Cops expect to face risks on the job. What they do not expect, what they cannot accept, is when their superiors have a hand in providing the weapons that others will use to kill them.
I have withheld judgment on Operation Fast and Furious until now. Surely, I thought, there would emerge some explanation for what on first reading appeared to be a staggering level of stupidity and incompetence on the part of some in the ATF and the Justice Department. They could not possibly, I hoped, have been that obtuse. Having been a police officer for as long as I have, I should have known better.
Every front-line cop has had this experience: A change in command brings in some new suit eager to show he’s full to bursting with the right stuff, that he is not just another office-bound bureaucrat content with doing things the same old things in the same old way. He promises his full support for the troops as he speaks of his willingness to innovate in crime-fighting tactics and to “think outside the box.” All well and good, but as those front-line cops know, that box is there for a reason, and thinking too far outside it can get people killed.
And that’s what happened with Fast and Furious.
The details of the scandal have been amply documented elsewhere, notably here on PJMedia in the work of Bob Owens, but the goals of Operation Fast and Furious can be distilled thus: Allow the straw purchases of firearms in the U.S. and then track the weapons into the hands of members of Mexican drug cartels who can then be identified and arrested. It sounds so simple, what could go wrong?
As we now know, plenty could and did go horribly, horribly wrong.
I can appreciate the desire to use novel law enforcement approaches in confronting the violence attendant to drug trafficking in Mexico. Someone, displaying a bit of that outside-the-box thinking, came up with the idea of allowing thousands of weapons to be bought on this side of the border with the idea that they could be tracked as they made their way through the network of cartel members and facilitators and into the hands of Mexican outlaws.
This was a pipe dream. To me, it is inconceivable that this operation ever made it out of the first meeting where it was discussed. It goes to show how detached police executives can be from the reality of police work as it is actually practiced. There is simply no effective way to track a gun once it leaves the store where it was purchased.
Let’s say we are suspicious that straw purchases are being made at a gun store in Tucson. We can scrutinize the records of all the store’s sales in search of telltale signs of illegality, we can place undercover operators in the store, we can install surveillance equipment and remotely monitor the customer traffic, or we can do surveillance on people we believe to be straw purchasers in the hope they’ll lead us deeper into the criminal network.