Ob­ject­ing ATF agents ‘told to fall in line’ in gun-run­ning case

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Fed­eral agents tes­ti­fied to Congress on June 15 that their su­pe­ri­ors told them to stand down and watch as weapons flowed from gun deal­ers in Ari­zona to crim­i­nals and vi­o­lent drug car­tels in Mex­ico as part of a nowdis­cred­ited op­er­a­tion de­signed to catch gun­run­ners.

Named Fast and Fu­ri­ous, the op­er­a­tion, led by the Bu­reau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives (ATF) has been dis­avowed by Pres­i­dent Obama and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr., who said it was run­ning with­out their ap­proval.

The pro­gram was halted af­ter U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a De­cem­ber fire­fight, and authorities say two guns found at the scene were traced back to Fast and Fu­ri­ous straw pur­chases.

“We weren’t giv­ing guns to peo­ple who were hunt­ing bear, we were giv­ing guns to peo­ple who were killing hu­mans,” said ATF Group Su­per­vi­sor Peter For­celli, who said he ob­jected to the pro­gram as soon as he learned about it af­ter be­ing trans­ferred to Phoenix from New York.

He and two fel­low agents tes­ti­fied that the op­er­a­tion had lit­tle chance of achiev­ing its ob­jec­tive of en­snar­ing Mex­i­can drug car­tels, since those buy­ers were so many steps re­moved from the U.S. pur­chases. That made OK’ing risky gun pur­chases all the more dan­ger­ous, they said.

Spe­cial Agent John Dod­son said the op­er­a­tion fa­cil­i­tated the sale of about 2,500 firearms, and while hun­dreds have been re­cov­ered there could be as many as 1,800 of them still out. Agent Dod­son said of those, two-thirds are likely in Mex­ico and the rest still in the U.S.

When agents ob­jected to the op­er­a­tion, “We were told to just fall in line and do what we were told,” said Spe­cial Agent Olindo “Lee” Casa.

House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, re­leased emails that he said show that se­nior ATF lead­ers were reg­u­larly fol­low­ing the op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing one email that showed acting ATF Di­rec­tor Ken­neth Mel­son wanted to be able to watch the cam­eras hid­den in gun shops him­self over the In­ter­net, so he could see the straw buy­ers walk out with the weapons.

Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were en­raged by the op­er­a­tion, and Mr. Holder has asked the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral to in­ves­ti­gate it.

But Mr. Issa has his panel look­ing into the mat­ter as well, and he has been spar­ring with the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which says it is wor­ried about spoil­ing the on­go­ing crim­i­nal case against those ac­cused of killing Mr. Terry.

Mr. Issa held up redacted doc­u­ments sent to the com­mit­tee by the Jus­tice Depart­ment that had en­tire pages blacked out.

“If you’re go­ing to count pages like this as dis­cov­ery, you should be ashamed of your­self,” he told Ron­ald We­ich, as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for leg­isla­tive af­fairs, who also ap­peared be­fore the panel.

Mr. We­ich, who used to work as a Se­nate staffer, said the depart­ment has promised to get to the bot­tom of the op­er­a­tion and de­flected most other ques­tions. He said that in­ves­ti­ga­tion will in­clude who the high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cial was who au­tho­rized the pro­gram.

Mr. We­ich also de­fended two ear­lier let­ters he had sent Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, that said the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not know­ingly let guns slip across the bor­der. Mr. We­ich said that in­for­ma­tion was cor­rect at the time he sent the let­ters, though he ac­knowl­edged the agents’ tes­ti­mony raises ques­tions about their ac­cu­racy now.

Mr. Terry’s mother, sis­ter and cousin also tes­ti­fied at the hear­ing, say­ing they have not been told much about the con­tra­band firearms found at the scene of his death.

Robert Heyer, Mr. Terry’s cousin, summed up the tragedy of his rel­a­tive’s death in mid-De­cem­ber with a poignant story.

“Brian’s at­ten­tion to de­tail had in­sured that all the Christ­mas gifts he had metic­u­lously se­lected for his fam­ily had al­ready been bought and sent in the mail prior to his ar­rival,” Mr. Heyer said. “Brian did ul­ti­mately come home that Christ­mas; we buried him not far from the house that he was raised in just prior to Christ­mas Day.”

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