Monday, September 12, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious LVI

Gunwalker Explodes: FBI Hid Weapon, Tax Dollars Subsidized Murder

by Bob Owens

Fox News investigative reporter William Lajeunesse dropped a pair of bombshells in one article Friday afternoon, revealing: the presence of a third “walked” gun at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder, an FBI cover-up of the gun, and the news that your tax dollars funded cartel weapons purchases:
Unlike the two AK-style assault weapons found at the scene, the third weapon could more easily be linked to the informant. To prevent that from happening, sources say, the third gun “disappeared.”
In addition to the emails obtained by Fox News, an audio recording from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent investigating the Terry case seems to confirm the existence of a third weapon. In that conversation, the agent refers to an “SKS assault rifle out of Texas” found at the Terry murder scene south of Tucson. …
The two AK-type assault rifles were purchased by Jaime Avila from the Lone Wolf Trading Co. outside of Phoenix on Jan. 16, 2010. Avila was recruited by his roommate Uriel Patino. Patino, according to sources, received $70,000 in “seed money” from the FBI informant late in 2009 to buy guns for the cartel.
Every American, regardless of political ideology, should be livid that the FBI gave at least $70,000 of “seed money” to murderous felons so that they could buy firearms. The FBI knew these weapons were destined for narco-terrorists, and that they would be used to target not just other murderous cartels but to terrorize innocents.
The third weapon recovered at the scene of Agent Terry’s murder that the FBI made “disappear” is an SKS carbine. Not an assault weapon by any practical definition, authorities claim that the official existence of the Texas-purchased rifle at the crime scene could have exposed an FBI informant.
Another plausible motive for hiding the weapon is that it would be traced to a different ATF operational sector, as an early indication that gunwalking was not limited to Operation Fast and Furious in the Phoenix Field Operations area. We now know as a matter of fact that all three federal agents shot with walked firearms had weapons walked from Texas recovered at their crime scenes. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were ambushed in Mexico by members of the Zetas cartel, including at least one armed with a weapon from Lancaster, Texas, the Dallas Field Operations area.
The SKS “disappeared” by the FBI from the scene of Agent Terry’s murder most likely came from Dallas, but could have come from what appears to be a second Texas-based gunwalking operation, suggested by considerable circumstantial evidence to be centered in the Houston Field Operations area.
The fact that every U.S. agent gunned down in the line of duty was fired upon with weapons recovered from apparent gunwalking operations in the Dallas and/or Houston Field Operations areas — not to mention the revelation of an  domestic gunwalking operation in Indiana dubbed  “Gangwalker,” and now “Grenadewalker” — suggests a widespread program to arm violent felons.
If this supposition is correct — and new evidence emerging every few days suggests that is the case — then we are plagued by an executive branch gone mad, and there is every reason to believe that such madness either originated from the White House or was done with the full knowledge of the White House, as Mike Vanderboeghsuggests:
“This information confirms what our sources were saying all along — that the FBI was covering up the true circumstances of the murder of Brian Terry,” added Mike Vanderboegh, an authority on the Fast and Furious investigation who runs a whistleblower website called Sipsey Street.
“It also confirms that the FBI was at least as culpable, and perhaps more culpable, than the ATF in the (Fast and Furious) scandal, and that there was some guiding hand above both these agencies (and the other agencies involved) coordinating the larger operation,” Vanderboegh said.
Robert Mueller of the FBI and Ken Melson of the ATF obviously knew of these gunwalking operations. Michele Leonhart of the DEA likely knew. Eric Holder had to know.
Janet Napolitano, whose former Chief of Staff Dennis Burke ran Operation Fast and Furious and who was the governor of Arizona and its attorney general before then, had to know.
Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Charles Grassley smell corruption, and have expanded the Gunwalker investigation to request the records of Greg Gatjanis, Kevin O’Reilly, and Dan Restrepo, all from the president’s National Security Council.
Three White House officials know something about the operation, and yet we are expected to believe Eric Holder and Barack Obama when they deny knowledge of it?

Congress expands Fast and Furious probe to White House

by Richard Serrano

Congressional investigators reviewing the failed gun-tracking program Operation Fast and Furious have formally asked the Obama administration to turn over copies of "all records" involving three key White House national security officials and the program, other ATF gun cases in Phoenix, and all communications between the White House and the ATF field office in Arizona.

The letter signed Friday 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, was sent to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon, a top aide to President Obama.

It marks a significant step in the committee's investigation into the failed gun-tracking operation, as the committee begins to broaden its investigation from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and targets White House and Department of Justice officials.

This material, Issa and Grassley said, "will enable us to determine the extent of the involvement of White House staff in Operation Fast and Furious."

White House officials, along with those at the Justice Department, said they have been cooperating in the widening probe, begun earlier this year when several ATF whistleblowers alerted Congress that Fast and Furious weapons were found at the scene of the slaying of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

A White House official said that "no one at the White House knew about the investigative tactics being used in the operation, let alone any decision to let guns walk."

