Archive for the 'Project Gunrunner' Category

When Impeachment Is Too Good: Independent Counsel Needed for D.O.J.

BY Glen Tschirgi
12 years, 7 months ago

This post is sparked by a short article in The Hill:

A senior GOP lawmaker said Thursday that Attorney General Eric Holder could be impeached over botched gun-tracking operation Fast and Furious.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) suggested at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that Congress may impeach Holder if it does not get satisfactory answers about inaccurate statements and information the Department of Justice provided on the operation.

“If we don’t get to the bottom of this — and that requires your assistance on that — there is only one alternative that Congress has, and it’s called impeachment,” Sensenbrenner said. “And I don’t want to go this far, but if we keep on getting pushed down the road and the can keeps on getting kicked and we don’t get closure to this, what is Congress to do so that we don’t spend all of our time in court arguing privilege, which is not a way to get at the truth?”

Sensenbrenner, a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was referring to a letter DOJ wrote to Congress that denied any agency involvement in “walking” guns — letting weapons fall into the hands of suspected criminals. That letter has since been withdrawn because of its inaccurate statements.

First off, kudos to Congressman Sensenbrenner for at least having the nerve to raise impeachment as a possibility.  Far too often, the GOP members of Congress are simply too afraid of the Leftist Media (and their own shadow) to take a firm stand on anything.

When Sensenbrenner states, however, that the only alternative is impeachment, he is either ignorant of or intentionally avoiding the power of Congress to appoint a Independent Counsel to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute members of the Executive Branch, such as Attorney General Holder, or subordinates in the Department of Justice.

I am fine with impeachment proceedings that involve dereliction of duty and require removal of an incompetent or otherwise compromised member of the Executive Branch.   But there are two reasons why Republicans should not be talking about impeachment with regard to the DOJ (not to mention the other agencies involved) in the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning conspiracy.   (And I use the term “conspiracy” decidedly).

First, there is zero chance that impeachment of Holder or lesser minions would succeed.   Although the odds are good that the Republican-majority House could vote to impeach, actual conviction and removal of the impeached official (as we know all too well from the Clinton Follies) requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.   There is no way to get to that margin, period.   So impeachment is a non-starter unless it is undertaken simply to expose the lawlessless of the Obama Administration.   In my opinion, the light is not worth the candle.

The second reason impeachment should not be considered is more substantial:  mere impeachment is simply too good for those in the Department of Justice.   Even if these officials could all be removed from office by impeachment, they will otherwise escape any, real punishment for their crimes.   And that is the heart of the matter.   Eric Holder and the Administration want us to believe that Fast and Furious was simply a good idea that was executed poorly— a mistake that will not be repeated.   According to Holder:

Holder defended DOJ’s actions and blasted Republicans for trying to “score political points.”

He called the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious “flawed” and “unacceptable.” He also pointed to recent changes in training and oversight measures taken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which headed the failed operation, to ensure it never happens again.

The attorney general stressed that the mistakes made under Fast and Furious, which oversaw the sale of thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels in an effort to track and dismantle gun-trafficking routes, must not detract from the larger goal of stopping the flow of weapons south of the border.

He has been joined by congressional Democrats in his push to use the issue of Fast and Furious to highlight the weaknesses within the ATF, including the agency’s lack of a confirmed director and the lack of a law requiring gun dealers in the Southwest to report multiple purchases of long guns.

This is nonsense and a shameful example of lawlessless, something that cannot be tolerated in a nation of laws.  “Fast and Furious” and the associated “Gunwalker” programs are not about “flawed” tactics.   Multiple federal (and international) laws were broken.

A good synopsis of this that has not been touched on elsewhere is this article by James K. Stinebower posted at PJ Media.   According to Stinebower:

As we continue to watch the general uproar over the Operation Fast and Furious program, and specifically what Attorney General Holder knew and when he knew it, it needs to be noted that perjury is not the only apparent violation of law to have occurred.

