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Hearing On “Fast And Furious” Uncovers Serious Failure At BATFE

Friday, June 17, 2011

The congressional hearings held this week by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform revealed that the gun smuggling investigation known as “Fast and Furious” that was implemented out of the Phoenix Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) office was conducted in a reckless manner that led to the illegal sale of thousands of firearms. Many of those firearms ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels and other criminals, and may have contributed to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Some of the most important findings of the hearing and the investigative report compiled by the Committee staff include:

  • BATFE knowingly allowed as many as 2,500 firearms to be sold illegally to known or suspected straw purchasers. One of those purchasers accounted for over 700 illegal guns. 
  • BATFE ordered its agents working the program not to arrest illegal gun buyers or to interdict thousands of guns that were allowed to “walk” into criminal hands. 
  • Senior BATFE officials in Washington were regularly briefed on the operation and approved of the tactics employed. 
  • BATFE agents who opposed the operation and who raised objections were told to “get with the program” and threatened with job retaliation if they continued their opposition.

A number of BATFE agents who were assigned to “Fast and Furious” testified about the operation. 

Special Agent John Dodson, in his prepared testimony, stated: “Simply put, during this operation known as Fast and Furious, we, ATF, failed to fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations, to caretake the public trust; in part, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

Dodson, along with Special Agents Olindo James Casa and Peter Forcelli each voiced strong opposition to the tactics employed that allowed so many firearms to be sold illegally.  In each case, their objections were repeatedly dismissed by BATFE superiors.

In fact, Special Agent Casa testified that BATFE officials sent out an e-mail rebuking those who opposed the plan with thinly veiled threats of professional retaliation. “Based on my eighteen years of experience with ATF,” testified Casa, “I did not think the e-mail was an empty threat and took it very serious. It has become common practice for ATF Supervisors to retaliate against employees that do not blindly toe the company line, no matter what the consequences.”

Agent Casa stated that agents were ordered not to take action against illegal gun buyers or to seize the firearms. Instead, surveillance was regularly terminated without further action.

Agent Casa went on to describe the operation as recklessly planned and implemented with the purpose of allowing firearms to be illegally trafficked.

Other testimony contradicted the long held position of anti-gun politicians that U.S. gun stores are part of criminal gun trafficking. In truth, gun dealers regularly cooperate with law enforcement and are a crucial ally in fighting gun traffickers.

As Agent Forcelli put it: “The gun dealers were our friends. They helped us make a lot of these cases. … But the problem is then, by getting them mixed up in this thing and encouraging to sell -- encouraging them to sell guns when they decided to stop did not help our reputation with the gun industry.”

In total, the witness statements and the findings of the staff report paint a shocking picture of an operation that intentionally allowed thousands of guns to end up in the hands of some of the most violent criminals in North America.  It also showed that senior officials of the BATFE, and not just regional or field supervisors, approved of the operation and received regular reports on its progress.

The failure of the BATFE to conduct its law enforcement duties in a responsible manner and the failure of senior leadership to heed the warnings and objections of field agents directly increased the level of violence in the southwest border region and increased the threat by ruthless drug cartels to law enforcement officers and private citizens, both in the U.S. and in Mexico.  

The hearings and report also show two additional serious problems.

First, since the story of this reckless operation became known, the Department of Justice has refused to fully respond to congressional inquiries. Both Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee have repeatedly requested full disclosure and been rebuffed. After nearly six months, DOJ continues to stonewall.  Chairman Issa pointed out that even the information that was provided to the committee was heavily redacted, with most of the key information blacked out.

This exchange between Rep. Issa and Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich clearly shows the ongoing refusal of the DOJ to cooperate:

Chairman Issa:  "Who authorized this program that got people killed? Who here in Washington authorized it?"

Weich:  "We don't know."

“We don’t know” is also the answer Attorney General Eric Holder provided to that same question when asked a few weeks ago. But after six months of scandal and scrutiny, it seems hard to believe the Attorney General still cannot answer this simple question.  Or is it that he will not?

The hearings also revealed just how far the anti-gun apologists for the Obama administration will go to change the subject and try to use any crisis to advance their anti-gun agenda.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, attempted to turn the hearings into a discussion of our gun laws. He announced that the Democrats on the committee will hold their own hearings to bring in witnesses that will argue for more gun laws.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the reckless misuse of law enforcement authority by the BATFE and the agency’s intentional failure to stop the illegal sale of firearms to criminals, Rep. Cummings and other anti-gun politicians still believe that more gun laws are needed. In fact, the investigation of this scandal proves that federal and state law enforcement, including BATFE, have all the tools they need, except the leadership needed to conduct criminal investigations in a responsible manner. Clearly, in the case of operation “Fast and Furious” that leadership failed spectacularly.

For more information on the hearing, please see the following materials:

Joint Congressional Staff Report

Hearing Transcript

Written Testimony of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Written Testimony of Special Agent Olindo James Casa

Written Testimony of Special Agent John Dodson

Written Testimony of Special Agent Peter Forcelli

Written Testimony of Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich

News links:

Issa: DoJ should be 'ashamed'
The Hill, June 16, 2011

House Panel Slams 'Fast and Furious' Gun Operation Tied to Border Agent's Death
Fox News , June 15, 2011

Family of Slain Agent Seeks Answers at Gun Hearing
The Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2011

Democrats try to channel scandal into gun control push
Daily Caller, June 15, 2011

Deadly U.S. gun operation called 'felony stupid'
CNN Wire, June 15, 2011
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