 about Fast and Furious to get its facts. But even she missed some things that need to be highlighted. Lord knows, Stewart screwed this thing up in his last two appearances with an appalling Fox News level of accuracy.

So, after the jump, I’m going to open with the Wikipedia page before some NRA doucebag steps in and makes bullshit changes to it. It also happens to be the piece Randi Rhodes read pretty much word for word opening up her June 20, 2012 Broadcast.

Click here to see the whole thing.

(Note: When I pasted this stuff into my word Processor, all the links came with it, except those of the citations from Wikipedia itself. Don’t know why that is, but the citations without the hyperlinks look kinda weird, so I deleted them. If you want the citations, please see the original Gun Walking page.)

2006–2007: Operation Wide Receiver and other probes

The first known ATF "gunwalking" operation to Mexican drug cartels, named Operation Wide Receiver, began in early 2006 and ran into late 2007. Licensed dealer Mike Detty informed the ATF of a suspicious gun purchase that took place in February 2006 in Tucson, Arizona. In March he was hired as a confidential informant working with the ATF's Tucson office, part of their Phoenix, Arizona field division. With the use of surveillance equipment, ATF agents monitored additional sales by Detty to straw purchasers. With assurance from ATF "that Mexican officials would be conducting surveillance or interdictions when guns got to the other side of the border", Detty would sell a total of about 450 guns during the operation. These included AR-15s, semi-automatic AK-pattern rifles, and Colt .38s. The vast majority of the guns were eventually lost as they moved into Mexico.

At the time, under the Bush administration Department of Justice (DOJ), no arrests or indictments were made. After President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the DOJ reviewed Wide Receiver in September 2009 and found that guns had been allowed into the hands of suspected gun traffickers. Indictments began in 2010, over three years after Wide Receiver concluded. As of October 4, 2011, nine people had been charged with making false statements in acquisition of firearms and illicit transfer, shipment or delivery of firearms. As of November, charges against one defendant had been dropped; five of them had pled guilty, and one had been sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Two of them remained fugitives.

Another, smaller probe occurred in 2007 under the same ATF Phoenix field division. It began when the ATF identified Mexican suspects who bought weapons from a Phoenix gun shop over a span of several months. The probe ultimately involved over 200 guns, a dozen of which were lost in Mexico. On September 27, 2007, ATF agents saw the original suspects buying weapons at the same store and followed them toward the Mexican border. The ATF informed the Mexican government when the suspects successfully crossed the border, but Mexican law enforcement were unable to track them.

Less than two weeks later, on October 6, William Newell, then ATF's special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division, shut down the operation at the behest of William Hoover, ATF's assistant director for the office of field operations. No charges were filed. Newell, who was special agent in charge from June 2006 to May 2011, would later play a major role in Operation Fast and Furious.

2009–2011: Operation Fast and Furious

On October 26, 2009, a teleconference was held at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. to discuss U.S. strategy for combating Mexican drug cartels. Participating in the meeting were Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, ATF Director Kenneth E. Melson, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert Mueller and the top federal prosecutors in the Southwestern border states. They decided on a strategy to identify and eliminate entire arms trafficking networks rather than low-level buyers. Those at the meeting did not suggest using the "gunwalking" tactic, but ATF supervisors would soon use it in an attempt to achieve the desired goals. The effort, beginning in November, would come to be called Operation Fast and Furious for the successful film franchise, because some of the suspects under investigation operated out of an auto repair store and street raced.

The strategy of targeting high-level individuals, which was already ATF policy, would be implemented by Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF's Phoenix field division. In order to accomplish it, the office decided to use "gunwalking" as laid out in a January 2010 briefing paper. This was said to be allowed under ATF regulations and given legal backing by U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke. It was additionally approved and funded by a Justice Department task force. However, long-standing DOJ and ATF policy has required arms shipments to be intercepted.

In November 2009, the Phoenix office's Group VII, which would be the lead investigative group in Fast and Furious, began to follow a prolific gun trafficker. He had bought 34 firearms in 24 days, and he and his associates bought 212 more in the next month. The case soon grew to over two dozen straw purchasers, the most prolific of which would ultimately buy more than 600 weapons.