I refer to the apparent violation of at least one (probably two) major U.S. laws by the Holder Justice Department. A few years ago, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701, the follow-on to the Trading with the Enemy Act) was expanded in order to criminalize any transactions between U.S. entities — to include departments and agencies of the U.S. government — and all foreign drug cartels.

I am familiar with these prohibitive statues because several years ago, while serving as the senior drug analyst for the Senate Intelligence Committee, I was tasked to initiate and became the principal drafter of legislation which became known as the Kingpin Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 1901-08). The Kingpin Act is an extension of the highly successful IEEPA sanctioning program specifically targeting Colombian drug cartels. It expands sanctions authority against various drug cartel operations worldwide — including Mexico — which have been determined by the president to be threats to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.

A violation of any of the IEEPA sanctioning programs or the Kingpin Act carries stiff penalties, both criminal and civil, and potentially totaling decades in prison and tens of millions of dollars in fines. It is not necessary that an individual or governmental entity be shown to have “knowingly” violated any of these programs: it is illegal for any U.S. entity or individual to aid, abet, or materially assist — or in the case of Operation Fast and Furious, to facilitate others to aid, abet, or materially assist — designated drug traffickers. There are no exceptions within IEEPA programs for unlicensed U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency operations.

Based on the July 5, 2010, memo to Eric Holder, it would appear that Fast and Furious facilitated the delivery of weapons to — at a minimum — the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, which administers both the IEEPA and Kingpin Act programs, has designated numerous members of the Sinaloa cartel under both programs. IEEPA prohibitions apply to the U.S. government as well as to individuals, and as stated there are no exceptions within IEEPA programs for unlicensed U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency operations.

I am sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of laws being broken.   Nonetheless, it is a good example of just how outrageously the Administration has acted in this regard.  Congress has an absolute duty to exercise its Constitutional power to oversee and reign in (when necessary) the excesses of the Executive Branch.   While there have been calls for the appointment of independent counsel (formerly known as a “special prosecutor”), those calls have been directed at the Obama Administration to make that appointment, presumably under Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution known as, “The Appointment Power.”   But this power is not the exclusive prerogative of the Executive Branch.  According to the case of Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988), Congress has the power to indirectly appoint “inferior officers” such as Independent Counsel by directing the Judiciary to make such an appointment with its approval.   This power arises for the very reason that the Executive Branch cannot always be expected to cooperate in appointing an Independent Counsel when Executive wrongdoing is involved.

There are many things today that engender cynicism and despair in the ordinary citizen when it comes to politics, but perhaps nothing corrodes and undermines our national coherence like elected officials and appointees who thumb their noses at our laws— the very laws that would be used mercilessly and without hesitation against you or me– and are not brought to account.   If this were a Republican administration and the House was in the hands of Democrats, you can be absolutely certain that a veritable crop of Independent Counsels would be springing up under similar circumstances.   When you throw in the Solyndra loans, the failure to enforce the civil rights laws against Black Panther intimidation of voters and the brewing scandal over money being laundered for the Sinaloa Cartel by the Drug Enforcement Agency, it is incredible to me that there is not a firestorm in Congress right now to prosecute everyone involved in this abuse of power.

Secret Recordings In Gunwalker Case

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 10 months ago

From CBS News:

CBS News has obtained secretly recorded conversations that raise questions as to whether some evidence is being withheld in the murder of a Border Patrol agent.

The tapes were recorded approximately mid-March 2011 by the primary gun dealer cooperating with ATF in its “Fast and Furious” operation: Andre Howard, owner of Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Arizona. He’s talking with the lead case ATF case agent Hope MacAllister …

The tapes have been turned over to Congressional investigators and the Inspector General …

The conversations refer to a third weapon recovered at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry …

Court records have previously only mentioned two weapons: Romanian WASR “AK-47 type” assault rifles. Both were allegedly sold to suspects who were under ATF’s watch as part of Fast and Furious.

The third weapon found at the scene of Brian Terry’s death is an SKS.  But that a third weapon was found is not the main point here.  The transcript follows (CBS has the audio).

Agent: Well there was two.

Dealer: There’s three weapons.

Agent: There’s three weapons.

