Hearing seeks answers in 'gunwalker' operation
Alphabet soup of agencies possibly involved include DOJ, IRS, ICE, FBI
Reports of witness intimidation, obstruction and secrecy filled Tuesdays hearing on what Carlos Canino, acting ATF attache in Mexico, called the perfect storm of idiocy — Operation Fast and Furious.
According to an Oversight and Government Reform Committee report, Fast and Furious began in 2009 when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) began allowing strawpurchasers to buy guns in the U.S. and transfer them across the border. The goal of the project was purportedly to identify members of trafficking networks and trace smuggling routes in and out of Mexico.
However, when the December 2010 death of Brian Terry, a member of a special tactical border squad, was connected with guns traced back to Fast and Furious, whistleblowers began to come forward with details about the nearly 2,000 guns that were allowed to cross into Mexico.
A new joint staff report released prior to Tuesdays hearing shares findings suggesting that ATF officials in Mexico were kept in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. When these officials raised concerns about the number of U.S. guns being found in Mexico, their protests were brushed aside. The Los Angeles Times reports the information was also kept from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
Tuesdays hearing included scheduled witnesses William McMahon, ATF deputy assistant directory for field operations in Phoenix and Mexico; William Newell, former ATF special agent in charge at the Phoenix field division; Carlos Canino, ATF acting attach to Mexico; Darren Gil, former ATF attach to Mexico; Jose Wall, ATF senior agent in Tijuana, Mexico; and Lorren Leadmon, ATF intelligence operations specialist.
The drama began early, with The Washington Times reporting that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has helped lead the Fast and Furious investigation, said at least two agents scheduled for Tuesdays hearing received letters telling them to limit their testimony.
ATF, in a statement, said the letters were not a threat, but were essentially the same as the standard document provided to ATF witnesses subpoenaed to testify in court.
During the nearly five-hour hearing, CNN reports that while two federal officials said they made mistakes in the program, they denied letting guns walk across the border on purpose.
It was not the purpose of the investigation to permit the transportation of firearms into Mexico," Newell said. To the best of my knowledge none of the suspects in this case was ever witnessed by our agents crossing the border with firearms.
McMahon said that with the advantage of hindsight, he would have done things differently.
However, other witnesses said guns were being allowed to walk across the border and that it flew in the face of everything they had been trained to do.
When I first heard this going on in the media about the potential for ATF letting guns walk, it was inconceivable, Canino said in the committee report. I didnt want to believe it. It just — it would never happen. Everybody knows the consequences on the other end of these guns arent going for a positive cause, theyre going for a negative cause. The term guns walking didnt exist in my vocabulary.
What these guys did was basically grab the ATF rule book on trafficking and threw it out the window, Canino said This is indefensible. It is indefensible. The ATF does not do this.
Gil, who also is quoted in the committee report, said the abnormal number of weapons originating in Phoenix and flowing into Mexico led him to call Phoenix for more information. Gil reports that the response his concerns elicited was simply, yes, were aware of it. We have an ongoing investigation. We have a ton of resources on it. Were looking at it.
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