by James O.E. Norell, Contributing Editor
THE SCANDAL SPREADS
You have to look back at recent history to understand the origins and true danger to our liberty from Operation Fast and Furious, the star-crossed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives scheme to covertly and passively supervise the felonious acquisition, transfer and international smuggling of thousands of firearms into Mexican criminal commerce.
But first, be aware that the continuing steadfast efforts of two federal legislators, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are revealing government corruption and possible criminality on an increasingly broad scale.
There is no doubt that officials at the BATFE, with the concurrence of United States attorneys and higher authorities in the U.S. Department of Justice, are directly responsible for some percentage of armed violence, including murder and mayhem, on both sides of the border. Among those government-assisted crimes is the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Nogales, Ariz., in December 2010—an act that opened the scandal to ever-widening public scrutiny. That act has also prompted resistance and cover-ups on the part of the Obama administration.
Operation Fast and Furious is the spawn of a larger border-state federal effort that began to take malignant form at the outset of the Obama administration. That original scheme hatched by BATFE was tagged Project Gunrunner, and was sold to an unquestioning spendthrift Congress as an $80 million answer to the agency's propaganda campaign claiming that the murderous Mexican drug cartels, with their hundreds of billions of dollars in illegal profits, were getting virtually all of their arms from BATFE-regulated U.S. firearm retailers.
That campaign was based on BATFE's ubiquitous phony answer to crime—gun tracing (we'll get to that later). When the agency-scripted talking points first surfaced, the newly manufactured "crisis" was summed up by USA Today: "ATF acting director Michael Sullivan said investigators have traced 90 to 95 percent of the weapons found in Mexico to the U.S."
The media frenzy—to blindly believe what should have been obviously unbelievable—grew exponentially, and was immediately adopted by the Obama administration as a mantra for demanding a host of new powers to control law-abiding gun owners.
Early in Obama's presidency, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel declared what would be a catchphrase for Obama's every rule over his subjects: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
For an administration hell-bent on destroying the Second Amendment, the perfect exploitable "crisis" existed in Mexico, where drug cartels—$100 billion illegal profit centers—have become the dominant power through sheer terror. Mexico, then and now, is controlled by the cartels through a reign of terror marked by torture, beheadings and mass killings of the entire families of anyone with the courage to stand in the way of the cartels. A Mexican government database lists 35,000 victims of cartel assassination.
The crisis in Mexico is all too real. Fear is palpable. Drawing on natural fear in a foreign nation, the Obama administration has created a fictional domestic crisis for which the "solution" spells a loss of liberty for Americans.
Headlines such as "Lax U.S. Gun Laws Fueling Mexico's Drug Violence?" and "U.S. Guns Arming Mexican Drug Gangs: Second Amendment to Blame?" and "The Drug Cartel's Right to Bear Arms" dominated national news.
The story was everywhere in the national media. And the PR flacks at BATFE and among the gun-ban groups were working overtime.
A lengthy piece in the October 2010 issue of Phoenix Magazine was typically hysterical with this uppercased lead:
"As concerns mount over the potential for Mexican drug cartel violence to spill over the border, a steady flow of firearms south from Phoenix is helping give the cartels their lethal firepower."
That hit piece—fed to the publication by the United States attorney and BATFE leadership—was melodramatically titled, "THE IRON RIVER."
The Washington Post ran a series—doubtless also spoon-fed by BATFE—listing a number of border-state dealers the newspaper labeled as major suppliers to the cartels. Among them was a Houston, Texas, federal firearms licensee, Carter's Country. Remember that for later.
All of this was accompanied by shrill cries for new gun control from high levels of the Obama administration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on multiple occasions told officials in Mexico that our gun stores were supplying the bloodlust of the criminal drug bosses south of the border. In essence, she was saying that our freedom was the major contributor to their anarchy.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón also joined the fray, addressing the U.S. Congress and demanding that the answer to his total loss to the cartels of domestic control in his own nation could be cured by a U.S. ban on semi-automatic rifles—a new version of the Clinton gun ban.
Consequently, there are now administrative proposals in the works to register semi-automatic rifles under the guise of multiple sales reporting, something only an act of Congress could accomplish. Attorney General Eric Holder was acquiescing in that international demand for a new version of the Clinton gun ban, telling his adoring press that prohibiting Americans from owning certain guns "will have a positive impact in Mexico at a minimum."
Further, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano—while absolutely refusing to do anything to secure the nation's porous borders, which have been a gateway to Mexican criminals bringing their drugs and violence to American communities—threw her weight onto the blame-our-freedom crowd.
Given all the media and administration propaganda, Project Gunrunner was happily in place, funded and re-funded, humming along, doing basically nothing. It was a self-perpetuating machine with hundreds of agents and inspectors, researchers and office workers at its disposal. Agents transferred to new satellite offices from their real law enforcement jobs complained about the boredom. This was busywork doing little more than sucking up tax dollars.
BATFE even got an additional $10 million in 2009 emergency economic stimulus funds that were supposed to be used for creating jobs in the civilian marketplace. The only jobs they apparently created were for criminals running BATFE-sanctioned guns to Mexico.