Dealer: I know that.

Agent: And yes, there’s serial numbers for all three.

Dealer: That’s correct.

Agent: Two of them came from this store.

Dealer: I understand that.

Agent: There’s an SKS that I don’t think came from…. Dallas or Texas or something like that.

Dealer: I know. talking about the AK’s

Agent: The two AK’s came from this store.

Dealer: I know that.

Agent: Ok.

Dealer: I did the Goddamned trace

Agent: Third weapon is the SKS has nothing to do with it.

Dealer: That didn’t come from me.

The main point is that heretofore, the ATF only reported two weapons at the scene of Terry’s death.  This recording is evidence that not only were there three weapons, the ATF knew it and sought to cover it up.  As they say, why cover it up unless there is something wrong?

ATF Promotes Supervisors Of Fast And Furious Gunrunning Scandal

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

From The LA Times:

The ATF has promoted three key supervisors of a controversial sting operation that allowed firearms to be illegally trafficked across the U.S. border into Mexico.

All three have been heavily criticized for pushing the program forward even as it became apparent that it was out of control. At least 2,000 guns were lost and many turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and two at the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The three supervisors have been given new management positions at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They are William G. McMahon, who was the ATF’s deputy director of operations in the West, where the illegal trafficking program was focused, and William D. Newell and David Voth, both field supervisors who oversaw the program out of the agency’s Phoenix office.

[ … ]

McMahon was promoted Sunday to deputy assistant director of the ATF’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations — the division that investigates misconduct by employees and other problems.

 Something about foxes and henhouses comes to mind.  Criminals, every one of them.  So this is the order of things.  Shill for the administration, violate the Arms Export Control Act, and then get promoted by the Obama administration.

Was The CIA Behind Operation Fast And Furious?

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

Robert Farago has a hard hitting report at The Washington Times.

Why did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) let criminals buy firearms, smuggle them across the Mexican border and deliver them into the hands of vicious drug cartels? The ATF claims it launched its now-disgraced Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 to catch the “big fish.” Fast and Furious was designed to stem the “Iron River” flowing from American gun stores into the cartels’ arsenals. The bureau says it allowed gun smuggling so it could track the firearms and arrest the cartel members downstream. Not true.

During the course of Operation Fast and Furious, about 2,000 weapons moved from U.S. gun stores to Mexican drug cartels – exactly as intended.

In congressional testimony, William Newell, former ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division, testified that the Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were “full partners” in Operation Fast and Furious. Mr. Newell’s list left out the most important player: the CIA. According to a CIA insider, the agency had a strong hand in creating, orchestrating and exploiting Operation Fast and Furious.

The CIA’s motive is clear enough: The U.S. government is afraid the Los Zetas drug cartel will mount a successful coup d’etat against the government of Felipe Calderon.

Founded by ex-Mexican special forces, the Zetas already control huge swaths of Mexican territory. They have the organization, arms and money needed to take over the entire country.

Former CIA pilot Robert Plumlee and former CIA operative and DEA Director Phil Jordan recently said the brutally efficient Mexican drug cartel has stockpiled thousands of weapons to disrupt and influence Mexico’s national elections in 2012. There’s a very real chance the Zetas cartel could subvert the political process completely, as it has throughout the regions it controls.

In an effort to prevent a Los Zetas takeover, Uncle Sam has gotten into bed with the rival Sinaloa cartel, which has close ties to the Mexican military. Recent court filings by former Sinaloa cartel member Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, currently in U.S. custody, reveal that the United States allowed the Sinaloas to fly a 747 cargo plane packed with cocaine into American airspace – unmolested.

The CIA made sure the trade wasn’t one-way. It persuaded the ATF to create Operation Fast and Furious – a “no strings attached” variation of the agency’s previous firearms sting. By design, the ATF operation armed the Mexican government’s preferred cartel on the street level near the American border, where the Zetas are most active.

Operation Fast and Furious may not have been the only way the CIA helped put lethal weapons into the hands of the Sinaloa cartel and its allies, but it certainly was an effective strategy. If drug thugs hadn’t murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry with an ATF- provided weapon, who knows how many thousands more guns would have crossed the U.S. border?

