by James O. E. Norell
No longer content with simply stonewalling a congressional investigation into “Operation Fast and Furious,” President Barack Obama’s Justice Department is now engaging in a full-blown cover-up through the promotion of hostile witnesses as investigators within BATFE.
As harrowing details of “Operation Fast and Furious” —the BATFE/Justice Department conspiracy arming violent narco-terrorists in Mexico—continue to be unveiled, the Obama administration has responded by promoting a central facilitator in the scandal to the rogue agency’s central internal affairs division, a move that will undoubtedly garner fear and loathing among honest field agents across the nation.
The elevation of William McMahon to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations is seen as a warning—actually, a threat—to agency whistle blowers.
It is the latest affront by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department, and likely the Barack Obama White House, in a deceitful cover-up to thwart congressional investigations of the deadly administration-sanctioned guns-to-Mexico scheme.
As the deputy assistant director for BATFE’s Western Region, McMahon supervised Special Agent in Charge William Newell, who ran “Operation Fast and Furious.” McMahon told Congress he was in daily contact with Newell over the scheme that allowed thousands of guns to be “walked” into Mexican criminal commerce—a scheme held secret from both Mexican authorities and U.S. officials in Mexico, including BATFE operatives.
Nothing would have been known by the public or lawmakers about “Operation Fast and Furious” without the courageous efforts of conscientious individual BATFE agents who stepped forward to expose what is proving to be a Justice Department criminal conspiracy. That conspiracy—to passively watch continual violations of federal firearm statutes and international anti-smuggling laws, and violation of Mexican sovereignty—has inarguably resulted in the shooting deaths of hundreds of Mexican nationals and the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
Among the most cogent red flags over the McMahon move was a posting on the BATFE dissident-insider website, CleanupATF.org:
“The promotion itself was a message that DOJ intends to charge full speed ahead on its defense-slash-deflection of ‘Gunwalker.’ But it’s also the sound of a shotgun chambering a round for street agents … telling their agents to be very careful what they say, and to whom.”
So what is the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations? According to the 2005 BATFE annual report announcing the then-newly reorganized internal affairs apparatus, OPRSO (pronounced “oppresso”) “determines adherence to ATF and DOJ organizational policies, regulations and procedures.”
Under the heading “Integrity,” the report declares that, “OPRSO conducts employee misconduct and integrity investigations, either criminal or administrative.” It speaks of an “early warning detection system to … strengthen adherence to organization policies and procedures.”
But what if those BATFE “policies and procedures” are politically corrupt and motivated? What if those “policies and procedures” are in violation of U.S. law and foreign sovereignty, as was the case in “Fast and Furious”? Those are the questions pursued by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Coupled with President Barack Obama’s failure to acknowledge congressional oversight of the BATFE scandal and his insistence that an internal investigation will suffice, McMahon’s appointment gives more than the appearance that any internal look at misconduct will be a whitewash. McMahon’s capacity for forthrightness can only be measured by his recent public performance before Congress.
McMahon’s transfer as internal ethics watchdog came just days following his July 26, 2011 rope-a-dope appearance—as a forgetful, foggy, petulant, recalcitrant, cranky witness and self-proclaimed inattentive supervisor—before Rep. Issa’s hot-on-the-trail inquiry into the two-year-long “gun-walking” operation. McMahon gave the committee the impression that, as the Western District supervisor, he slept through the whole scandal and simply wasn’t paying attention.
If McMahon’s answers appeared to be disingenuous, the performance of his subordinate in “Fast and Furious,” Phoenix Agent in Charge Newell, was a veritable fog machine. For most of his replies, Newell spoke mostly in quizzical riddles and snoozer doubletalk. But more on that later.
Newell’s and McMahon’s passive aggressive non-cooperation with the committee was counter pointed by the dramatic testimony of BATFE supervisors and field agents, including officers serving in Mexico who had been locked out of any knowledge of “Fast and Furious.” These men spoke with revulsion as to the very concept of allowing guns to “walk”—where by law-enforcement supervisors ordered that contraband arms be allowed to slip into criminal commerce out of any possible control.
And it has been clear from the outset of the Issa and Grassley investigations that there is absolutely no doubt guns were “walked.”That truth was the centerpiece of Chairman Issa’s first congressional hearing June 15.
During the second House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, the practice was proven a certainty. Jose Wall, the current BATFE senior special agent serving in Tijuana, Mexico, told the committee:
“I could not believe that someone in ATF would so callously let firearms wind up in the hands of criminals. But it appears that I was wrong, and that hundreds and quite possibly thousands of guns have been allowed to reach the hands of organized crime in Mexico. … These firearms are now in the hands of people who have no regard for human life, pose a threat to all of us, a threat to which none of us is immune.”
