by Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director
Where Will The Buck Stop When It Comes To BATFE’s Failed “Fast and Furious” Operation?
Fast and Furious.” Until a few months ago, those words may have been best known as the title of a series of action movies featuring fast cars and the sort of reckless action Hollywood loves to promote.
Now, thanks to ongoing media and congressional investigations, those words represent another kind of recklessness—the reckless disregard for public safety shown in a misguided and foolish law enforcement operation on the southwest border, accompanied by a lack of sound judgment and a clear failure of leadership at the U.S. Department of Justice.
The operation known as “Fast and Furious” is, of course, the Obama administration’s program in which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents allowed the sale of thousands of firearms to suspected illegal purchasers. Even worse, the bureau literally sat back and watched those firearms walk out the door. Many of those guns, moving unhindered by the BATFE, have now turned up at crime scenes, both in Mexico and in the United States.
Much of what we’ve learned recently is thanks to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. For months now, Rep. Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have pressed for full disclosure of the facts. During that time, the Justice Department has fought to hide what really happened, using every excuse it could come up with to deny the truth to the American people.
But in the end, the truth is coming out, and many of the most damning truths appeared in a joint staff report on the scandal, released by the two lawmakers in advance of hearings held by Chairman Issa’s committee.
Some of the most important findings include:
• BATFE knowingly allowed 1,800 or more firearms to be sold illegally to known or suspected straw purchasers. Just one of those purchasers accounted for more than 700 illegal guns.
• BATFE supervisors specifically ordered agents working the program not to arrest illegal gun buyers or to interdict thousands of guns that were allowed to “walk” into criminal hands.
• Senior BATFE officials in Washington were regularly briefed on the operation and approved of the tactics employed.
• BATFE agents who opposed the operation and who raised objections were told to “get with the program” and threatened with job retaliation if they continued their opposition.
Key to these findings was testimony provided by a number of whistle-blowing BATFE field agents.
Special Agent John Dodson, in his prepared testimony, made the key point most plainly: “Simply put, during this operation known as Fast and Furious, we, ATF, failed to fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations, to care take the public trust, in part, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
Dodson, along with Special Agents Olindo James Casa and Peter Forcelli, among others, put their careers at risk to object to the operation’s tactics. In each case, not only were their objections dismissed by BATFE superiors, but it was made clear their jobs could be on the line if they did not get on board with the program.
Agent Casa testified that BATFE officials sent an e-mail rebuking those who opposed the plan. “Based on my 18 years of experience with ATF,” testified Casa, “I did not think the e-mail was an empty threat and took it very serious. It has become common practice for ATF supervisors to retaliate against employees that do not blindly toe the company line, no matter what the consequences.”
Agent Casa went on to describe the operation as “recklessly” planned and implemented with the purpose of allowing firearms to be illegally trafficked. He reported that agents were ordered not to take action against illegal gun buyers or to seize the firearms. Instead, surveillance was regularly broken off without further action—a drastic departure from BATFE’s usual practice.
Giving the lie to anti-gun claims that U.S. gun stores are part of the criminal gun trafficking network, the field agents also opposed the operation because of the negative impact it was having on lawful firearms dealers, who are crucial law enforcement allies in identifying illegal traffickers.
Though the firearm industry has long worked with BATFE to educate dealers about how to spot and block suspicious transactions, the agents testified that they were ordered to instruct cooperating gun dealers to complete sales to suspicious persons, including known straw purchasers.
As Agent Forcelli put it: “The gun dealers were our friends. They helped us make a lot of these cases. … But the problem is then, by getting them mixed up in this thing and … encouraging them to sell guns when they decided to stop did not help our reputation with the gun industry.”
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