If Robert’s report is accurate, the list of culpability runs from the ATF to the DEA to the FBI and … now … to the CIA as perhaps the ringmaster.  One very astute commenter to one article I wrote about the Mexican cartels adopting military tactics has pressed down on me for details in my recommendation to utilize the U.S. military in response to cartel violence (as he should – I have some of the best readers on the web, and they help keep me honest).  Would I use combat outposts, would I use ex-infantry and role them into the border patrol, would I use invasive techniques, and so on.  I have been struggling mightily to craft a cogent and coherent response, while also keeping in the back of my mind that there are stipulations: Tennessee v. Garner for the use of force, the Posse Comitatus Act, the sovereignty of neighboring nations to consider, the Arms Export Control Act, etc., etc.

It seems that the CIA (and someone higher in the administration?) doesn’t care about the law as much as I do.  We’ve decided to take sides in the Mexican cartel war as a means to keep the current Mexican administration in power.  And this possibly runs to the top of the CIA, and recently confirmed defense secretary Leon Panetta.  This is just a horrible, horrible commentary on the curent U.S. administration and the lengths to which they are willing to go to skirt the law.

UPDATE #1: Agent Terry’s family has been denied crime victim status in Gun Walker case.

Coffey and others wonder if Burke has a conflict. It was his office that led Operation Fast and Furious. The operation, while executed by agents for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was managed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley. Hurley drafted the response to the family’s motion. It was signed by Burke.

Congressional investigators are expected to subpoena both to appear before the House Government and Oversight Committee next month to answer questions about the flawed operation that put some 2,000 weapons in the hands of the Sinaloa cartel.

LaJeunesse goes on to speculate that Avila might have cut a deal with prosecutors that would keep him out of jail, a development that would go over especially poorly if Terry’s family was seated in the courtroom, armed with official crime victim status.  The family may also be considering a wrongful death suit against the federal government, which would involve Burke.  Victim status would pump a lot of energy into that case.

Note again.  His own family has been denied crime victim status.  With this threshold, who could have ever met the criteria, whatever it is, for crime victim?

Naming Names in Operation Fast and Furious

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 11 months ago

The Daily Caller has a report that seems to be evidence that holes are showing in the DoJ story on Operation Fast and Furious.  With these holes is coming new light, and now, names.

House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, will soon air a different side of Operation Fast and Furious: what Mexico-based U.S. law enforcement officials dealt with. Senior Justice Department leadership in Washington ignored concerns Mexico-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials raised about the program, according to assertions made as part of the congressional investigation.

A House oversight committee hearing on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. will examine effects Operation Fast and Furious had on “The Other Side of the Border.”

Former ATF attaché to Mexico, Darren Gil told Congressional investigators that, when he became aware of an “abnormal number of [Fast and Furious weapons] recoveries” in Mexico, he called Phoenix-based ATF officials with his concerns. Gil said they told him they were “working on it” and he was “satisfied” with that first response.

“Unfortunately, my chief analyst and my deputy would come back and say, Darren, these are – we’re getting more and more of these seizures,” Gil said. “And I would make inquiries with the Phoenix field division and I wasn’t getting any responses back.” Gil said he “may have gotten two more phone calls” saying the same thing: “Yeah, we’re working on it, we’re working on it.”

Gil said his analyst and deputy would enter E-Trace data from the weapons they seized in Mexico, but were not granted access to the information about the specific guns. So, because Gil’s colleagues in Phoenix shut him out and wouldn’t answer any specific questions, Gil reached out to Washington-based officials.

He called Dan Kumor, ATF’s chief of international affairs, only to get a similar answer. Gil told Congressional investigators that Kumor said it was “an on-going investigation.” (Issa, Grassley blast Holder in letter after secret meeting with ATF’s Ken Melson)

“They’re looking at straw purchasers, they have cooperative Federal Firearms Licensees and it sounds like a significant investigation,” Gil said Kumor told him, adding that “he didn’t have access to the trace information either.” But, Gil said Kumor told him every official “on the chain” up to Kumor from Phoenix was “aware of the investigation.”