His sentiments were echoed by another agent also serving in Mexico, Carlos Canino, a 23-year agency veteran and acting BATFE attaché to the Mexican government.
“Never, never in my wildest dreams would I think that ATF agents were ordered or participated in actually following known gun traffickers and just walking away,” Canino said. “That is to me inconceivable. And to this day I’m still trying to get my head around this.” He said the supervisors “went to the shredder and shredded the best practices, all the techniques that you use to investigate a gun trafficking case.”
As to fault, Canino said, “In my professional opinion, this investigative strategy was flawed. It was allowed to continue due to ineffective oversight in the Phoenix field division, and possibly beyond.”
In fact, the two individuals holding the buck on all of those scores—egregiously bad management, judgment, leadership and oversight—were sitting at the far end of the same witness table: William Newell and William McMahon.
McMahon and Newell, reluctant star witnesses before this second hearing on the BATFE scandal, hardly ever answered straight questions with straight answers. At one point, an angry Issa called Newell a “paid non answerer,” and in another exchange, U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman emeritus of the committee, warned Newell that he was testifying under oath, implying his evasiveness might be skirting perjury.
Newell’s actions during the hearings exuded a comfortable contempt for the committee’s investigation.
Further, after listening to and reading testimony from BATFE witnesses in this and earlier hearings, Newell and McMahon dug in on the central issue of “gun walking.” According to them, it never happened.
Issa and other members drew out Newell to agree that “Fast and Furious” guns that he allowed to be illegally purchased at licensed dealers had, indeed, ended up traced back from Mexico. No doubt. But as for walking?
Consider this exchange between Newell and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Chaffetz began: “You testified today in your opening statement; ‘It is not the purpose of the investigation [‘Fast and Furious’] to permit the transportation of firearms into Mexico.’ That’s today … Yet in … January 8, 2010 … you write, ‘Currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms [to Mexico] to continue to take place.’ … So it was the goal. It was the intention of the program to allow guns to be trafficked to Mexico based on this memo. Is that correct?”
Newell answered, “No, sir.”
Chaffetz shot back that he was reading from Newell’s own statement. “It also says in here, a number of different seizures in Mexico. It seems very inconsistent at best to suggest that it was not the purpose to allow them to go to Mexico.”
Newell’s answer was pure double-talk.
“Well, sir, if I may, and I’m, I’m glad I’m given the opportunity to clarify that paragraph that has been obviously well publicized. The wording in that, the way my understanding was when that briefing paper was drafted was that our efforts to allow the transfer to identify additional co-conspirators was so that we could further the investigation, takeout the whole organization. Otherwise these individuals would in fact continue in a probably a larger …”
In utter frustration, Chaffetz said, “So you allowed hundreds or thousands of weapons to continue to flow through this program and go into Mexico?”
Newell, pumping the fog machine, replied, “I’m sorry, can you repeat the question, sir?”
Then the exchange got even stranger (from the transcript):
Chaffetz: How many hundreds or thousands of weapons did you allow to be purchased knowing that they were going to Mexico?
Newell: The purchase was being done by a criminal organization, a large scale …
Chaffetz: But you facilitated it. You allowed it, did you not? You were a part of the program. Allow these straw purchases to happen so that the guns could end up in Mexico? And you know in 2009, that that’s happening.
Newell: Sir, again, the goal of the organization, the goal of the investigation was to disrupt and dismantle the entire …
Chaffetz: … the problem is you were purposely, knowingly allowing the guns to go to Mexico. And you have information in 2009 that it’s being successful.
Yet you never put a stop to it. It’s meeting the goals and intentions you laid out in this memo in January 2010and it continued on and on. And consequently there were thousands of weapons that ended up in Mexico killing people.
That’s the reason that we’re here today. When did you first know or think that guns were walking?
Newell: Sir, in this investigation, to the best of my knowledge we didn’t let guns walk from that perspective.
And so it went over and over.
On that question of “gun walking,” especially involving a straw buyer allowed to violate multiple gun laws in the purchase of 730 civilian AK variants, Chairman Issa pushed Newell to come clean:
“So from day one you had a straw purchaser with no credit, no means of support, buying hundreds of weapons, providing them to his intermediary … You had an individual who could be charged with his participation on the actual trafficking of weapons. You had somebody who was trafficking specifically for the intent of getting it to the drug cartels providing huge amounts of money.”
