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The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking, so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority.
...Their greatest difficulty by far, however, was convincing prosecutors that they had sufficient grounds to seize guns and arrest straw purchasers. By June 2010 the agents had sent the U.S. Attorney's office a list of 31 suspects they wanted to arrest, with 46 pages outlining their illegal acts. But for the next seven months prosecutors did not indict a single suspect.
As political pressure has mounted, ATF and Justice Department officials have reversed themselves. After initially supporting Group VII agents and denying the allegations, they have since agreed that the ATF purposefully chose not to interdict guns it lawfully could have seized. Holder testified in December that "the use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable, and it must never happen again."
..Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic.
...they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.
"ATF did not exercise proper oversight, planning or judgment in executing this case. We at ATF have accepted responsibility and have taken appropriate and decisive action to insure that these errors in oversight and judgment never occur again."
...the ultimate irony is this: Republicans who support the National Rifle Association and its attempts to weaken gun laws are lambasting ATF agents for not seizing enough weapons—ones that, in this case, prosecutors deemed to be legal.
None of the ATF agents doubted that the Fast and Furious guns were being purchased to commit crimes in Mexico. But that was nearly impossible to prove to prosecutors' satisfaction. And agents could not seize guns or arrest suspects after being directed not to do so by a prosecutor.
"Currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place, albeit at a much slower pace, in order to further the investigation and allow for the identification of additional co-conspirators."
Ten days after the meeting with Hurley, a Saturday, Jaime Avila, a transient, admitted methamphetamine user, bought three WASR-10 rifles at the Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Ariz. The next day, a helpful Lone Wolf employee faxed Avila's purchase form to ATF to flag the suspicious activity. It was the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, so the agents didn't receive the fax until Tuesday, according to a contemporaneous case report. By that time, the legally purchased guns had been gone for three days. The agents had never seen the weapons and had no chance to seize them. But they entered the serial numbers into their gun database. Two of these were later recovered at Brian Terry's murder scene.
William Newell, then special agent in charge of the ATF's Phoenix field division, suspected that U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, an Obama appointee, was not being briefed adequately by deputies about the volume of guns being purchased.
He wrote to colleagues in February 2010 that the prosecutor seemed "taken aback by some of the facts I informed him about"—by then, the Fast and Furious suspects had purchased 800 guns—"so I am setting up a briefing for him (alone no USAO 'posse') about this case and several other cases I feel he is being misled about."
... [Dodson] proceeded to walk guns intentionally, with Casa and Alt's help. On April 13, 2010, one month after Voth wrote his schism e-mail, Dodson opened a case into a suspected gun trafficker named Isaiah Fernandez. He had gotten Casa to approve the case when Voth was on leave. Dodson had directed a cooperating straw purchaser to give three guns to Fernandez and had taped their conversations without a prosecutor's approval.
Voth first learned these details a month into the case. He demanded that Dodson meet with him and get approval from prosecutors to tape conversations. Five days later, Dodson sent an uncharacteristically diplomatic response. (He and Alt had revised repeated drafts in that time, with Alt pushing to make the reply "less abrasive." Dodson e-mailed back: "Less abrasive? I felt sick from kissing all that ass as it was.") Dodson wrote that he succeeded in posing undercover as a straw purchaser and claimed that prosecutor Hurley—who he had just belatedly contacted—had raised "new concerns." The prosecutor had told Dodson that an assistant U.S. Attorney "won't be able to approve of letting firearms 'walk' in furtherance of your investigation without first briefing the U.S. Attorney and Criminal Chief."
It was the first time Voth learned that Dodson intended to walk guns.
A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
On June 1, Dodson used $2,500 in ATF funds to purchase six AK Draco pistols from local gun dealers, and gave these to Fernandez, who reimbursed him and gave him $700 for his efforts. Two days later, according to case records, Dodson—who would later testify that in his previous experience, "if even one [gun] got away from us, nobody went home until we found it"—left on a scheduled vacation without interdicting the guns. That day, Voth wrote to remind him that money collected as evidence needed to be vouchered within five days. Dodson e-mailed back, his sarcasm fully restored: "Do the orders define a 'day'? Is it; a calendar day? A business day or work day….? An Earth day (because a day on Venus takes 243 Earth days which would mean that I have plenty of time)?"
