“Fast and Furious” Revs Up (26)

A “straw purchaser” acts by proxy, for an ultimate possessor who is not legally allowed to buy the item — like a grownup who gets beer for teenagers or a crook who buys assault weapons on behalf of drug cartels. In the fall of 2009, the borderland ATF supervisors received a memo that urged them to broaden their scope. Agent Newell, in charge of Arizona and New Mexico, was all about scope-broadening. Selling long guns to the bad guys without even asking for ID sounded like a good idea to him. In practical terms, this meant the government told reluctant dealers to go ahead and break the law and sell the shady characters their AK-47s and whatever else they wanted. Operation Fast and Furious was underway. Later on, when Congressional committees got involved, Newell distinguished himself by stating for the record that he would do it all over again. He had in fact already done it before, as head of the program’s precursor, “Operation Wide Receiver.”

As the new year kicked in, the Justice Department contributed personnel from its own anti-drug task force, including agents from Homeland Security, the IRS and the DEA. But by March, after five months of existence, and even with all that borrowed talent, it might have been called Fast and Furious and Fail. Nobody had been indicted, and it didn’t look like anyone would be, any time soon. Plus, hundreds of untraceable guns were out there somewhere.

How did this come about? In earlier test runs, circa 2005, the agency had used RFID tracking chips in the guns that “walked.” The Mexican authorities were ostensibly on board, intercepting guns in their country and reporting back. There were glitches, and some guns went astray. Later, when they launched Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF skipped the small but seemingly essential step of implanting the tracing chips. They also disabled the international eTrace system that was set up to track weapons’ serial numbers. Also, the Mexican government didn’t have a clue, so it was not catching smuggled guns at the other end. The ATF didn’t even tell its own Mexico City staff what was going on.

Of course the ill-conceived program “went South,” as the cliché has it, ultimately causing the deaths of hundreds of Mexican nationals and at least two Americans. Worst of all, word was going around. William Hoover, the agency’s acting deputy director, held an emergency meeting to brainstorm an “exit strategy.” But it was too late. The whistle couldn’t be unblown. An ATF special agent named John Dodson spoke with with Senator Charles Grassley of the Judiciary Committee. He had also tried to alert the DOJ Inspector General’s office but they didn’t want to hear it. He went on to share his concerns with the world via CBS news, and was denigrated by his agency as a disgruntled employee and a mentally unstable one, at that. The ATF reassigned him to work under a guy who hates whistleblowers even more than the guy he previously reported to. When investigators asked this boss whether Dodson had been retaliated against in any way, he told them he didn’t know and didn’t care.

Fast and Furious is said to have spawned a dozen whistleblowers, proving that even experienced agents can finally get a bellyful of corruption. As matters progressed, an ATF group supervisor named Pete Forcelli was appalled by the lies Newell told at a press conference. A few months later, he had a difference of opinion with the assistant U.S. Attorney who supervised Fast and Furious, over an obvious bad guy with a car full of explosives, who was let go. Then there was special agent Vince Cefalu, a spoilsport federal agent with quaint scruples about illegal wiretapping and stuff. He started the website CleanUpATF.org, broke the story of the “grotesquely dangerous and reckless” Fast and Furious operation, and eventually was ignominiously fired in a parking lot transaction whose video record weirdly resembles a drug deal or a ransom exchange.

About Pat Hartman

I write. Please see the page "How I Inherited a Hells Angel"
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s