Issa pressed on: “It seems like you knowingly allowed these weapons to get out of your control, knowingly to someone you knew was trafficking into Mexico. You saw the results. You allowed it to continue, and now you’re telling us, ‘We don’t let guns walk.’
“Well, I’ve got to tell you, before this investigation ends, I’ve got to have somebody in your position or at Justice admit you knowingly let guns walk, because right now your agents, both the agents here today from Mexico and the agents that were part of Phoenix and part of this program who became whistleblowers, had told us you were letting guns walk.
“It’s only you and Mr. McMahon and other people at Justice who continue to come before this committee and say, ‘We don’t let guns walk.’ Are they lying or are you lying?”
Newell replied, mumbling, “Sir, in this investigation it is my opinion that we did not let guns walk.”
Chairman Issa snapped back, “You’re entitled to your opinion, not to your facts.”
If the elevation of McMahon was an in-your-face insult to Congress and to anyone deeply concerned about the rogue nature of the Obama/Holder Justice Department, the DOJ’s chief prosecutor in Phoenix doubled the insult to an unspeakably low level by slapping down the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke—another major figure in the scandal who encouraged, expanded and oversaw the deadly gun-walking scheme—opposed what should have been a routine request to qualify the murdered agent’s family members as crime victims, thereby entitling them to testify at the sentencing of the illegal gun buyer who acquired the “Fast and Furious” guns found at the scene of Terry’s murder. Burke’s claim that the family members are not “directly or proximately harmed,” and that the victim of the illegal gun buys “is not any particular person, but society in general,” was a grievous insult.
But no less grievous an insult as the one the Obama administration, through its Justice Department, has foisted on Congress and the American people by its continuous attempts to confuse and cover up the facts—facts that show it intentionally allowed guns to go to Mexican drug cartels to further fuel its desire to pass more gun control laws here in the United States.
More Moves For A Cover-Up
In addition to William McMahon’s move to a position of immense power over the agency wide question of ethics, former Phoenix Special Agent in Charge William Newell, who first was promoted to be attaché in Mexico City—an outrageous affront to that government—was then “transferred” to be a key player in the BATFE’s Office of Management. If you think the McMahon appointment was an in-your-face insult to Congress and to whistleblowers, try this explanation from the agency’s PR office:
“On Aug. 1, 2011, Special Agent Newell, who had been selected as Country Attaché Mexico City, was reassigned to the Office of Management to assist with the OIG investigation and congressional inquiry.”
The man who is at the center of an insane project with the intended consequence of tracing guns to bloody Mexican crime scenes is promoted to “assist” Eric Holder’s internal investigation of that scandal? If there were ever a question that the Obama White House was not ordering a total whitewash, this answers it.
Further evidence of the political taint to what is touted as an “independent” investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General came with a request from Attorney General Holder that Rep. Darrell Issa surrender to him transcripts of meetings that the chairman, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, had with BATFE Acting Director Ken Melson—a figure the Obama administration was prepared to crush under its bus. Since Holder may well prove to be a part of the “Fast and Furious” conspiracy, his involvement corrupts OIG’s supposed neutrality. In addition, Issa and Grassley upped their lawful demands for production of documents that Holder has refused to supply for congressional oversight.
The third principal in “Fast and Furious,” David Voth, was moved to head up BATFE’s tobacco objecting to the gun-walking scheme in a March 12, 2010, memo to the field: “If you don’t think this is fun, you’re in the wrong line of work—period.”Agent John Dodson, among the first to shed light on “Operation Fast and Furious,” has said that Voth was “jovial, if not giddy” when trace reports from crime scenes came from the Mexican government.
Who’s In Charge, Anyway?
In another strange aspect of this sordid mess, the initial announcement of William McMahon’s promotion within BATFE, came not from the acting director, Kenneth Melson—who has been cooperating with Capitol Hill investigators—but in an Aug. 1internal memo from Mark R. Chait. Many insiders say Chait, assistant director of field operations, is among those actually controlling the agency.
In his memo—coming only a week following scathing appraisals of McMahon’s lack of candor and accusations that he was far less than truthful before Congress—Chait gushed:
“I would also like to extend the same thanks to Bill [McMahon]for his leadership and work with the Western Region field divisions and IAO. While we will miss his guidance in FO, I know he will take the same professionalism and dedication he has shown us and direct that into his new position at OPRSO.
