When Associated Press reporter Pete Yost uncritically repeated claims by anonymous Department of Justice officials that the Bush-era Operation Wide Receiver was “the same tactic” used by the Obama Justice Department in Operation Fast and Furious and other operations, I called him out, knowing the claim was incorrect.
A later article by Sharyl Attkisson of CBSNews found a dealer who participated in Wide Receiver, and acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones (himself possibly implicated in Gunwalker) agreed that gun-walking had occurred while President Bush was in office. Yet something felt wrong, but I couldn’t recall the information I had previously heard to rebut the claim.
Luckily a reader had a better memory than I, and led me to the June 15 article by Jim Shepherd in The Outdoor Wire. Shepherd’s piece reveals just how different the botched sting of Wide Receiver was from the intentionally criminal Fast and Furious:
In Operation Wide Receiver, Tucson agents allowed the sales of more than 500 firearms to known straw purchasers. Like Gunrunner/Fast and Furious, the operation apparently backfired.
Some firearms in Wide Receiver were equipped with RFID tracking devices. In Wide Receiver, it seems the illegal purchasers seemed more than slightly knowledgeable of the ATF and how to take their aerial and electronic tracking procedures down.
Knowing the time aloft numbers for virtually all planes used in government surveillance, the buyers had a simple method of getting their purchases across the border undetected. They simply drove four-hour loops around the area.
As surveillance planes were forced to return to base for refueling, the smugglers simply turned and sprinted their cargo across the border.
The RFID tags also turned out to be problematic.
Rather than making large enough holes for the tags to be laid out inside weapons, agents force-fit them into the rifles.
That cramming caused the antennae to be folded, reducing the effective range of the tags. And an already short battery life (36-48 hours maximum) meant that should purchasers allow the firearms to sit, the tracking devices eliminated themselves.
Thar’s quite a bit of difference between the two operations.
Wide Receiver sought to track and interdict guns being smuggled south using a combination of RFID-tracking devices embedded in the shipments and overheard surveillance aircraft. Wide Receiver failed because of the limitations of the technology used, compounded by the ineptness of its installation and the unexpected resourcefulness of the cartel’s gun smugglers.
As a result of the mistakes made in Wide Receiver, guns were lost: approximately 450 made it into Mexico. As a result, the botched operation launched in 2006 — and in this instance, actually botched — was shut down in 2007.
Compare the mistakes of Wide Receiver to the operations launched under Eric Holder’s Department of Justice, which had the advantages of learning from the postmortem failures of Wide Receiver two years before.