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The Cover-Up


by James O. E. Norell

No longer content with simply stonewalling a congressional investigation into “Operation Fast and Furious,” President Barack Obama’s Justice Department is now engaging in a full-blown cover-up through the promotion of hostile witnesses as investigators within BATFE.

As harrowing details of “Operation Fast and Furious” —the BATFE/Justice Department conspiracy arming violent narco-terrorists in Mexico—continue to be unveiled, the Obama administration has responded by promoting a central facilitator in the scandal to the rogue agency’s central internal affairs division, a move that will undoubtedly garner fear and loathing among honest field agents across the nation.

The elevation of William McMahon to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations is seen as a warning—actually, a threat—to agency whistle blowers.

It is the latest affront by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department, and likely the Barack Obama White House, in a deceitful cover-up to thwart congressional investigations of the deadly administration-sanctioned guns-to-Mexico scheme.

As the deputy assistant director for BATFE’s Western Region, McMahon supervised Special Agent in Charge William Newell, who ran “Operation Fast and Furious.” McMahon told Congress he was in daily contact with Newell over the scheme that allowed thousands of guns to be “walked” into Mexican criminal commerce—a scheme held secret from both Mexican authorities and U.S. officials in Mexico, including BATFE operatives.

Nothing would have been known by the public or lawmakers about “Operation Fast and Furious” without the courageous efforts of conscientious individual BATFE agents who stepped forward to expose what is proving to be a Justice Department criminal conspiracy. That conspiracy—to passively watch continual violations of federal firearm statutes and international anti-smuggling laws, and violation of Mexican sovereignty—has inarguably resulted in the shooting deaths of hundreds of Mexican nationals and the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

Among the most cogent red flags over the McMahon move was a posting on the BATFE dissident-insider website,

“The promotion itself was a message that DOJ intends to charge full speed ahead on its defense-slash-deflection of ‘Gunwalker.’ But it’s also the sound of a shotgun chambering a round for street agents … telling their agents to be very careful what they say, and to whom.”

So what is the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations? According to the 2005 BATFE annual report announcing the then-newly reorganized internal affairs apparatus, OPRSO (pronounced “oppresso”) “determines adherence to ATF and DOJ organizational policies, regulations and procedures.”

Under the heading “Integrity,” the report declares that, “OPRSO conducts employee misconduct and integrity investigations, either criminal or administrative.” It speaks of an “early warning detection system to … strengthen adherence to organization policies and procedures.”

But what if those BATFE “policies and procedures” are politically corrupt and motivated? What if those “policies and procedures” are in violation of U.S. law and foreign sovereignty, as was the case in “Fast and Furious”? Those are the questions pursued by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Coupled with President Barack Obama’s failure to acknowledge congressional oversight of the BATFE scandal and his insistence that an internal investigation will suffice, McMahon’s appointment gives more than the appearance that any internal look at misconduct will be a whitewash. McMahon’s capacity for forthrightness can only be measured by his recent public performance before Congress.

McMahon’s transfer as internal ethics watchdog came just days following his July 26, 2011 rope-a-dope appearance—as a forgetful, foggy, petulant, recalcitrant, cranky witness and self-proclaimed inattentive supervisor—before Rep. Issa’s hot-on-the-trail inquiry into the two-year-long “gun-walking” operation. McMahon gave the committee the impression that, as the Western District supervisor, he slept through the whole scandal and simply wasn’t paying attention.

If McMahon’s answers appeared to be disingenuous, the performance of his subordinate in “Fast and Furious,” Phoenix Agent in Charge Newell, was a veritable fog machine. For most of his replies, Newell spoke mostly in quizzical riddles and snoozer doubletalk. But more on that later.

Newell’s and McMahon’s passive aggressive non-cooperation with the committee was counter pointed by the dramatic testimony of BATFE supervisors and field agents, including officers serving in Mexico who had been locked out of any knowledge of “Fast and Furious.” These men spoke with revulsion as to the very concept of allowing guns to “walk”—where by law-enforcement supervisors ordered that contraband arms be allowed to slip into criminal commerce out of any possible control.

And it has been clear from the outset of the Issa and Grassley investigations that there is absolutely no doubt guns were “walked.”That truth was the centerpiece of Chairman Issa’s  first congressional hearing June 15.

During the second House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, the practice was proven a certainty. Jose Wall, the current BATFE senior special agent serving in Tijuana, Mexico, told the committee:

“I could not believe that someone in ATF would so callously let firearms wind up in the hands of criminals. But it appears that I was wrong, and that hundreds and quite possibly thousands of guns have been allowed to reach the hands of organized crime in Mexico. … These firearms are now in the hands of people who have no regard for human life, pose a threat to all of us, a threat to which none of us is immune.”

His sentiments were echoed by another agent also serving in Mexico, Carlos Canino, a 23-year agency veteran and acting BATFE attaché to the Mexican government.

“Never, never in my wildest dreams would I think that ATF agents were ordered or participated in actually following known gun traffickers and just walking away,” Canino said. “That is to me inconceivable. And to this day I’m still trying to get my head around this.” He said the supervisors “went to the shredder and shredded the best practices, all the techniques that you use to investigate a gun trafficking case.”

As to fault, Canino said, “In my professional opinion, this investigative strategy was flawed. It was allowed to continue due to ineffective oversight in the Phoenix field division, and possibly beyond.”

In fact, the two individuals holding the buck on all of those scores—egregiously bad management, judgment, leadership and oversight—were sitting at the far end of the same witness table: William Newell and William McMahon.

McMahon and Newell, reluctant star witnesses before this second hearing on the BATFE scandal, hardly ever answered straight questions with straight answers. At one point, an angry Issa called Newell a “paid non answerer,” and in another exchange, U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman emeritus of the committee, warned Newell that he was testifying under oath, implying his evasiveness might be skirting perjury.

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