Gil said he wasn’t satisfied with the lack of answers from Washington-based officials, and got into “screaming matches” with Kumor. “Hey, when are they going to shut this, to put it bluntly, damn investigation down, we’re getting hurt down here,” Gil told Congressional investigators he’d scream at Kumor.

Assuming the accuracy of this testimony, “every official on the chain up to [chief] Kumor from Phoenix” was aware of the investigation.  It’s apparent that “the investigation” refers not to some larger program into which Operation Fast and Furious fit as a puzzle piece, but the illegal gun running itself.  Otherwise, there is no need to stonewall and hide information.  The Mexican government already knew about broad-based efforts to interdict weapons transfers.  More evidence emerges.

Gil also told Congressional investigators that Obama administration officials worried he’d tell the Mexican ambassador or brief the Mexican government on the operation. He said that’s why he wasn’t given specifics or details about Operation Fast and Furious. “I can tell you what I was told and they were afraid I was going to either brief the ambassador on it or brief the Government of Mexico officials on it,” Gil said, adding that, “They were just worried about somebody leaking whatever was unique about this investigation.”

Gil said his bosses promised him Operation Fast and Furious would be shut down in the summer of 2010. It did not officially end, though, until the end of 2010, after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s death.

Gil and now-acting ATF attaché to Mexico Carlos Canino also told Congressional investigators high-ranking ATF and Justice Department officials bragged about what they considered successes of Operation Fast and Furious. Officials they said included Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who oversees the DOJ’s criminal division, and acting ATF director Ken Melson.

“Lanny Breuer says, yeah, there is a good case, there is a good case out of Phoenix,” Canino said of a meeting he and Gil had with Breuer and the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual.

Lanny Breuer.  This Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General.  And here is my bet.  Lanny Breuer is no rougue attorney with the DoJ.  He conspired and acted in concert with others in the administration to violate the arms exports control act.  We need a special prosecutor to expose the truth and full extent of the illegalities.

Justice Department Trying To Shield Officials in Gun Scandal

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 12 months ago

From The LA Times:

The Justice Department is trying to protect its political appointees from the Fast and Furious scandal by concealing an internal “smoking gun” report and other documents that acknowledge the role top officials played in the program that allowed firearms to flow illegally into Mexico, according to the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Kenneth E. Melson, the ATF’s acting director, also told congressional investigators this month that the affidavits prepared to obtain wiretaps used in the ill-fated operation were inconsistent with Justice Department officials’ public statements about the program. Justice Department officials advised him not to raise his concerns with Congress about “institutional problems” with the Fast and Furious operation, Melson said.

“It was very frustrating to all of us,” Melson told congressional investigators in a private meeting over the Fourth of July holiday, “and it appears thoroughly to us that the department is really trying to figure out a way to push the information away from their political appointees at the department.”

Not only was the department slow to react, Melson said, but Justice Department officials indicated they did not want him to cooperate with Congress.

A transcript of his comments was released Monday by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Melson said he wasn’t attempting to shield his agency from its share of the blame. He acknowledged an instance in which his agents failed to intercept high-powered weapons when they could have.

“The deputy attorney general’s office wasn’t very happy with us” at the ATF, Melson said, “because they thought this was an admission that there were mistakes made. Well, there were some mistakes made.”

No one is surprised by this information.  As I’ve said before, it isn’t in the DNA of this administration to be forthcoming or accountable in its actions.  It appears that Melson made the decision to “turn state’s evidence,” so to speak.  But I do disagree with one thing.  He admitted to “mistakes.”  The trafficking of weapons in violation of the National Firearms Act and Export Control Act isn’t a “mistake.”  It’s an illegality.

The combination of illegalities and coverups by the administration is why we need a special prosecutor.