The official, who asked not to be identified Friday because the case is continuing, also said White House staffers and some members of Congress, including Issa, were given Fast and Furious briefings as early as April of 2010, but not about the investigative tactics of the operation.

"These e-mail exchanges show nothing more than an effort to give local color to a policy initiative that was designed to give more resources to help with the border problem," the official added.

Under the program, ATF agents allowed illegal gun purchases and hoped to track the weapons to Mexican cartel leaders. But most of the more than 2,000 firearms were lost. Hundreds have reportedly turned up in Mexican crime scenes, two at the shooting where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed,  and a semi-automatic was used in an altercation and assault with police in Maricopa, Ariz.

The congressional letter comes after a series of emails surfaced last week showing that William D. Newell, the ATF field supervisor in Phoenix during Fast and Furious, was in routine contact with Kevin O'Reilly, then the White House director of North American Affairs for the National Security Council. The emails discussed a broad range of gun-trafficking investigations on the Southwest Border, and White House officials have since acknowledged that the cases were part of Fast and Furious.

The White House has said that O'Reilly forwarded the emails to two other White House officials – Dan Restrepo, special assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs on the NSC, and Greg Gatjanis, director for Terrorist Finance and Counternarcotics, Counterterrorism Policy, also on the NSC.

In their letter, Issa and Grassley discussed a new email in which Newell told O'Reilly about a specific case that ATF agents had been aware of for three months involving a 22-year-old illegal gun purchaser whom the ATF allowed to buy nearly 700 firearms.

The purchaser was on food stamps and, Newell said in a follow-up email to O'Reilly, "when a 22-year-old kid on State financial assistance walks into a gun store and plops down $12,000 in cash to buy a tripod mounted .50 caliber rifle that's a clue (even for us) that he's involved in trafficking firearms for a Mexican DTO [cartel].'

According to Issa and Grassley, that exchange of information makes it "clear that the case Mr. Newell and Mr. O'Reilly were communicating about was Fast and Furious."

The letter requests all emails, documents, briefing papers and handwritten notes involving O'Reilly, Restrepo and Gatjanis during the Fast and Furious period, which ran for 15 months between fall 2009 and January 2011. The committee also wants to personally interview O'Reilly by the end of this month.


Gun store owner had misgivings about ATF sting

by Richard Serrano
In the fall of 2009, ATF agents installed a secret phone line and hidden cameras in a ceiling panel and wall at Andre Howard's Lone Wolf gun store. They gave him one basic instruction: Sell guns to every illegal purchaser who walks through the door.

For 15 months, Howard did as he was told. To customers with phony IDs or wads of cash he normally would have turned away, he sold pistols, rifles and semiautomatics. He was assured by the ATF that they would follow the guns, and that the surveillance would lead the agents to the violent Mexican drug cartels on the Southwest border.

When Howard heard nothing about any arrests, he questioned the agents. Keep selling, they told him. So hundreds of thousands of dollars more in weapons, including .50-caliber sniper rifles, walked out of the front door of his store in a Glendale, Ariz., strip mall.

He was making a lot of money. But he also feared somebody was going to get hurt.

"Every passing week, I worried about something like that," he said. "I felt horrible and sick."

Late in the night on Dec. 14, in a canyon west of Rio Rico, Ariz., Border Patrol agents came across Mexican bandits preying on illegal immigrants.

According to a Border Patrol "Shooting Incident" report, the agents fired two rounds of bean bags from a shotgun. The Mexicans returned fire. One agent fired from his sidearm, another with his M-4 rifle.

One of the alleged bandits, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, a 33-year-old Mexican from Sinaloa, was wounded in the abdomen and legs. Agent Brian Terry — 40, single, a former Marine — also went down. "I'm hit!" he cried.

A fellow agent cradled his friend. "I can't feel my legs," Terry said. "I think I'm paralyzed." A bullet had pierced his aorta. Tall and nearly 240 pounds, Terry was too heavy to carry. They radioed for a helicopter. But Terry was bleeding badly, and he died in his colleague's arms.

The bandits left Osorio-Arellanes behind and escaped across the desert, tossing away two AK-47 semiautomatics from Howard's store.

Some 2,000 firearms from the Lone Wolf Trading Company store and others in southern Arizona were illegally sold under an ATF program called Fast and Furious that allowed "straw purchasers" to walk away with the weapons and turn them over to criminal traffickers. But the agency's plan to trace the guns to the cartels never worked. As the case of the two Lone Wolf AK-47s tragically illustrates, the ATF, with a limited force of agents, did not keep track of them.

The Department of Justice in Washington said last week that one other Fast and Furious firearm turned up at a violent crime scene in this country. They have yet to provide any more details. They said another 28 Fast and Furious weapons were recovered at violent crimes in Mexico. They have not identified those cases either. The Mexican government maintains that an undisclosed number of Fast and Furious weapons have been found at some 170 crime scenes in their country.