The tactic of letting guns walk, rather than interdicting them and arresting the buyers, led to controversy within the ATF. As the case continued, several members of Group VII, including John Dodson and Olindo Casa, became increasingly upset at the tactic of allowing guns to walk. Their standard Project Gunrunner training was to follow the straw purchasers to the hand-off to the cartel buyers, then arrest both parties and seize the guns. They watched guns being bought illegally and stashed on a daily basis, while their supervisors, including David Voth and Hope MacAllister, prevented the agents from intervening.

Responding to the disagreements, Voth wrote an email in March 2010: "I will be damned if this case is going to suffer due to petty arguing, rumors, or other adolescent behavior. I don’t know what all the issues are but we are all adults, we are all professionals, and we have an exciting opportunity to use the biggest tool in our law enforcement tool box. If you don’t think this is fun you are in the wrong line of work – period!”

By June 2010, suspects had purchased 1,608 firearms at a cost of over US$1 million at Phoenix-area gun shops. At that time, the ATF was also aware of 179 of those weapons being found at crime scenes in Mexico, and 130 in the United States. As guns traced to Fast and Furious began turning up at violent crime scenes in Mexico, ATF agents stationed there also voiced opposition.

On the evening of December 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and others were patrolling Peck Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona, 11 miles from the Mexican border. The group came across five suspected illegal immigrants. When they fired non-lethal beanbag guns, the suspects responded with their own weapons, leading to a firefight. Agent Terry was shot and killed; four of the suspects were arrested and two AK-pattern rifles were found nearby. The rifles were traced to Fast and Furious within hours of the shooting, but the bullet that killed Terry was too badly damaged to be linked to either gun.

After hearing of the incident, Agent Dodson reached out to ATF headquarters, ATF's chief counsel, the ATF ethics section and the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, none of whom immediately responded. He and other agents then contacted Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa (R–IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who would become a major figure in the investigation of "gunwalking." At the same time, information began leaking to various bloggers and Web sites.

Oh, and by various bloggers and Web Sites, we mean guys like the one Rachel Maddow talked about on her June 20, 2012 Broadcast:

Yeah, that guy.

Mind you, you can read the Wikipedia link to say that Grassley's office was the leaked, but I wouldn't discount the possibility that the disgruntled ATF Agents were leaking as well.  I mean, hell, they started a damn website called

Anyway, back to Wikipedia:

On January 25, 2011, U.S. Attorney Burke announced the first details of the case to become officially public, marking the end of Operation Fast and Furious. At a news conference in Phoenix, he reported a 53-count indictment of 20 suspects for buying hundreds of guns intended for illegal export between September 2009 and December 2010. Newell, who was at the conference, called Fast and Furious a "phenomenal case," while denying that guns had been deliberately allowed to walk into Mexico.

Altogether, 2,020 firearms were bought by straw purchasers during Fast and Furious. These included AK-47 variants, Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, .38 caliber revolvers, and FN Five-sevens. As of October 20, 2011, 389 had been recovered in the US and 276 had been recovered in Mexico. The rest remained on the streets, unaccounted for. Most of the guns went to the Sinaloa Cartel, while others made their way to El Teo and La Familia.

Okay, so that brings us up to Brian Terry’s death on December 14, 2010.

As you can see, on January 25, 2011 Burke announces the end of Fast & Furious, and Newell denies publicly that there was ever gunwalking. This is where the problems begin for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Senator Chuck Grassely (R-IA). Why? Because in Washington, it’s not enough to make a mistake. Everyone has to compound that mistake by taking advantage of that first mistake, by making more mistakes of their own.

How? Let’s flash back to the July 25, 2011 Washington Post Story:

A local reporter asked Newell about the rumors that ATF agents had purposely allowed firearms to enter Mexico.

“Hell, no!” he answered. Newell said that they could not follow everyone and that sometimes suspects would elude agents, which could result in guns getting into Mexico.

Peter Forcelli, an ATF group supervisor in the Phoenix office, watched the news conference on television. “I was appalled,” he later testified to Congress. “Because it was a blatant lie.”

Two days later, Grassley wrote to the acting ATF director, Kenneth E. Melson, asking whether the gun-walking allegations were true. An answer came from Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich, who relied on ATF for his information: “The allegation — that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico — is false.”

While technically correct — the straw purchasers transferred the weapons to middlemen and did not take them to Mexico themselves — those words would come back to haunt ATF and Justice at a congressional hearing.

