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Fast and Furious scandal is much ado about the wrong thing

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm with 21 Comments »
June 28, 2012 12:07 pm

There is simply no denying that the import-export strategy adopted by Mexico’s uber violent drug cartels (and supported by gangs and assorted criminals in the U.S.) is a recession proof business model: Drugs flow north – guns flow south.

The vast fortunes generated by drug sales have created an alternate reality in Mexico, where a war is being fought against the naked greed of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). The human cost is staggering: according to an LA Times report 34,000 people have died in the five years since military operations began targeting DTOs.

That statistic fails to account for the bloodthirsty nature of cartel rivalry. After viewing many law enforcement-sensitive images of these atrocities, I am not alone in questioning our status as a civilized society. Yet somehow the scale of this ferocious battle, being waged along and across our southern border, has been lost in political intrigue.

It is only natural that our government has been sucked into this abyss, created by our craving for illegal narcotics. Most visible of our federal law enforcement efforts is the now infamous Operation Fast and Furious conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives.

BATFE, or ATF, as most people refer to this small federal agency, is currently in the crosshairs of Congress, the media and the American public. Make no mistake – the collective concerns are legitimate. The operation allowed criminals to ferry approximately 2,500 firearms into Mexico, including one linked to the fatal shooting of U.S. Border agent, Brian Terry.

Cartel violence in Mexico/ AP Photo

Gun buy transactions are tricky operations. Basic safety and liability concerns usually mandate that the suspect(s) has no opportunity to walk away with a firearm. However, when we look at the way in which drug cartels and DTO’s operate, it makes you wonder whether the ATF finally decided to toss out the old playbook for the simple reason that it didn’t work.

This is not a defense of “gun-walking” per se, but it is an admission that the shape of our domestic law enforcement models do not fit the mold in the Mexican drug war. The better comparison might be the early days in the war in Afghanistan. At the time our special forces soldiers and CIA operatives were battling Taliban militias armed with American made missiles and firearms. That detail provided similar fodder for politicians and the media, however, the fact that it was a military operation, in what soon became a war zone, minimized the scandal.

Despite the obvious similarities to the Afghan war, the ATF scandal continues. The partisan wagons have circled and columnists from The Washington Post have weighed in on both sides. Michael Gerson (Trib 6/26) is incensed that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has refused to hand over every document related to the operation. In doing so Gerson largely ignores President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege over the matter. Writing for the left, Eugene Robinson (Trib 6/22) reminds us that ATF first initiated gun-walking operations in 2006 under President Bush. Robinson defends Holder whom, he states, is merely acting under the limitations of the President’s direction.

If the opinions of these well respected Beltway journalists matter, it is only in the context of political background noise leading up to the presidential election. A more useful discussion might evolve from asking why ATF agents chose to deviate from standard practice by allowing weapons to cross the border. The answer would be uncomfortable.

Statistics on the number of guns crossing the border into Mexico are difficult to pinpoint (for starters, the two governments differ on tracing methods). No matter the exact figure, the cartels have armed themselves with American weapons in numbers exponentially greater than the 2,500 associated with Operation Fast and Furious.

Documentaries, such as the recent “Arming the Cartels” special, have demonstrated how easily individuals, even felons, can purchase high-powered firearms from private sellers at loosely organized gun shows. All it takes is a wink, a nod and cash. Stopping the uncontrolled sale of weapons would be a much better use for ATF, if only the NRA lobby would allow the agency to do its job.

Regardless of the content in the political squabble, Operation Fast and Furious was a bad idea. Partisan outrage on the issue is little more than a scramble for political capital. The important lesson to learn from this mistake is the fact that a government agency, in the face of overwhelming violence, made a conscious decision to take desperate action.

It failed. What are we going to do now?

Leave a comment Comments → 21
  1. BlaineCGarver says:

    What is never mentioned is the Bush started this up with careful oversight, just a few guns, and no deaths. Obama took his eyes off the ball, and Holder vastly expanded the game. BTW, if you consider Robinson a ….”respected….” anything, you are fighting a losing battle with common sense. He got his Pulitzer the same way Obama got his Nobel.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    Whether the points you make are correct or not, you are making the false choice I mentioned in my column. You are choosing sides in a political scandal, a sideshow that is overshadowing the vast and deadly repurcussions of the real war on drugs being waged on both sides of the border.

    Fast and Furious only highlights the fact that the usual game plan has long since been thrown out of the window.

