11:54 AM EST, December 14, 2011
In 2004, U.S. Army sniper Sgt. Brian Kremer got a confirmed kill in Iraq at 2,300 meters using a Barrett .50 caliber rifle. While shooting like Kremer’s is the result of extensive training and innate ability, a lot of credit can go to the weapon itself. Barretts are purpose-built snipers’ weapons, easily capable of accurate fire out to 1,800 meters, a little over a mile. So the question, growing larger daily in the minds of congressmen, law enforcement officers and taxpayers is, why the hell would the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms (BATF) not only allow, but encourage the illegal sale of these weapons knowing that they would be transferred directly to the murderous gangs running Mexico’s drug war?
The short answer to that question is stupidity and arrogance. Stupidity in that the ill-conceived plan, title Operation Fast and Furious, transferred thousands of high-power weapons into the hands of narco-terrorists who have, to date, killed more than 40,000 people in Mexico, and arrogance in that the BATF refused to pull the plug on this boondoggle even after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, a 40-year old Marine Corps veteran, was murdered with one of the BATF sanctioned weapons one year ago this week.
Fast and Furious was a plan cooked up back in late 2009 that had the stated purpose of tracking and recovering weapons as a means to completely dismantle weapon smuggling operations in the American Southwest. Licensed firearms dealers were asked to go along with weapons transactions with suspected straw-purchasers who bought multiple weapons from multiple dealers each month with the known intention of smuggling them into Mexico. The process was known as “gunwalking.”
Within months, agents assigned to Fast and Furious began raising doubts about the utility and safety of allowing dozens then hundreds of weapons to walk. Officer-in-charge of the operation David Voth’s reaction was swift and decisive; in an April, 2010 email to all involved he wrote, “I’ll be damned if this case is going to suffer due to petty arguing, rumors or other adolescent behavior. If you don’t think this is fun, you’re in the wrong line of work...Maybe the Maricopa County Jail is hiring detention officers and you can get paid $30,000 (instead of $100,000) to serve inmates lunch.” His message was clear, Fast and Furious would continue and he would brook no argument from officers in the line of fire.
Five months later Terry was murdered. If the BATF had pulled the plug then and come clean, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and others would not be the subject of a lengthy and hugely embarrassing congressional hearing on Fast and Furious. Red flags began waving in November when the Obama administration made the unusual move of sealing all records having to do with Terry’s murder, and the high-level chain of command at the BATF and DOJ began running for cover, denying any and all knowledge of Fast and Furious until recently, but their excuses quickly fell apart when the DOJ was forced by Congress to produce over 14,000 documents on the operation. One, an email that revealed that Acting BATF Director Kenneth Melson could “sit at his desk in Washington” and watch live video feeds of straw purchases being made. Last week, it was noted in the ongoing hearings that of all the documents produced over Fast and Furious, not a single one was from US Attorney General Eric Holder.
As usual, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Last week, the Department of Justice retracted a letter they sent congressional investigators last February wherein they stated that the BATF makes every effort to stop arms from flowing to Mexico and denied allegations that the ATF had “sanctioned or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons.” And, Holder has been forced into admitting that he had been briefed on Fast and Furious considerably earlier than he had originally told investigators.
The true idiocy of this ill-conceived operation becomes more self-evident as the days progress and demands for action are arising. To date, no one at BATF or DOJ has been fired for this travesty and if anything, AG Holder has become more intransigent. Defenders of the operation have become more vocal as well. Last week, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said that controversy over Fast and Furious was manufactured by the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party. Johnson sought to minimize the damage the BATF-sold weapons had caused in Mexico by saying the numbers paled compared to the number of weapons sold privately at gun shows. But the charges won’t stick.
Fast and Furious, an operation designed to not only allow, but encourage, the illegal sale of thousands of weapons to straw purchasers whose known objective was to transfer them into the hands of Mexican drug lords, is a stand alone edifice to stupidity that may have no rival in the history of modern governance. Just this week, Mexico’s Attorney General Marisela Morales said that there was mounting evidence that, not only did the BATF allow assault rifles to walk to Mexico, but hand grenades as well. Morales rightfully called the U.S. Government’s conduct in this case a betrayal.
The BATF and the DOJ have betrayed the government and people of Mexico, law enforcement officers working on both sides of the Mexican border and their families, the trust and confidence of the American people and their sworn oaths to testify truthfully to Congress. It is time for both Kenneth Melson, who has stepped down as Acting-Director but remains a senior adviser on forensic science at the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, and Attorney General Eric Holder to go.
Melson can simply be fired, but Holder will have to resign before he is impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate, something President Obama most definitely does not want to have happen in an election year.