On October 5, 1986, a former U.S. Air Force C-123 transport plane was shot down in Nicaragua. The pilots and radio operator perished when the plane crashed, but a former U.S. Marine who was a cargo handler on the aircraft was able to parachute to safety. He was captured by the Nicaraguan government.
The former Marine, Eugene Hasenfus, claimed to be a cargo handler for the CIA. His capture and trial began the unraveling of what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair, which saw 14 Reagan-era officials indicted and eleven convictions for a plot that traded arms to Iran for hostages and illegally funded Nicaragua’s anti-communist rebels.
On December 14, 2010, a special unit of the U.S. Border Patrol came across a group of heavily armed suspects near Rio Rico, Arizona. The Border Patrol team identified themselves as law enforcement officers, at which point the armed men open fire. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was hit in the pelvis by a single bullet and died the next morning. One of the suspects was captured, and two AK-pattern semiautomatic rifles recovered at the scene were identified by serial number as weapons that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) — acting in concert with and with the blessing of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — allowed weapons smugglers to purchase at U.S. gun shops. The weapons were just two of more than 2,000 firearms that ATF supervisors and the highest levels of DOJ management allowed to be “walked” across the border to narco-terrorist drug cartels in Mexico, in a scandal that promises to be more damning and deadly than Iran-Contra.
The ATF named their operation Fast and Furious, but it will go down in history by its more descriptive title: “Gunwalker.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding hearings this week on Gunwalker, and seems to be squaring up for a political duel with the Obama administration, which is seeking to block all access to official information about the operation. To date, the information collected by the committee has come from ATF whisteblowers, agents inside the operation who fought against senior government officials who were “giddy” over the death and violence from the roughly 2000+ weapons that they allowed smugglers to take across the border — weapons that seemed to be raising the body count in what was arguably becoming a Mexican civil war.
A damning and detailed 51-page report — The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Accounts of ATF Agents (.pdf) — was released by the committee on Tuesday. The report captured testimony from ATF field agents who fought with their supervisors over orders that flew in direct contradiction to their primary order: to always follow the suspect with the gun and always interdict to keep the weapon from being used in a crime.
The report’s findings:
“DOJ and ATF inappropriately and recklessly relied on a 20-year-old ATF Order to allow guns to walk.” The agencies misrepresented the intention of the order to justify their actions.
“Supervisors told the agents to ‘get with the program’ because senior ATF officials had sanctioned the operation.” At least one agent was cautioned that if he didn’t stop complaining about the dangerous nature of the operation, he would find himself out of a job, and lucky to be working in a prison.
“Operation Fast and Furious contributed to the increasing violence and deaths in Mexico. This result was regarded with giddy optimism by ATF supervisors hoping that guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico would provide the nexus to straw purchasers in Phoenix.” ATF officials were seemingly unconcerned over the deaths of Mexican law enforcement officers, soldiers, and innocent civilians, noting that you had to “scramble a few eggs” to make an omelette, in a callous disregard of human life.
Senior ATF personnel including Acting Director Ken Melson, and senior Department of Justice officials at least up to an assistant attorney general, were well aware of and supported the operation.
Department of Justice officials hid behind semantics to lie and deny that they allowed guns to be walked across the border.
When asked by the Oversight Committee how many of 1,750 specific weapons that “walked” under orders of the ATF and DOJ could have been interdicted if agents were allowed to act as they were trained, the agents answered they could have stopped every single one.