We know an agent was killed during the F&F operations in 2007, but finding out how and why the agent was killed doesn’t appear to be on Darrell Issa’s agenda except to mention it a couple of times…
So…what is Operation Fast and Furious?
Fast and Furious was a “gun-walking” operation conducted by the Phoenix, Arizona branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (or the ATF) from 2009 and 2011. The idea was to encourage licensed Arizona gun merchants to sell firearms to known criminals, in the hope that law enforcement would be able to then trace the weapons from Arizona as they crossed the border into Mexico, slowly making their way into the hands of bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartels. Fast and Furious was part of a broader series of investigations called Project Gunrunner, all of which had the collective long-term goal of halting the flow of weapons to criminals in Mexico. Arizona gun sellers sold about 2,000 weapons to “straw” buyers, often young kids lured by a reported $100 per transaction. The ATF lost track of an estimated 1,700 of those guns. One buyer alone is reported to have purchased 600 of the weapons. In another incident, one buyer went on a spree, snapping up 34 firearms in about three weeks.
Yikes. When did this all begin?
Project Gunrunner began in Laredo, Texas, in 2005 and was expanded in 2006. Operation Fast and Furious was operational from 2009 to 2011.
And this was the first time the feds had tried this?
No. In fact, two similar gun-walking operations, including one run out of the same Phoenix-area office that oversaw Operation Fast and Furious, were conducted under President George W. Bush. The first, Operation Wide Receiver, ran from 2006 to 2007, and tried to make use of the same chain of gun buyers, smugglers, and middle men who tossed deadly weapons up the ladder to cartel enforcers. Both Wide Receiver and the 2007 probe allowed guns to make their way across the border in a manner similar to Fast and Furious.
So what went wrong this time?
One hardly knows where to start: the history of Fast and Furious is in many ways a litany of disasters. Guns showed up where they were not supposed to be. A cache of more than 40 firearms sold through Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Arizona – an important outlet for Operation Fast and Furious – wound up in Texas in January 2010. In a separate incident, a gun runner was let off by the ATF so that he would lead them to higher-ups – a plan that was thwarted when ATF agents discovered too late that the men he led them to were already informants for the FBI. Kenneth E. Melson, then acting director of the ATF, announced in August 2011 that he was stepping down from his post as more details on Fast and Furious leaked out.
There’s more, though. What about Brian Terry?
Right. On December 14, 2010, Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry and other officers were on patrol in the Arizona desert when gunfire erupted. In the firefight that ensued, Terry and the other agents took aim at the Mexican gunmen first with non-lethal weapons and then with live ammunition. Terry was killed in the fight. Afterward, two AK-47 assault rifles were recovered from the site of the encounter –and both guns had been sold as part of Operation Fast and Furious. While ATF officials at first cited an FBI ballistics report that showed that a gun sold through Fast and Furious was not the murder weapon, later reports showed that it was actually not conclusive.
Following Terry’s death, President Obama ordered the Justice Department’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of Fast and Furious.
Sounds like a mess. What did Mexico think of this?
Apparently, they had no idea. When Mario Gonzalez, brother of an influential Mexican prosecutor, was tortured and killed in 2010, Mexican and American law enforcement officials were stunned. The Mexican police, however, did not know the whole story. Central to the case were the killers’ weapons – assault rifles that had slipped across the border under the watchful but passive eye of American border agents. The Mexican attorney general has said that even while Americans were allowing guns to come into her country, she only heard about the program after it hit the press. “At no time did we know or were we made aware that there might have been arms trafficking permitted,” Marisela Morales said in an interview. “In no way would we have allowed it, because it is an attack on the safety of Mexicans.”
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