UPDATE #1: Media Matters accuses the LA Times of misfiring on this story.  But it appears that perhaps Media Matters is the one who misfired.  Government Accountability Project reports thusly:

Operation Fast and Furious (F&F) – a program run by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that allowed thousands of lethal weapons to cross the Mexican border – was apparently no secret among high-level political authorities at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Among those in the know? Newly-confirmed Deputy Attorney General James Cole.


Interpreting and Analyzing Project Gunrunner

Congressman Bilirakis Questions Holder On Tampa ATF Office Gunwalker Allegations

Gunrunner Comment of the Day

Tampa ATF Officer Gunrunner Coverup

Project Gunrunner Category

Interpreting and Analyzing Project Gunrunner

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

Media Matters excoriates those who traffic in confusion over Project Gunrunner.

This is starting to get pathetic.

Right-wing media outlets keep dishing out new “evidence” for why senior Justice Department leaders must have known about Fast and Furious, a failed operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). All they keep proving is that those officials knew about Project Gunrunner, the high-profile effort begun under President Bush of which Fast and Furious was one small part.

They’ve already used this conflation to baselessly claim that the stimulus included funds for Fast and Furious (the funds were earmarked for Project Gunrunner and were not distributed to the ATF office that handled Fast and Furious) and that a 2009 Holder speech proves that he was aware of the program (the speech references only Gunrunner and was given before Fast and Furious was initiated).

In their latest effort, these outlets are pointing to a two-minute clip of a speech that then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden gave on March 29, 2009. In the speech, Ogden said:

DOJ’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is increasing its efforts by adding 37 new employees in three new offices, using $10 million in Recovery Act funds and redeploying 100 personnel to the Southwest border in the next 45 days to fortify its Project Gunrunner, which is aimed at disrupting arms trafficking between the United States and Mexico.

ATF is doubling its presence in Mexico itself, from five to nine personnel working with the Mexicans, specifically to facilitate gun-tracing activity, which targets the illegal weapons and their sources in the United States.

Let’s go over this again: Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious are not the same thing, and Fast and Furious wasn’t reportedly begun until six months after Ogden gave this speech.

Nonetheless, in an editorial comparing Fast and Furious to Watergate, Investor’s Business Daily claims that the Ogden video “may rival the tape that turned a ‘third-rate burglary’ into a presidential resignation.” IBD also claims that both the Ogden clip and Holder’s speech show the speaker “taking credit” for both Project Gunrunner and Fast and Furious. They provide text from both speeches in which the speaker references the former and not the latter, because they are lying (and embarrassingly bad at it).

Meanwhile, Andrew Breitbart’s cites this clip to claim that Ogden left DOJ in late 2009 because he “wanted to reduce his chances of becoming the ‘fall guy’ for the Obama Administration after news of this doomed-from-the-start gun-running operation became public.”

Analysis & Commentary

David Codrea and Bob Owens have both had this in their sights.  David does legitimate reporting as well as analysis and commentary, while I mostly focus on analysis and commentary.  So at times I speculate or infer, usually based on a string of evidence or reports (some published, some maybe not).  But regardless of however much we might like the reporting at Big Government, or Salem News, when they link up video or cite documents demonstrating that so-and-so was aware of Project Gunrunner, and flatly assert that he or she is admitting complicity in the smuggling of weapons to the cartels, it is both sloppy and not necessarily correct (note that I said not necessarily, and I’ll return to this later).  It isn’t necessarily correct, not yet, and not exactly.

We know that Project Gunrunner began in Texas in 2005, and was designed primarily during the Bush administration to include the training of the Mexican authorities in the use of eTrace to track weapons.  It involved a handful of ATF field agents, but until late in the Bush administration it wasn’t heavily resourced or funded.  The Merida Initiative changed that.  There were a number of problems with this initiative, but at the moment, I’m just relaying the facts.

The stimulus of 2009 sent more money in the direction of Project Gunrunner.  When the Obama administration took office, there was increased attention on Project Gunrunner, and most astute readers are aware of Operation Fast and Furious which focused on the Southern border and which was run primarily out of the Phoenix office of the ATF.  Fewer people are aware that there was a similar companion operation (called Operation Castaway) in which weapons were released to MS-13 in Honduras, run primarily out of the Tampa office of the ATF.

