What -- and Who -- Made 'Gunwalker' Tick?

My co-blogger Bob Owens' recent PJMedia story, “The Definitive Scandal: ‘Gunwalker’ Much Worse Than ‘Iran-Contra,’” laid out the parameters of an incredibly flawed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) operation known as “Operation Fast and Furious,” or “Operation Gunwalker.”

As early as 2009 and until recently, ATF agents were ordered to allow weapons illegally purchased in the United States to “walk” across the southern border into the hands of drug traffickers. The attempts of honest, competent line agents to stop the flow of guns were met with orders to ignore their duty and threats by their supervisors who told them that the highest levels of the ATF and Department of Justice were behind the program. Gun dealers who complained were told to cooperate and to sell large numbers of guns to criminals. So loose were the controls that, to this day, the number of guns involved is not precisely known, but ranges from the hundreds to the thousands.

ATF managers and administrators have tried to justify the operation by a variety of means. The Obama DOJ has denied that any guns were ever allowed into the hands of criminals and has engaged in Clintonian language parsing. In their view, unless an ATF agent actually placed a gun in the hands of an illegal straw purchaser and allowed them to walk away unmolested, no guns “walked.” A “walking” gun, in ATF parlance, is an illegally obtained gun about which agents know, but which moves beyond their control, either accidentally or purposely. This DOJ corruption of reality was imposed on ATF supervisors, who embraced it, ordering agents to allow scores of illegally purchased weapons to walk.

Phoenix ATF “Group VII” supervisor David Voth, in an April 2, 2010, e-mail, noted that there were 187 murders in Mexico in March, including 11 policemen, and that the ATF allowed the purchase of 359 guns in March, including “numerous Barrett .50 caliber rifles.” According to lower-ranking agents, Voth was excited about what was happening in Mexico, apparently believing that the level of violence proved the value of the investigation which would lead to the arrests of high-ranking drug cartel criminals.

During a January 25, 2011, press conference, Phoenix ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell announced the indictment of 20 people in the Fast and Furious case. Despite the fact that most of the indictments were for low-level straw purchases, Newell claimed that they represented the complete elimination of a firearms trafficking ring. He also claimed that ATF never allowed any guns to walk. For a multi-state federal investigation spanning several years, 20 arrests, particularly for bottom-of-the-ladder criminals, would normally be considered an embarrassment -- and would have been far more likely to be downplayed rather than publicized.

In a February 4, 2011, letter to Senator Charles Grassley, Ron Weich, the DOJ’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, doubled down on the DOJ claim -- proved to be false by multiple ATF agents -- that the ATF never allowed weapons obtained by straw purchasers to walk into Mexico. Questioned later, DOJ argued that since it wasn’t actual straw purchasers who walked the weapons, but unknown third parties to whom they gave the guns, the guns didn’t really walk and their lie wasn’t actually a lie.

DOJ and ATF justification for Fast and Furious has always been that the operation was necessary to work up the chain to the heads of drug cartels and that, somehow, these high-ranking criminals would be implicated in the trafficking of guns. This is utter nonsense. Quite apart from the statements of brave, whistle-blowing ATF agents, there is every reason to believe it is nonsense that has cost American and Mexican lives. The key to understanding why lies in understanding police psychology and procedure.