Howard said he does not own a gun, does not hunt, and does not belong to the National Rifle Assn. His love is helicopters — a former Army pilot, he gives flying lessons. He said he fell into the gun-dealing business 21 years ago only to help support his career as a flight instructor. Howard spoke to a reporter for the first time in depth about why he cooperated with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He said he supported law enforcement, and never imagined a thousand weapons, or half of the entire Fast and Furious inventory, would "walk" out of his store. And when arrests were not forthcoming, "every passing week I was more stunned," he said.

According to a confidential memo written by assistant federal prosecutor Emory Hurley, "Mr. Howard had expressed concerns about the cooperation he was providing and whether he was endangering himself or implicating himself in a criminal investigation."

Other firearms dealers shared his concerns. At the nearby Scottsdale Gun Club, the proprietor sent an email to Agent David Voth. "I want to help ATF," he said, "but not at the risk of agents' safety because I have some very close friends that are U.S. Border Patrol agents in southern AZ."

Howard recalled that a chubby, bald and "very confident" man named Jaime Avila walked into the store on Jan. 16, 2010, and bought the AK-47s. Under the Fast and Furious protocol, agents were supposed to use the video cameras, surveillance, informants and law enforcement intelligence to follow the weapons and hope they led them to the drug cartels.

But no agents were watching on the hidden cameras or waiting outside to track the firearms when Avila showed up. Howard faxed a copy of the sale paperwork to the ATF "after the firearms were gone," assuming they would catch up later. They never did.

Between November 2009 and June 2010, according to an ATF agent's email to William Newell, then the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, Avila walked away with 52 firearms after he "paid approximately $48,000 cash. The firearms consisted of FN 5.7 pistols, 1 Barrett 50 BMG rifle, AK-47 variant rifles, Ruger 9mm handguns, Colt 38 supers, etc.…"

Sometime in spring or early summer 2010 — the exact date is unknown — U.S. immigration officers reportedly stopped Avila at the Arizona border with the two semiautomatics and 30 other weapons. According to two sources close to a congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, the authorities checked with the ATF and were told to release him with the weapons because the ATF was still hoping to track the guns to cartel members.

In Washington, ATF officials declined to comment. In Congress, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House investigating committee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department why Avila was not jailed and the guns seized. They have yet to receive an answer.

The two semi-automatics would turn up again, this time at the scene of the Terry shooting. According to sources, they were hidden in backpacks and stashed in the desert, ready for Mexican bandits.


When weapons were recovered at the scene of the agent's slaying, ATF officials in Phoenix scrambled. "All these ATF guys were showing up," one law enforcement official recalled. "We were trying to catch suspects and rope up the crime scene, and all the ATF guys were saying they needed the serial numbers! They needed the serial numbers!"

Newell wanted an immediate trace on the semiautomatics, and that afternoon ATF agents showed up at the Lone Wolf store. Howard had heard of Terry's death. "I was scared to death," he said. They asked for his paperwork and matched the serial numbers. "Both of them were in shock, too," he said. "You could tell they were sick."

A little before 8 that night, the Phoenix ATF field office sent out an agency-wide bulletin: The suspect guns were Fast and Furious weapons. In Washington the next morning, then-ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson prepared to notify the Border Patrol.

Avila was arrested, and initially held just for using a bad address on the purchase form. "This way," Voth emailed the ATF field office, "we do not divulge our current case [Fast and Furious] or the Border Patrol shooting case."

In a subsequent report for Fast and Furious classified "Law Enforcement Sensitive," agents said Avila was buying for a Phoenix-based gun trafficking group that hid the weapons in vehicle compartments and drove them over the border from Arizona and Texas. The trafficking group used cash from drug sales to buy the weapons. The AK-47 was their weapon of choice, bought after cocaine and methamphetamines warehoused in Baja California were shipped north and sold in this country.

Other Avila weapons from Howard's store wound up at a Glendale home and a Phoenix automotive business, both "firearm drop locations," according to the ATF report. Still more were recovered in Sonora, Mexico, not far from Rio Rico.

In January, Avila and 19 others were charged in the straw purchasing. It was the one and only indictment to come out of 15 months of Fast and Furious. Asked at the press conference touting the charges whether the ATF allowed guns to "walk," Newell, the ATF field supervisor, responded, "Hell no!"

His denial and the agent's death provoked a small group of ATF whistle-blowers. They contacted Congress, and investigators asked the agency whether Terry was shot by Fast and Furious weapons.

The ATF replied that neither semiautomatic fired the fatal bullet. In truth, an FBI ballistics report could not determine whether one of the semiautomatics or a third weapon killed Terry.

Avila pleaded not guilty to the firearms charges, was released on bail and has yet to stand trial. Osorio-Arellanes was charged in the Terry slaying in May. No other suspects in the slaying have been arrested.

In Glendale, after two decades in business, Howard is thinking about closing his Lone Wolf gun store. He also has second thoughts about helping law enforcement.

"Was I betrayed?" he said. "Absolutely yes."

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