Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious XLIII

End the Delays of Fast and Furious Inquiry
White House, Justice Should Cooperate with Congressional Probe
Express-News Editorial Board

The revelations about Operation Fast and Furious keep getting worse. The Obama administration needs to start showing some accountability and providing answers.
In the latest round of congressional hearings on the gun sting run amok, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives posted to Mexico City testified that they pleaded with their superiors in Washington to end the operation. “Hey, when are they going to shut this, to put it bluntly, damn investigation down?” one ATF agent recalled asking. “We're getting hurt down here.”
ATF agents in the United States lost track of as many as 1,700 weapons that were intentionally sold to straw buyers under Operation Fast and Furious since 2009, many of which ended up in the hands of violent drug cartels. According to the Mexican government, which was not aware of the program, 150 Mexican citizens have been killed or injured by weapons smuggled in from the United States with the full knowledge of U.S. officials.
Which officials knew about the program and its failures is still a big question. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have denied knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious before this spring, and no one at the Justice Department — the ATF's parent agency — has acknowledged a role in authorizing or running the program. Yet Operation Fast and Furious didn't materialize out of nowhere.
Both the White House and the Justice Department have declined to comment on the case because Justice is pursuing an internal investigation. Congressional investigators and the acting ATF director have accused Holder of using the internal investigation as an excuse to obstruct the inquiry on Capitol Hill.
One of the ATF agents in Mexico City called the bungled operation “a perfect storm of idiocy.” The lack of cooperation from the White House and Justice Department are making that perfect storm even worse.

As Congressman Darrell Issa Chases Fast and Furious, the New York Times Deploys Smoke Screen

Posted by AWR Hawkins

On Monday the New York Times ran what can only be described as a hit piece against Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA). Written by Eric Lichtblau, the ostensive goal of the column was to demonstrate how Issa has supposedly used his position in congress to enrich himself, but my guess is that the real goal of the piece was to malign Issa’s character, thereby undercutting the momentum his investigation of “Fast and Furious” has gained.
Why would I think this? A better question is why wouldn’t I? The piece is so full of distortions, exaggerations, and outright lies that there’s really nothing other than character assassination that justifies it.
For example, the piece opens by describing Issa’s home office on “the third floor of a gleaming office building overlooking a golf course in the rugged foothills north of San Diego.” The problem with this is that Issa’s office isn’t in that location. Rather, the office is located at 1800 Thibodo Road, in a building that does not overlook a golf course.
The piece also states that the Issa Family Foundation made “$357,000 on an initial investment of less than $19,000” when the truth is the foundation “took a loss of $125,000” on what was actually an initial investment of $500,000.
Lichtblau was so desperate to score a goal here that he actually argued that the Kennedys exemplified the idea of not seeking one’s own enrichment while in office. (I know that’s always the impression I got when I read a story about America’s Camelot or saw a picture of the expansive Kennedy compound.)
Honestly folks, the last time I found this many fabrications in one place I was reading John Kerry’s attempted rebuttal of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
To be clear, I’m not trying to say the Obama administration put in a call to the Times asking them to do what they could to get Issa off the scent. But for reasons that maybe only Lichtblau and the Times know, I wholeheartedly believe this piece was meant to somehow slow down the good work Issa is doing in uncovering the tangled web of Fast and Furious. (And as more and more of the evidence associated with Fast and Furious seems to link it to the White House, there is more and more need for outlets like the Times to run interference if Obama is to stay above the fray.)
Call me crazy, but my theory is that because Issa’s chasing Fast and Furious, the Times has deployed a smoke screen to stall his progress.

ATF promotes supervisors in controversial gun operation

The three, who have been criticized for pushing on with the border weapons sting even as it came apart, receive new management jobs in Washington.

By Richard A. Serrano

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 and Newell have acknowledged making serious mistakes in the program, which was dubbed Operation Fast and Furious.

"I share responsibility for mistakes that were made," McMahon testified to a House committee three weeks ago. "The advantage of hindsight, the benefit of a thorough review of the case, clearly points me to things that I would have done differently."

Three Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesspokesmen did not return phone calls Monday asking about the promotions. But several agents said they found the timing of the promotions surprising, given the turmoil at the agency over the failed program.

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.

Kenneth E. Melson, the ATF's acting director, said in an agency-wide confidential email announcing the promotion that McMahon was among ATF employees being rewarded because of "the skills and abilities they have demonstrated throughout their careers."

Newell was the special agent in charge of the field office for Arizona and New Mexico, where Fast and Furious was conducted. On Aug. 1, the ATF announced he would become special assistant to the assistant director of the agency's Office of Management in Washington.

Voth was an on-the-ground team supervisor for the operation, and last month he was moved to Washington to become branch chief for the ATF's tobacco division.

The program ran from November 2009 to January 2011, with the aim of identifying Mexican drug cartel leaders by allowing illegal purchases of firearms and then tracking those weapons. Nearly 200 were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, and in December two semiautomatics were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's slaying in Arizona.

No cartel leaders were arrested.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are reviewing the operation.

Steve Martin, an ATF deputy assistant director, said he urged McMahon as far back as January 2010 to end the operation, and was met with silence. "I asked Mr. McMahon, I said, what's your plan?" Martin told the House committee. "Hearing none, I don't know if they had one."

Newell spent a decade on the border. As Operation Fast and Furious was unraveling, he insisted that his agents never allowed guns to "walk."

The statement angered many agents. "Literally, my mouth fell open," said Agent Larry Alt, who worked under Newell. "I am not being figurative about this. I couldn't believe it."

Newell has since acknowledged that "frequent risk assessments would be prudent" for operations like Fast and Furious. He also said the slaying of Terry "is one I will mourn for the rest of my life."

Voth supervised the crew of ATF agents under the operation. As they questioned the wisdom of allowing illegal purchases, he countered that because the weapons were turning up at Mexico crime scenes, cartel leaders had to be involved. He told his crew members they were "watching the right people."

His agents did not buy it.

"Whenever we would get a trace report back," said Agent John Dodson, Voth "was jovial, if not giddy, just delighted about that: Hey, 20 of our guns were recovered with 350 pounds of dope in Mexico last night. … To them it proved the nexus to the drug cartels. It validated that were really working a cartel case here."

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