Remember, there was that October 26, 2009 teleconference to discuss strategy for combating Mexican drug cartels. Let me now quote a Los Angeles Times story on the same subject:

In October 2009, officials in the office of then-Deputy Atty. Gen. David W. Ogden, the No. 2 slot under Holder, sent a nine-page memo to supervisors on the border. Called the "Department of Justice Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels," it specifically instructed the ATF to broaden its scope to "identify, investigate and eliminate" the cartels. This approach, the memo added, "ensures that scarce ATF resources are directed at the most important targets."

The memo did not suggest agents purposely allow illegal purchasers to walk away with guns, and Justice Department officials insist they never approved the "operational" concept for Fast and Furious. Nevertheless, the ATF viewed the memo as marching orders.

Kenneth E. Melson, the ATF acting director, told investigators that his subordinates took the memo and came up with "tactical strategies" that created Fast and Furious. "We have to go after the cartels to stop the flow of guns," he said.

William D. Newell, then the special agent in charge of the ATF field office for Arizona and New Mexico, said "the memo fitted into how we were going to address this" problem. Fast and Furious was launched the following month, November 2009, and was run out of Newell's field office.

The October 26, 2009 is something I’d like to call from here on out the “Wow-this-shit-really-isn’t-working-let’s-try-something-else” Meeting. A memo is produced out of the “Wow-this-shit-really-isn’t-working-let’s-try-something-else” Meeting, “something else” is suggested, but not gunwalking. Granted, here’s where stuff gets fuzzy. The Justice Department did not say outright “go ahead with the Gunwalking”, but they didn’t say “Stop the Gunwalking” either.

So what does the Phoenix ATF Field Office decide to do?

Of course, they go ahead with the Gunwalking. We return you to the Washington Post:

At the meeting in Washington, a new strategy was proposed. Instead of emphasizing the seizure of weapons in individual cases, the strategy focused on identifying and eliminating the pipelines that moved the weapons. The goal was to bring down the trafficking network, not just the people on the lowest rung.

The new strategy arrived in Phoenix the next day. But it had already been ATF policy for at least seven months. The task of implementation had gone to Bill Newell, the head of ATF’s Phoenix office, and his senior managers. Newell was a 20-year veteran who had worked the border for a decade and speaks fluent Spanish.

To identify the networks, the agents would watch and document as the straw buyers transferred guns to middlemen. The agents would be instructed not to move in and question the men but to let the guns go and see where they eventually ended up.

The reasoning was that an arrest of a straw purchaser would not get ATF the bigger fish; the buyer would get a light punishment, if any, and the cartel could just find another buyer. By not immediately arresting the straw buyers, the agents could follow them and their associates, wiretapping conversations, and possibly charge them with serious crimes such as conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering.

The plan they developed was permitted under ATF rules, had the legal backing of U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke in Phoenix, and had been approved and funded by a task force at the Justice Department, ATF’s parent agency.

So you can make an argument that the “Wow-this-shit-really-isn’t-working-let’s-try-something-else” Meeting said don’t do this thing, and the Phoenix ATF Field Office did it anyway. You also could say the Justice Department wasn’t clear enough in telling the Phoenix ATF Field Office not to do this thing (which is more likely). Either way, Newell seems to be a bit of a cowboy. He launched this operation, and the complaints of his Agents when they became concerned that...basically “this-shit-really-isn’t-working” were either ignored by him or never reached his ears. (Neither scenario is very appealing).

And a month after Brian Terry is killed, Newell tries to declares victory and go home (as it were), but not before lying to a local reporter about gunwalking.

Senator Grassely, whose staff, I think has been helping leak this stuff to Bloggers like the Break-Their-Windows guy, starts asking the Justice Department about Gunwalking.  Justice, who actually is in a position not to know all the low-level details, has to ask their guys at ATF "what the @#$% is going on, because we got this letter from the douchebag who made up “Death Panels” out of thin air."

ATF responds to Justice. “No, no Gunwalking going on here.”

Two days later, Grassley wrote to the acting ATF director, Kenneth E. Melson, asking whether the gun-walking allegations were true. An answer came from Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich, who relied on ATF for his information: “The allegation — that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico — is false.”

Melson probably contacts Newell, asks what the hell is going on. Newell probably repeats the lie he dropped at the News Conference. (I’m guessing here. I can't find a story actually saying this, but the context from the other stories is pretty clear). Melson reports that story back Ronald Weich, who reports it back to Senator "Death Panels".