More recently, there is e-mail evidence indicating that the ATF was searching for anecdotal support for a demand letter on long gun sales in July of 2010.  And only a few days ago David Codrea published a letter he received concerning the illegality of the trafficking of weapons, a point I have made (albeit not as clearly) before.

“[it] isn’t okay for the ATF to violate the National Firearms Act or the Arms Export Control Act if I must live within its stipulations.”

There is indeed illegality involved for knowledgeable individuals (the executive branch of the government cannot willingly violate laws legitimately enacted by Congress any more than can I).  So there is a lot at stake to protect information and identities.  It will be some time before everything is uncovered in this scandal.

But if there is sloppiness in some conservative commentary concerning the conflation of Project Gunrunner and Fast and Furious (or Castaway), and even if Media Matters got this one at least partially right, there is another perspective.

There is a lot of dissimilarity between Project Gunrunner during the Bush and Obama administrations.  Project Gunrunner was small during the Bush years, and doesn’t appear to have included any illegal trafficking of weapons.  The Obama administration oversaw a significant expansion of the program, with strategic studies, Office of Inspector General recommendations for more expansion, the training of corrupt Mexican police, involvement of the FBI and DEA, etc.

We know all of these things based on irrefutable evidence.  We can assess, or speculate, that there is cohesion of intent and knowledge of the operations up the chain of command within the administration.  In other words, we can speculate that weapons trafficking was a subset of Project Gunrunner, as it morphed during the Obama administration into something much larger and organized than it was in the Bush years.  Another way of saying it is that equating Project Gunrunner during the Bush and Obama years is inaccurate.  Same words, different meaning.

We can speculate that since Mr. Obama is a statist, or Fabian Socialist in his thinking, his slip concerning bitterly clinging to guns and religion wasn’t really a slip.  It was a glimpse into his soul, the very core of his being.  I tend towards this interpretation, and thus I have no problem surmising that the chain of evidence plus what I know about Mr. Obama and his administration points towards complicity and prior knowledge within his administration.  Mr. Obama is no friend to firearms.

But it’s important that this be stated as surmising at the moment.  There is much investigative work to be done, and hunting for evidence from amongst this administration will be like pulling teeth.  Finding the truth will be hard.  Commentators are best advised to do better research before conflating phrases and terms, and get busy researching and digging.  Personally, I believe that Project Gunrunner isn’t the same thing it once was.  As I said before, same words, different meaning.  But I’m unwilling at the moment to flatly assert much more than what I have said thus far.

Congressman Bilirakis Questions Holder On Tampa ATF Office Gunwalker Allegations

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

David Codrea is reporting that Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) wrote a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder and Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kenneth Melson, expressing deep concerns over the allegations of release of guns to MS-13 from the Tampa ATF office.

“These reports,” Bilirakis writes, “raise troubling questions about the motives, intentions, and competency of the ATF and DOJ.”

“In recent days,” he notes, “it has come to light that the ATF and DOJ may have participated in the act of ‘gun walking’ beyond the acts conducted within the scope of “Operation Fast and Furious’…and that similar programs included the possible trafficking of arms to dangerous criminal gangs in Honduras with the knowledge of the ATF’s Tampa Field Division.”

The complete list of questions is as follows:

1. Can you confirm whether or not the ATF Tampa Field Division and/or the Department of Justice’s Middle District of Florida participated in a “gun walking” scheme that allowed weapons to be trafficked to Honduras?

2. If so, does the ATF or the DOJ have knowledge of any of these firearms ending up in the possession of the notorious MS-13 gang?

3. How many guns have been allowed to pass into Honduras and how many have since been accounted for?

4. Were trafficked weapons subject to any special monitoring processes once they left the United States?

5. Has “Operation Castaway” been terminated? If not, does the DOJ or ATF plan to terminate this program or urge its termination?

6. Has the DOJ or the ATF established any criteria or guidance pertaining to what is admissible for future operations aimed at preventing firearms from being obtained and used by dangerous foreign criminal organizations in crimes similar to the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry?

