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Project Gunrunner


by James O.E. Norell, Contributing Editor

As the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives continues to resist congressional demands that it explore its reckless operations on the southwest border, Mexican citizens, and even U.S. federal agents, are paying the price—with their very lives.

Until CBS News first aired correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s continuing blockbuster series on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Fast and Furious” project, very few Americans had a clue that the agency was reportedly “monitoring” individual criminals as they violated federal firearm and smuggling laws.

Through “whistleblowing” by inside-agency critics and journalists, pro-gun Americans have become increasingly suspicious of the fraudulent international “tracing scheme” in the agency. But it wasn’t until the Dec. 14, 2010, death of a 41-year-old federal agent in Arizona that a conscientious segment of the national media was jarred into action.

In the midst of a near-midnight shootout between U.S. Border Patrol Agents patrolling a remote canyon near Nogales, Ariz., and a group of armed Mexican bandits, agent Brian Terry was shot and killed with a single bullet in a hail of 7.62 x 39 gunfire. The border patrol agents, for their part, initially used beanbag rounds against the illegals.

This loss of a federal agent in a beanbag-versus-AK gunfight would have been hugely controversial by itself. But all of that was eclipsed by the fact that one of the guns used by the bandits was traced to a BATFE criminal-observation scheme named “Fast and Furious.”

The program got its name from a Hollywood G-man violence fantasy, but it could more accurately have been called “Gone with the Wind.”

Fast, Furious And Deadly
Fast and Furious was part of the larger $80 million BATFE Project Gunrunner, touted as a Justice Department answer to Mexican bloodletting. However, Project Gunrunner was the subject of two scathing Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that concluded the project was a waste of taxpayer funds and manpower, and that it had produced no big takedowns of real cartel criminals. Fast and Furious was launched to show that BATFE’s tracing could, after all, lead to big-time busts in Mexico.

But there were a couple of problems. The Mexican authorities were never in on it, and the U.S. Justice Department had little presence across the border.

According to reports, thousands of firearms were “walked” across the border. Keeping the operation secret from Mexican authorities guaranteed the “walked” guns would be lost until they turned up at scenes of murderous carnage.

The idea was that BATFE could then trace the guns back to the border state licensed retailers, where BATFE had “monitored” illegal gun sales in the first place, thus fulfilling the basis for the Obama administration’s three-year big-lie campaign that gun stores were the source of 90 percent of guns used by the massive criminal network known as the Mexican cartels.

Among direct participants in the remarkable CBS exposé were two BATFE frontline agents: John Dodson, stationed in Phoenix, and Darren Gil, forced to retire as the agency’s attaché in Mexico City.

Like the Mexican government, Gil, the highest-ranking agency official in Mexico, was kept in the dark about Fast and Furious. Gil maintains that authority for the rogue operation came from the BATFE director and the Department of Justice.

Gil told CBS that in early 2010, when he noticed that a “flood of guns” captured by Mexican authorities were traced back to a case in Phoenix, he sought details.

“I, as the attaché, the head agent in Mexico for ATF, did not have access,” Gil said. CBS reported that in challenging the secret operation with supervisors, “conversations became screaming matches.”

As CBS reported, “he was instructed not to tell his Mexican counterparts about the case … Gil says he also noted ‘at some point, these guns are gonna end up killing either a government of Mexico official, a police officer or military folks, and what are we going to do?’”

Agent Dodson, who appeared in Attkisson’s first broadcast, said he had attempted to use federal “whistleblower” statutes to put a stop to the gun-walking project, but repeated e-mails and calls were never returned.

Correspondent Attkisson reported, “Senior agents including Dodson told CBS News they confronted their supervisors over and over.

“Their answer, according to Dodson, was, ‘If you’re going to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs.’

“There was so much opposition to the gun walking that an ATF supervisor issued an e-mail noting a ‘schism’ among the agents. ‘Whether you care or not, people of rank and authority at H.Q. are paying close attention to this case … If you don’t think this is fun you’re in the wrong line of work. …’”

Dodson, on camera, told America, “We just knew it wasn’t going to end well. There’s just no way it could.”

As to the day of reckoning with Border Patrol agent Terry’s death, Dodson recounted, “They said, ‘Did you hear about the border patrol agent?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said ‘Well, it was one of the Fast and Furious guns.’ There’s not really much you can say after that. …”

Congressional Concern
As a result of the dogged online media efforts and CBS reports, Congress has been stirred to action, with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., conducting investigations that have been met with near total obfuscation, cover-up and stonewalling by the Obama administration.

Among the many questions is how high up in government this program really goes. Who knew what, and when? Was the White House involved? Rumors abound.

President Obama told a Univision interviewer in late March, “Well, first of all, I did not authorize it. Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it.”

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