Mind you, this is post-2010. The House has flipped to GOP Control, but the Senate hasn’t. Grassley is not the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and therefore does not have subpoena power, but his counterpart in the House, Darrell Issa does. This would be the same Darrell Issa who has sworn to launch a 100 investigations of the Obama Administration, calling him the most corrupt President in modern times, meaning now he has to spend taxpayer money backing up his claim.

Issa and Grassely roll in Weich, the whistleblowers and relatives of Agent Terry to slam the operation.

Well, fine. That’s their right, and Terry may have been killed by one of the guns (but again, because of the condition of the bullet, there’s no direct proof of that).

All the while:

Through it all, ATF Director Melson sat in his office on New York Avenue in mounting frustration. He watched Congress pummel his agency and Issa call for his resignation while he said he was instructed by Justice to say nothing.

Melson had known there was a massive case being run out of Phoenix, but he later said he wasn’t aware of the operational details or the agents’ discontent.

After the outcry, Melson plunged into the case file, reading it at his kitchen table in Northern Virginia and on an airplane flight. It tied his stomach in knots, he said, and in mid-flight he composed an e-mail telling Justice officials that their public stance was inconsistent with the documents.

Get that? Melson gets told a certain version of events (probably by Newell), looks at the case file and learns that what he was told, and what he told Justice was essentially bullshit. This is why Eric Holder had to withdraw Justice’s Letter to the Committee.

But the problem is, things didn’t stop there.

Shortly after Issa’s hearing, Melson, a career prosecutor for more than 30 years, read in the newspaper that he might be fired.

On Friday, July 1, 2011, Grassley’s chief investigator sent Melson an e-mail, alerting him to concerns of retaliation against the Group 7 agents. He gave Melson his cellphone number and told him to call anytime.

By Sunday, Melson told the investigator he was ready to testify.

The next day, July 4, an extraordinary meeting took place: The embattled head of a federal agency went in secret to Capitol Hill to talk to the political enemies of his bosses in the Obama administration.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as crowds gathered downtown for the fireworks, Melson testified behind closed doors to about 10 congressional staffers sitting around a long witness table in the Rayburn Building. So intent were Melson and Richard Cullen, the private lawyer he retained, that they did not eat or drink for six hours.

So after reading in the paper he might be the fall guy, Melson decides to sit down with the President’s political enemies, aka the guys who have already decided he’s the most corrupt President in modern times, and are looking for ANY reason to take him down, and plays that ever-so-famous Washington game, Cover My Ass.

Here’s another thing, if Justice said “no” to Gunwalking (even if they didn’t do it clearly enough), and Group VII did it there a reason why the folks in Group VII shouldn’t be fired?

Anyway it was after this meeting with Melson that Issa got up on his horse.

Melson said mistakes had been made by the ATF. He said guns should have been interdicted in certain instances. He was frustrated that Justice had not let him speak to Congress months earlier. And he said Justice officials seemed to be more concerned about protecting the political appointees at the top of the department.

After Melson’s testimony, Issa and Grassley wrote a five-page letter embracing the ATF director and warning Holder not to fire or retaliate against him. Grassley and Issa also demanded the e-mails, internal memos and handwritten notes of 12 Justice officials who they said were aware of Fast and Furious.

I do have serious concerns that the attorney general should have known a lot more than he says he knew,” said Issa, who is holding another Fast and Furious hearing Tuesday. “In some ways, I’m more disappointed that he’s saying he didn’t know than if he says he was getting briefings and he didn’t understand.”

I don’t know if there was ever a reason to retaliate against Melson because of Fast and Furious, so the idea he was about to get fired is a bit squirrelly to me. Then again, the way "the game" is played in D.C., Melson would be the fall guy in a case like this.

But consider this...Melson himself said in the same July 25th Washington Post piece that "he had known there was a massive case being run out of Phoenix, but he later said he wasn’t aware of the operational details or the agents’ discontent.”

Wait a damn minute...

If Melson, the Acting Head of ATF did not know about the details of an ATF Operation and discontent of ATF Agents, what are the odds U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the operational details and the ATF’s Agents’ discontent? How exactly did details of Fast and Furious SKIP OVER Melson and land on Holder’s desk?