In the grand scheme of things, the original projected target of all of this was not smugglers and criminals, but American gun stores, according to Robert Sanders, former head of enforcement for BATF in the late 1980s and now a highly successful attorney defending victims of agency abuse.
"When they started this thing, the premise was that the bad guys were the dealers," Sanders told America's 1st Freedom in an exclusive interview. "The whole original object of this fiasco was to prove dealers were supplying the cartels. And they had nothing to show for it since it wasn't true."
In fact, the biggest BATFE prosecution based on the dealer-as-evil-doer theory was a hugely publicized case to bring down a Phoenix FFL holder, George Iknadosian, owner of X-Caliber Guns. Iknadosian was the subject of a BATFE sting operation using criminals as undercover operatives and culminating in his May 2008 arrest.
It was all a setup. A phony. The federal case was so weak that federal prosecution was declined. In a bizarre turn, the feds then conned a local prosecutor to use federal evidence and federal witnesses in a state court, where different law prevailed.
One of the historical hallmarks of BATFE operations is that the agency subjects its targets to a pre-trial media inquisition. And the media is usually all too willing to be used. Iknadosian's prosecution is a case in point. The media frenzy was remarkable, all the way up to his March 2009 trial in Arizona state court.
"Gun Runners Send Thousands Of Weapons From The U.S. To Mexico, Fueling That Country's Drug Wars" was CBS's heading in its coverage of the opening trial day.
The story led with this: "In Phoenix Monday, a gun dealer went on trial for supplying assault rifles to Mexican drug gangs who are locked in a bloody war with authorities. …
"'Firearms trafficking to Mexico is a huge problem,' says Phoenix ATF agent William Newell. 'Drugs go north, guns come south.'"
The CBS story continued, "George Iknadosian is accused of being a top gun-supplier. When government agents raided his Phoenix gun shop last May, they found hundreds of weapons allegedly destined for Mexico."
The story also included the by-now obligatory Obama administration boilerplate about our freedom being responsible for Mexican carnage.
"Mexican law makes it nearly impossible to buy guns there legally. But less restrictive laws in the U.S. keep the firearms flowing over the border." Is something wrong with this logic? "Impossible to buy guns legally" is obviously a deterrent to the cartels, so they bypass those laws to violate ours?
After receiving massive media coverage claiming the dealer was a major gun supplier to the cartels, the Arizona trial judge threw out all 21 charges, saying the evidence and testimony was "not material."
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Gottsfield on March 18, 2010, actually threw the case out before the prosecution had finished, saying "The state's case is based upon testimony of individuals who [alleged] … that they were the actual purchaser of the firearms when they were not … There is no proof whatsoever that any prohibited possessor ended up with the firearm."
So in the end, in this highest profile of cases, there was no evidence that any guns went to Mexico or supplied the cartels.
The Washington Post's coverage of the verdict of acquittal devoted one paragraph to the actual case, saying it was ironic that the trial had begun "just as President Obama called for new attention to the flow of weapons from the United States to the drug cartels inside Mexico." The rest of the story was brazenly repeating the big lie that gun dealers were evildoers.
Buried in the early coverage of this prosecutorial travesty was a comment by BATFE Special Agent Carlos Baixauli that was extraordinarily prescient with respect to the current BATFE scandal wracking the U.S. Justice Department:
"The bottom line is illegal gun trafficking is not only destroying Mexico, but some of these guns may get back to the United States. It puts our law enforcement officers in danger, and in Mexico, it decimates law enforcement." (Emphasis added.)
But remember, in the Iknadosian case—despite the government innuendo and the media's widespread slander—there wasn't a single sting gun that ended up in Mexico. Not a single sting firearm ended up in the hands of the cartels. Not a single gun in the sting was used in a crime other than the straw sales crimes committed by the BATFE's undercover operatives.
It took a new operation by the BATFE—Operation Fast and Furious—to fulfill Agent Baixauli's prediction.
This time, real guns were provided to the real bad guys in Mexico courtesy of the leadership of the BATFE, with the repeated approval of the Justice Department.
Fast and Furious was a crash response to back-to-back 2009-10 internal Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that excoriated BATFE for the total flop of Project Gunrunner.
In a word, the OIG reports said that the $80 million Project Gunrunner was worthless. "ATF has not focused its enforcement on complex conspiracy investigations with multiple defendants," and the agency's meager efforts "involved straw purchasers and corrupt dealers, not those who organize and command the trafficking operations."
The earlier of the two reports blasted the agency for having almost no Spanish speakers among its ranks, and virtually no on-the-ground presence in Mexico.
So, with none of those requisites, and with absolutely nothing to prove its gun-dealer-to-cartel gun smuggling claim, the BATFE leadership came up with a brilliant idea. Let me paraphrase what the leadership might have been thinking:
"Instead of using fake straw purchasers in a sting, let's make use of the real deal. Wait until real criminals show up at dealers, committing real felonious acquisition of firearms, then passively encourage those criminals to commit lots more crimes. Lots of crimes might show that BATFE is on top of one of those elusive trafficking operations with multiple offenders the OIG seeks."