David Codrea enters a detailed discussion about whether this facet of the scandal is subdivided into “Operation Castaway.”  I think that this is unimportant, and the important thing to follow is David’s reporting on the events and people.  Don’t miss what’s happening here.  It has been said that “Fast and Furious” was separate from Project Gunrunner (or at least, a subset of it).  “Operation Castaway” is supposed to be another subset of Project Gunrunner.  These details will all come to light in the coming days if Congress probes deeply enough, but the important thing now is that their own reporting claims that there is coherence and consistency of effort, a common strategy, and approval of the project – taken as a whole – from the very top levels of the administration.  The subdivided operation at the field offices under which each illegality falls is not currently important.

The scandal deepens and widens, and the depth and extent of the illegalities is only beginning to emerge.  Perhaps Congressman Bilirakis can get to the ATF before they shred all of the pertinent documents.

Prior: Project Gunrunner category

Gunrunner Comment of the Day

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

Comment of the day:

The Obama administration, charged with and sworn under oath to the task of enforcing the laws of this country, used a federal agency for the purpose of allowing the laws to be violated, so as to effect changes in the laws they don’t like.

And if they don’t get the law changed, they’ll just unilaterally change it themselves through agency regulation?

[ … ]

This is the gravest dereliction of sworn duty I have witnessed in my lifetime. Almost directly, it led to the death of an agent under their control.

And it deserves at least 20 years with no parole in Leavenworth prison.

And it has expanded to the Tampa ATF Office, which is currently engaged in a coverup.

Tampa ATF Office Gunrunner Coverup

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

It has been pointed out that there is a difference between Project Gunrunner and the subset of this project that involved the release of firearms to members of the Mexican drug cartel, or so-called “Fast and Furious.”  The point is taken, but I think that it is easy to press this point too far.

I have pointed out that the ATF’s strategy expanded and had to be modified based on guidance from the White House and Department of Justice.  There was knowledge of the operations and consistency of efforts up the chain of command.  What under President Bush required only a handful of ATF agents to interdict weapons, suddenly became an operation funded with stimulus money, involving some 100 additional ATF agents at the Southwest border, according to Eric Holder’s own statements.  Project Gunrunner without “Fast and Furious,” or the intentional, illegal transport of weapons across the border, is like a football camp without scrimmages.

The sordid details include the deaths of law enforcement officers on both sides of the border, but as the scandal grows, the list of consequences does as well.  We have recently learned that the ATF helped to train corrupt Mexican police officers in the use of electronic tracking and detection techniques (with such training coinciding with the intentional release of weapons to the Mexican drug cartels as part of “Fast and Furious”).

But the scandal grows worse just in the last couple of days.  Some 1000 weapons had been released to Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Honduras.  This was done not through the Phoenix office of the ATF, but through Tampa office.  David Codrea reports on the coverup currently going on.

The source reporting Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Tampa Field Division Virginia O’Brien “ran a gun-running investigation that was walking guns to Honduras using the techniques and tactics identical to Fast and Furious” contacted these correspondents again this evening with this follow-up report:

O’Brien is in full meltdown.  She ordered supervisors from around the Division to report immediately to division offices and to plan on working through the entire weekend on the coverup.

Her partner in the bungle was ASAC Scott McCampbell.  At one point the case was ready to be wrapped up with arrests and remain relatively efficient but O’Brien and McCampbell decided on their own to keep it going to “get more” against the advise of thier (sic) field employees and the walked guns numbers got out of control.

OB is terrified that her intentional concealing of her walked guns is going to do her in since she disregarded orders to report to DOJ and Congress.

Nearly the same culprits above her are on the hook for this.  Chait knew about it so did Hoover and Melson.  The new player is DAD East Julie Torres.  She took O’Brien’s old DAD job when OB went to Tampa and has given OB carte blanche to do whatever she wants with little oversight.

Reportedly the shredders are buzzing.

Thus the scandal – and coverup – expands to the Tampa office, and yet responsibility finds no home at the top of the administration (or even in the middle).

Prior: Project Gunrunner category

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