Yet this is exactly the version of events Issa and Grassely are buying because...this isn’t about finding out what happened to Agent Terry, this is about bringing down the Obama Administration by any means necessary, by bringing down his Attorney General, who just happens to be waging a war against Voter Suppression in several key battleground states. (With the theory being if you can suppress enough votes, you can bring down the administration).

So I’m pissed. I’m a little pissed at the Terry Family for letting themselves get used like this. Issa and Grassely don’t give a shit about finding out what happened to their loved one. If they did, the person they’d be roasting alive is William Newell, then ATF's special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division.

I get that the Democrats are looking to protect President Obama and Eric Holder by insinuating that the Bush Administration had a lot to do with this, and should be investigated. They did, but their role should be put on the record for contextual purposes, not for direct criminal wrongdoing. The guy THEY should be looking William Newell, then ATF's special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division.

Again, I think Justice saw Gunwalking wasn’t working. It was flooding Mexico with guns. It was increasing the violence, and not producing any indictments. (Indictments only started under the Obama Administration). They wanted ATF to come up with something else.

How do we know this? Well, if you're pursuing Strategy X to reach a certain say, tracing Gun Sales from the U.S. to Mexico to crack down on the Mexican Cartels, and you don't meet said goal (say like ANY Indictments from 2006 to 2009), and you are told that you need a "new strategy" in October of 2009...what does that tell you?

Tells me that Strategy X wasn't working, do something else.

But the ATF didn't do something else.  They went right on pursuing the Gunwalking Strategy that had produced some case, just not of the sort anyone wanted to waste time and resources prosecuting.  (Never mind the fact that Issa was on board with this same Strategy when the President had an R after his name.)

But there is aplace where the Administration is at fault. Someone in Justice decided to speak "Washingtonian" to the ATF. In other words, they played the old Washington Game of "Just in case", also known as CYA. They couldn't say Strategy X isn't working, therefore don't do it. Why? Because then one of the Cowboys at the ATF (probably Newell, maybe Melson) would find the nearest reporter and bleat out "The Obama Administration is tying our hands in going after the Cartels". Newell was convinced that Gunwalking was a winner. So whoever wrote the Memo out of “Wow-this-shit-really-isn’t-working-let’s-try-something-else” Meeting played it as cautiously as they could. They said don't pursue Gunwalking just enough not to get blamed if someone found out they said don't pursue Gunwalking. At the same time, if something bad happened, they said just enough to be able to say: "We never authorized you to do Gunwalking."

Of course, something tragic did happen.

But it's pretty clear, and this is no stretch of anyone's imagination, the Justice Department wasn't down with Gunwalking. They just weren’t clear enough in saying so. The ATF, specifically the Phoenix Field Office, and these guys at Group VII, thought they knew better, decided even before the directives of the Wow-this-shit-really-isn’t-working-let’s-try-something-else” Meeting came out, that they were going with Gunwalking. The person who made that decision was William Newell. (At the same time, I’d also like to look at ATF Supervisors David Voth and Hope MacAllister, as well as the whistleblowers, John Dodson, Olindo Casa, Peter Forcelli, who I think were bitter enough to leak this stuff to the Break Their Windows guy.)

Issa’s demand for the e-mails, internal memos and handwritten notes of the Justice officials who they said were aware of Fast and Furious only works if you’re stupid enough to believe that the Head of the ATF knew nothing about ATF Operation Fast and Furious, and the Attorney General of the United States did. And Issa is stupid enough to believe that. Why? Because he is stupid for one thing, but more importantly, he wants to believe the worst about this, and is letting that theory shape the facts, not the other way around.

And finally, let’s be clear. The President’s decision to use “Executive Privilege” isn’t the President and Eric Holder pleading the Fifth, as has been insinuated by...well, Jon Stewart among others.

No, it's telling Issa and Grassley to stuff it. Bit of a difference.

If you disputed a Credit Card Charge, and the Bank demanded you provide them with all your receipts up to the point of the disputed charge, you might find that request odd, but it. If the Bank then turned around and demanded all your receipts for the six months after the disputed charge, you might wonder “What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

That’s kind the spot the President and Eric Holder find themselves in. Issa and Grassley are asking for stuff well after Terry was killed. They want it all. There may be some things in those documents actually useful to their investigation, but 90% of it won’t be. Issa and Grassley want that 90% so if they can see what else they can nail the Administration on. So, the President and Eric Holder told Darrell Issa and Chuck Grassley to stuff it. Makes sense to me.