”You might remember Chait as the same official who penned a July 2010 e-mail that is considered a key smoking gun in congressional questions about the underlying purpose of “Operation Fast and Furious.”
That e-mail is proof positive that BATFE’s gun-running scheme was intended to garner power and funds to prove a big-lie campaign claiming that federally licensed gun dealers were the virtual sole source of firearms used by the murderous Mexican drug cartels.
Whose idea was it to promote McMahon?
“We are looking for anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales,” Chait wrote to McMahon and his direct subordinate, William Newell, the Phoenix special agent in charge, who directed the guns-to-Mexican “Fast and Furious” criminal enterprise.
And of course, despite specific prohibitions in federal law, the Department of Justice has blithely gone ahead with the “demand letter,” which is in reality a long gun registration scheme in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas that is being challenged in federal court by the NRA (see “Standing Guard,” p. 8).
Ironically, it was just that kind of information voluntarily provided by dealers to BATFE with respect to highly suspicious multiple purchases by law-breaking criminal buyers that kicked off “Fast and Furious” in the first place.
And in that case, those buyers were encouraged by BATFE leadership to repeatedly commit felony acquisition of firearms. In the Phoenix operation, dealers who reported obvious illegal activity were told to let it continue, and continue, and continue.
Fast & Furious 101
For those who might not be up on all the details of the ever-ballooning “Fast and Furious” scandal, a short primer is in order.
The government-sanctioned gun running conspiracy operated for two years, beginning in 2009, out of the BATFE office in Phoenix, Ariz.—though evidence is mounting that similar scams were also run in other locations, such as Houston, Texas.
Under “Fast and Furious,” BATFE street agents were instructed to stand down as felony violations of federal firearm and smuggling laws—punishable by decades in federal prison—were committed. When conscientious, federally licensed dealers reported illegal straw sales involving large numbers of guns, they were told by agency officials to allow the felonious sales to be completed on the spot and to look the other way in the future
Agency superiors thus forced field agents to passively observe the “walking” of as many as 2,500 illegally acquired firearms beyond agency control into the cave-darkness of criminal commerce—mostly in Mexico.
The absurd idea was, allegedly, to trace those guns to drug “kingpins” across the border.
According to William Newell, the man in charge of the Phoenix operation, “The goal of the investigation was to disrupt and dismantle an entire firearm trafficking network (in Mexico).”
How could that even be remotely feasible when neither Mexican law enforcement at any level, nor BATFE representatives stationed as guests of the Mexican government, were even made aware of the operation? It was top secret.
In truth, the scheme originated as a means to “trace” guns back to U.S. retailers from Mexican crime scenes in order to prove the big Obama administration and media lie—that 90 percent of the firearms used in Mexico’s narco-anarchy come from federally licensed U.S. gun dealers.
The purpose of that entire campaign was to glean power and money for BATFE—power in the form of more gun laws and more bureaucratic restrictions on the rights of law-abiding private citizens. Ban semi-autos. Shut down gun shows. Gun registration.
The logic of the BATFE/Justice Department agitprop goes this way—this is what we are all supposed to believe:
Mexican society is terrorized by narco-anarchy, with over 35,000 unarmed citizens murdered during the past four years. For the law-abiding, Mexico has the most restrictive gun laws in the hemisphere. Therefore, American freedom and the rights of our citizens must be equally restricted, since our guns can be illegally acquired and smuggled to that terrorized nation.
Proving that insanity is what “Fast and Furious” is really all about.
Some in the media have called “Fast and Furious” a “plan gone horribly wrong.” Led by President Barack Obama’s blithe admission that there were “mistakes,” the administration is saying, “Nothing to see here. Move on.”
This was not a mistake. Illegally moving guns to Mexico was the intended purpose.
“Fast and Furious,” when you get down to it, is a criminal conspiracy on the part of BATFE leadership and officials in the U.S. Department of Justice. It was a conspiracy hatched for propaganda purposes. The deaths and bloodletting in Mexico were the natural results oflaw enforcement leaders gone completely rogue.
For the planners of “Fast and Furious,” the free big-media ride ended a few days before Christmas 2010 in a lonely canyon in Arizona near the Mexican border, where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry—during a wee-hours beanbag versus 7.62×39 mm firefight—was gunned down. Two of the AK semi-automatics at the scene were the product of “Fast and Furious.”
The death of Terry, a family man and veteran, changed everything.
Were it not for Terry’s death, the operation doubtless would have continued unabated, with U.S. gun-control forces ghoulishly pointing to the ever-mounting body count south of the border to further their agenda.