Fast and Furious, a primer
Fast and Furious
A primer by Western Free Press
Fast and Furious, a Primer is Part I in a series exploring the events and investigation of the federally supported gunning scandal.
The Fast and Furious gun-walking operation is now a national scandal, snaring President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and a host of Justice Department officials and agencies. But it also is an Arizona story, the tale of a failed law enforcement policy that was launched in Phoenix and ended in tragedy in the mountains south of Tucson.
The seminal event of Fast and Furious occurred on December 14, 2010, when Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed by suspected drug criminals while on patrol north of Nogales. Two guns used by the criminals in the firefight were later traced to Fast and Furious. Guns bought and paid for by the U.S. government killed a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
For a quick video overview, watch the video produced by the American Future Fund, below:
Arizonans understandably see Fast and Furious in the larger context of the federal government’s failure to secure the U.S.-Mexican border. They never lose sight of the fact that their state is plagued by drug-related violence. Along with millions of other Americans, they question the motive for Fast and Furious and now wait for answers from President Obama and Attorney General Holder.
Fast and Furious began in October 2009 as a Justice Department operation designed to trace guns purchased in the United States to Mexican drug cartels. Officials were alarmed by the rising rate of violence in the cartel drug wars and the prospect of guns purchased illegally in the U.S. The operation aimed to interrupt the gun-trafficking pipeline, identify drug cartel criminals, and seek arrests and prosecutions. The guns walked to Mexico were a means to an end.
So-called straw or stand-in purchasers bought assault weapons in Phoenix with the intention of trafficking the guns to Mexico. Then, instead of arresting the purchasers and seizing the guns, government agents allowed the guns to “walk” freely to Mexico. The operation went wrong from the start. Law enforcement officials quickly lost track of the guns. Some law enforcement personnel who later turned whistleblowers revealed that the guns were never traced at all.
The Justice Department shut down the operation shortly after the death of Brian Terry. Soon, the media reported that some ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) agents had been skeptical of Fast and Furious from the start and warned their superiors that the operation put agents in danger.
In January 2011, Senator Charles Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began a Fast and Furious investigation. ATF agents had turned to him for help after Terry’s death and mounting concern about the operation. Grassley asked the Justice Department for details.
In early February, the Assistant Attorney General sent Grassley a reply, stating that ATF never sanctioned or knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers for transport to Mexico. He added that ATF made every effort to interdict illegally purchased weapons to prevent them from reaching Mexico.
Other events followed in quick succession. Representative Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, joined with Grassley in the Fast and Furious investigation. An ATF agent publicly linked Agent Terry’s death to Fast and Furious.
President Obama said that neither he nor Holder knew about or approved the operation. Holder testified in May that he had only heard about Fast and Furious a few weeks earlier. The ATF Director was reassigned and the U.S. Attorney in Phoenix resigned. Then news sources said that Justice Department memos mentioning Fast and Furious had been sent to Holder in the summer of 2010, almost a year before he claimed he learned of the operation. Holder said he never saw the memos.
In November of 2011, Holder backtracked and said the February letter to Grassley denying ATF gun walking was inaccurate. Although the Justice Department had provided Congress with some documents, investigators asked for more. Soon the Justice Department slammed the door, refusing to provide Congress with documents addressing department deliberations over Fast and Furious during the period between the ATF denial and Holder’s correction.
A stalemate ensued that lasts to this day. The deadlock spilled over into 2012 as Holder and Congress continued the standoff.
Shortly before the House Committee vote in June holding Holder in contempt of Congress, President Obama invoked executive privilege to block the further release of Justice Department documents. On June 28, the full House voted to hold Holder in contempt. It was the first such vote against an Attorney General in U.S. history.
On July 9, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment of five suspects in the assault on Brian Terry and three other agents. Four are still at large and are thought to be in Mexico. The department posted a $1 million reward for information leading to their arrests.
That is where it stands, and Fast and Furious remains a mystery. What is in the Fast and Furious files that President Obama and Attorney General Holder do not want the American people to see? Why did the Justice Department deny gun-walking and then admit it nine months later? What was the real purpose of Fast and Furious?
Arizonans have a special need for answers to these questions. The ill-fated operation occurred in their state. Criminals using assault weapons purchased by the U.S. government killed a border patrol agent on their soil. Along with every American, the citizens or Arizona deserve answers.
Please visit Western Free Press often, as Part II of our series into Fast and Furious will be posted within the next few days.