  3. Chippert says:

    Brian, you bring up many interesting points in this column. I agree that the present hoodoo about Fast and Furious is nothing but a political game of who can fart the loudest and most foul smelling at the other “party” (pardon my descriptive language).

    We are at a huge disadvantage every time we deal with felons infiltrating our borders from the south, whether it be drugs, guns or illegal aliens. The Government of Mexico operates under much different rules than we do here. If something can be ignored, the policy there is to ignore it. If that something brings in money to the government, all the better. Morals and impact on the citizens of their country have little impact on the considerations.

    Not so here. We have strict rules that we play by, generally, and if those rules are violated, suddenly it no longer becomes a legal but a political thing. So, we so many times are forced to operate with not one, but both hands tied behind our backs, and blindfolded as well.

    I don’t know what the answer is to our southern border problems but I am 100% positive that the answer is not a political one. We need to get together and come up with a common, bipartisan strategy, one that says to the Mexican government that we will not accept their internal problems causing such great harm to our own country and that, if they fail to act, we will treat them just as we treat other hostile nations.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    One basic problem, Chippert, is that most of the felons/criminals muling firearms across the border are Americans. They are the ones with easy access back and forth, and they also have an easier time providing I.D. to purchase the weapons at gun sales. In this horror show Mexico may be providing the drugs, but America is providing the cash and guns. Mexicans are also spilling most of the blood.

    Yes, there is much the Mexican government has to answer for, but this problem would not exist without our complicity.

  5. Final_Analysis says:

    Brian, “Fast and Furious” was never about stopping the flow of firearms south, it was all about the current administration’s development of general public support of their goal to take away firearms from the public. Unfortunately for Obama, it now appears there may be withheld documents implicating his involvement. That’s what it’s about.

    The sad thing is that Border Agent Brian Terry was killed with one of the guns sold to the cartels by the ATF. And while government resources were being wasted on this idiotic scheme, politics prevent this country from effectively dealing with illegal drugs and gangs.

  6. Why do we glamorize guns when what they are meant to do
    is so absolutely horrible?

  7. Hey Final Analysis,

    The NRA is secretly arming Mexico. Mexico then can expand it’s
    Northern borders. Then the illegals are no longer illegal and the US immigration problem is solved. This clever plan is what Romney calls “self deportation” and is the Republican plan to privatize immigration. If you ever traveled to Pablo de la Casa, Mex. you would know this. Everyone is talking about it and it is all over the local Fox network.

  8. So Brian, let me get this straight.

    Guns were bought, using taxpayer money, by FBI informants, from gun dealers, over the gun dealer objections. The guns were then allowed to “walk” across the border, with zero oversight. Those guns were later used to murder hundreds of Mexican civilians and at least one border patrol agent (a fellow LEO, if I’m not mistaken). BTW, all of this is documented and can’t be refuted.

    But you say, ignore that, because (let me see if I can recall everything) it’s A) a GOP partisan investigation witch hunt, B) Bush did it first and C) the real problem is the so called “gun show loophole” THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH F&F to begin with.

    So, using your own argument, let’s set up a “free gun fridays” program. We’ll use the public’s money to buy a bunch of guns from local gun dealers, walk over to the gangs, and give them away for free. While the gangs start shooting innocent civilians and cops, we’ll go raid a gun show and arrest everyone dealing in private sales because “that’s where the gangs are arming themselves”.

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

    The drug cartels aren’t getting the majority of their guns from straw purchases in the US. They are getting them from defecting Mexican soldiers, and the sieve called their southern border, where plenty of Russian and Chinese made AK-47s, RPGs, etc are cheaper and far easier to get than from the US.

  9. rivitman says:

    Fast and furious was nothing more than an attempt to falsely link American gun dealers and semi-automatic rifles to drug cartel crime in Mexico, in an effort to gain support for more infringement on our second amendment rights.

    Obama, Holder, and the ATF caused agent Terry’s death. Any attempt to dismiss it, gloss it over, or make excuses for it is noting short of condoning the death of law enforcement officers for political gain. The coverup has been massive but poorly executed. It’s a national disgrace and Holder should be fired and Obama held accountable. As well, ATF should be abolished and it’s functions given over to agencies that can perform it’s functions competently, and with integrity. If there are any.

  10. islandernwly says:

    @Gandalf ” all of this is documented and can’t be refuted”

    Please link me to your documented material as stated in your comment, first paragraph.