A chart produced by BATFE and released by Sen. Grassley and Rep. Issa shows just how insanely out-of-line the whole criminal-watch program was. The chart lists a number of "monitored" criminals; how many guns they had bought before they were entered in the gun-smuggler monitoring scheme; and how many guns they bought while under the surveillance of BATFE.
And this brings us to the example of Carter's Country, a four-location federally licensed dealer in Houston—one among many picked out by The Washington Post as a source of guns to Mexico. It was another one of those "tracing" hit-jobs dripping with guilt by innuendo with selective information planted by BATFE media puppeteers:
"Carter's Country was one of Texas's leading gun stores for firearms traced from Mexican crime scenes in the past two years. More than 115 firearms sold by Carter's Country were recovered by Mexican police and military."
The Post story failed to mention that Carter's Country was among those fully assisting the feds, having alerted BATFE to questionable sales at the outset. Dick DeGuerin, the high-profile Texas defense attorney, told KRIV-TV news that Carter's Country and its employees "have been co-operating with ATF from the get-go."
After company officials reported what they thought might be "straw sales" or attempts to purchase a volume of guns, "They were told to go through with what they considered to be questionable sales—sales from three or more assault rifles at the same time or five or more or the sale of nine millimeter guns at the same time or young Hispanic males paying in cash … they reported them promptly, even while the transaction was going on or soon thereafter. They did this for months, and months, and months. Went through with the sales because the ATF told them to go through with the sales.
"If the ATF used the information that Carter's Country developed for them," Deguerin said, "they could have stopped these guns from going across the border."
It is very likely that the "before" numbers on BATFE's chart came from dealers like Carter's Country, who also alerted BATFE and were told to keep on selling. In the meantime, BATFE was videotaping the felonious gun buyers instead of arresting them.
The chart identifies the criminal purchasers as "indicted targets," but that title was only bestowed on them following the revelations that two Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Terry's death.
On the list, one individual stands out as a gold-star performer. He had been brought to the attention of BATFE after buying 59 guns, and was "monitored" buying an additional 661 guns. That's a total of 720 felonious acquisitions. BATFE not only allowed the mega-felonies to proceed, they monitored the guns all the way to the border, where they vanished into darkest Mexico in criminal commerce.
The total number of guns memorialized on the chart was 1,725, with serial gun and smuggling crimes distributed among 15 "indicted targets." The chart also lists 250 guns that have been traced to the operation after they were recovered at crime scenes, mostly in Mexico. Mexican authorities are claiming hundreds of its citizens have been killed with those firearms.
The chart accompanied a Jan. 8, 2010, briefing paper in which BATFE officials said Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke was repeatedly kept informed and concurred with the scheme.
As for the grand plan to meet the OIG expectations of nailing Mexican drug lords and bringing down international trafficking operations, the memo includes a whiny afterthought with a profound meaning:
"It is unknown at this time what direct connection exists between those straw-purchasers and the drug trafficking organizations (DTOS) in Mexico."
It was unknown because the BATFE operation to oversee guns run into criminal commerce in that sovereign nation was kept totally secret from the Mexican government, and even from BATFE's own attaché in Mexico. The only way BATFE or the Justice Department would know the whereabouts of their "monitored" criminal guns was when they ended up at crime scenes.
This admission is the key to something else—perhaps the most important element in this whole sordid mess.
In covering the revelations about the evils of Operation Fast and Furious, many people on the right side of the story repeat the phony mantra that these "walked" guns went to the cartels.
They might have gone to criminals for certain, or disarmed honest Mexicans wishing to defend themselves against cartel or corrupt government violence may have bought some of them. But as we said in last month's feature ("Project Gunrunner," June 2011, p. 36), it isn't logical to assume that a ruthless group of ultra criminals rolling in billions of dollars in drug profits, who run highly sophisticated international drug shipping operations involving DC-10 airliners and surplus military submarines are going to bother with buying guns a few at a time from U.S. firearm retailers.
There was one other finding in the November 2010 final OIG report slamming Project Gunrunner that is key to exposing the gun store-to-cartel big lie. The rebuttal to the ever-repeated 90 percent nexus is covered in an OIG footnote.
In the beginning, the claim about 90 percent of the cartel guns in Mexico being from U.S. retailers was based on tracing data—information the OIG report said was useless to Mexican authorities, but is the raison d'etre of BATFE.
The OIG tracing stunner was buried in a footnote:
"[I]n September 2010, in response to a draft of this report, ATF told the OIG that the 90 percent figure cited to Congress could be misleading because it applied only to the small portion of Mexican crime guns that are traced. ATF could not provide updated information on the percentage of traced Mexican crime guns that were sourced to (that is, found to be manufactured in or imported through) the United States."
The 90 percent factoid—repeated over and over by the media, the Brady Campaign, the Violence Policy Center, Mayor Bloomberg, the White House, Attorney General Holder and DHS Secretary Napolitano—was revealed as fabricated garbage nearly a year ago!
A federal agent is dead because of it. And a growing number of Mexican citizens are dead because of it.
When you get down to it, all of the carnage of Fast and Furious—carnage that will continue long into the future—was created to prove a fraudulent statistic.
And that's the operation's true shame.