The guns were never recovered, the case was later closed, and Fernandez was never charged. By any definition, it was gun walking of the most egregious sort: a government agent using taxpayer money to deliver guns to bad guys and then failing to intercept them.
But as weeks and then months passed, prosecutors did not issue indictments. The ATF agents grew increasingly concerned. By December, prosecutors had dropped Avila's name from the indictment list for what they deemed a lack of evidence.
Only when Terry, the U.S. Border Patrol agent, was murdered in December 2010 did the prosecutors act. Voth's agents arrested Avila within 24 hours of Terry's death. On Jan. 19, 2011, a federal grand jury indicted him and 19 other suspects.
As Voth watched the program from his living room, he says, he wanted to vomit. He saw sentences from his "schism" e-mail reproduced on the TV screen. But CBS didn't quote the portions of Voth's e-mail that described how the group was divided by "petty arguing" and "adolescent behavior." Instead, CBS claimed the schism had been caused by opposition to gun walking (such alleged opposition is not discussed anywhere in the e-mail, which is below). CBS asserted that Dodson and others had protested the tactic "over and over," and then quoted portions of Voth's e-mail in a way that left the impression that gun walking was endorsed at headquarters. CBS contacted the ATF (but not Voth directly). The result was a report that incorrectly painted Voth as zealously promoting gun walking. (A CBS spokeswoman, Sonya McNair, says CBS does not publicly discuss its editorial process but notes, "The White House has already acknowledged the truth of our report.")
...the malicious intent of insiders" had led directly to Voth's becoming the target of a "nation-wide…libel campaign."
It quoted Dodson describing Voth as "giddy" over the slaughter in Mexico—Voth says he was deeply upset by the violence—but didn't reflect Voth's perspective.
As the allegations mounted, pressure intensified. In early July the ATF's once supportive acting director, Melson—who according to e-mails had been briefed weekly on the case—went to Congress and threw his own people under the bus. Melson told Grassley that he had read the case reports only after the scandal broke, and had been "sick to his stomach," according to press accounts of the meeting. In August, Melson resigned, as did Arizona's U.S. Attorney, Burke. (Melson's lawyer, Richard Cullen, says the Justice Department's inspector general will likely answer many of the continuing questions.) In December 2011, the Justice Department retracted its Feb. 4 letter, in which it had denied walking guns in the Fast and Furious case.
In late 2009, ATF was alerted to suspicious buys at seven gun shops in the Phoenix area. Suspicious because the buyers paid cash, sometimes brought in paper bags. And they purchased classic "weapons of choice" used by Mexican drug traffickers - semi-automatic versions of military type rifles and pistols.
Sources tell CBS News several gun shops wanted to stop the questionable sales, but ATF encouraged them to continue.
Jaime Avila was one of the suspicious buyers. ATF put him in its suspect database in January of 2010. For the next year, ATF watched as Avila and other suspects bought huge quantities of weapons supposedly for "personal use." They included 575 AK-47 type semi-automatic rifles.
ATF managers allegedly made a controversial decision: allow most of the weapons on the streets. The idea, they said, was to gather intelligence and see where the guns ended up. Insiders say it's a dangerous tactic called letting the guns, "walk."
One agent called the strategy "insane." Another said: "We were fully aware the guns would probably be moved across the border to drug cartels where they could be used to kill."
On the phone, one Project Gunrunner source (who didn't want to be identified) told us just how many guns flooded the black market under ATF's watchful eye. "The numbers are over 2,500 on that case by the way. That's how many guns were sold - including some 50-calibers they let walk."
50-caliber weapons are fearsome. For months, ATF agents followed 50-caliber Barrett rifles and other guns believed headed for the Mexican border, but were ordered to let them go. One distraught agent was often overheard on ATF radios begging and pleading to be allowed to intercept transports. The answer: "Negative. Stand down."
CBS News has been told at least 11 ATF agents and senior managers voiced fierce opposition to the strategy. "It got ugly..." said one. There was "screaming and yelling" says another. A third warned: "this is crazy, somebody is gonna to get killed."
Originally posted by Billmeister
I don't want this to become a "your source is unreliable, but my source is the absolute truth" type debates, but I've thought that there has been an "off" smell to this whole thing from the beginning.
In my humble opinion, the real lesson to be learned from all this is to realize just how the manipulation of "facts" to influence public opinion is a mainstay of modern politics. Perhaps the internet gives us access to more information, but maybe that is just an extra tool in the "fact" moulding game!