  11. islandernwly;

    None of what I has said has been disputed by anyone. Those are known facts of the case. If you have been paying any attention at all to the investigation, recorded testimony, and published documents, you’d know any of the things I stated. The democrats and the justice department aren’t refuting anything (now, after at first denying that F&F existed at all) I said. What is being disputed, and why there was a contempt vote in congress, was that no one is admitting to authorizing this mess. THAT is the current issue. Not that it did or didn’t happen, but who thought it was a good idea to do it at all.

    Please pay more attention to what is being reported, and note that not one democrat disputes facts, only deflects blame. Instead of arguing the case, they try and divert blame, or cover it up. That’s why it’s so upsetting for me to see Brian, in his blog, do the exact same thing. let’s not talk about the facts, or get to the bottom of this, let’s divert the topic to something completely unrelated and use that. Frankly, I find it reprehensible, especially coming from a LEO.

  12. BlaineCGarver says:

    Brian, of course it’s political. One side of the aisle is constitutional, and the other is not…care to guess which is which? Obama denies involvment, even knowledge: So, why did he invoke executive privlege? That’s reserved ONLY for Presidential Involvment..Hmmm?

  13. clabberass says:

    What about controlling the border, why is this not mentioned. The Obama administration has made no effort to curtail the violence in Mexico, they just want a reason to regulate firearms, and it got a bunch of people killed in the process.

  14. What is even more upsetting is that to date not a single person has been even fired over this. Not one. The biggest players got reassigned. That’s it. Fired? Some people need to be in jail for murder. Four years, hundreds of dead, and nothing. All of America should be outraged.

  15. islandernwly says:

    Thanks for the reply. I asked for your links because I have been studying this case and from your first comments you have produced nothing that is factual to the documents and emails that have been produced, because what you have stated is your own interpretation about what the media has reported in its condensed version of events. Some of your facts are deemed probable, even by Issa and Grassley. All you have, that is fact, is guns bought and sold, one agent dead, guns lost, Mexicans killed. That isn’t getting to the answers as to who authorized it. If you really research all the data available, set a time line to who said what and when,with everyone from Holder, Melson, Breuer,Ventura,Garcia,Blanco,Wilkerson,Brandson and others no one talks about, you could just possibly get a little closer than you are. I too want the truth to come out. I have my hypothesis, now Its just waiting for the investigations findings.

  16. Gandalf, the most in-depth reporting so far has been by Fortune Magazine with its 6-month investigation reported here:

    The investigation also revealed how the political case became more important than the real issues.

    The “straw purchasers” of the guns were gun cartel shills, not ATF informants. ATF agents tried to stop most of the purchases at the point of sale, but prosecutors refused to let ATF agents intervene with the sales citing lack of direct evidence. (Evidence that was dismissed included such things as showing that the purchasers who were routinely buying extremely expensive guns over and over had no reportable income and sold the guns immediately after buying them.)

    ATF says that it is not the lack of laws on gun purchases such as this that is the problem, but the lack of enforcement that prosecutors are willing to engage in. It is illegal to sell to straw purchasers, but no amount of evidence could be gained until after the fact that would satisfy prosecutors.

    Knowing that they could not get prosecutors to stop the sale or arrest the straw purchasers, the ATF followed guns to Mexico so they could gather the after-the-fact evidence prosecutors said they needed. That proved a very difficult task and one the ATF was not well-suited to perform.

    Sloppiness and poor performance? probably, but conspiracies like you and Fox and the NRA ae alleging? Not very likely.

  17. Harry_Anslinger says:

    @Tuddo thanks for the insightful link.

    @Gandalf when someone request links to your claims don’t just futher pontificate, provide THE LINKS. If you don’t understand see tuddo’s post above. Thanks.

  18. tomwa007 says:

    I am afraid to mention Ollie North and the Iran-Contra affair because Reagan is a God to the GOP but is there much of a difference?

  19. Dave98373 says:

    Brian- Politics aside, we must agree that it is very sad to endure continued deaths of our youth. Unless we change our approach to this problem, we can expect more crime.

  20. Dave98373 says:

    On a separate note, if the US AG is not held accountable for criminal activity then why should anyone follow law?

  21. Brian O'Neill says:

    Good question, Dave, but which is more illegal? Turning over information to Congress in violation of the President’s executive authority, or refusing to turn it over and risk the contempt of that same Congress?

    Sounds like the classic no-win scenario that one usually finds in politics.

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