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Fast And Furious: Incompetence Is Always More Believable Than A Conspiracy Theory

A common theme among many, but by no means all, conservative commentators regarding the fiasco known as Operation Fast & Furious is that it was part of some vast, sinister conspiracy on the part of the ATF, the Justice Department and apparently the Obama White House to create the political climate necessary for increased restrictions on gun rights. You can find a good example of this theory in a PJ Media piece by Bob Owens written about three months ago:

We know for a fact that Operation Fast and Furious was designed by the Obama administration to put American weapons in the hands of Mexican cartels to kill Mexican citizens, and that the guns recovered in those deaths would be used to call for more gun control.

Hundreds died in a plot that appears to have been designed to impose gun control. It’s past time for the appointment of an independent prosecutor, and to press for criminal charges against those responsible for the carnage that has resulted from the deadliest scandal in U.S. government history.

Townhall’s Katie Pavlich, who has written a book about the Fast & Furious story, has also advanced this theory:

As allegations surrounding Operation Fast and Furious continue to heat up, many major media outlets continue to call the fatal program “botched,” which is a factually incorrect characterization.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines botched as: to foul up hopelessly, to put together in a makeshift way.

The only thing botched about Operation Fast and Furious is that the American public found out about it. Fast and Furious was carried out exactly as planned: allow straw purchasers to transfer guns to cartels, let those guns get trafficked back to Mexico and see where they end up. There was no plan to trace these guns and no plan to inform the Mexican Government of the operation, either.

Tactics used during Fast and Furious seem like mistakes, but in fact were just part of the strategy and process of Fast and Furious. Calling the program botched implies the Obama Justice Department didn’t intentionally allow 2000 high powered guns, including AK-47s and .50-caliber sniper rifles, to walk into the hands of ruthless drug cartels without proper tracing mechanisms. The opposite is true. This was the intention of the program, not an operational mistake in the process.

(…)

To further prove Fast and Furious wasn’t botched in its implementation, ATF Phoenix Field Division Supervisor at the time, William Newell, described in emails that guns showing up at crime scenes in Mexico was proof the operation was working.

Pavlich doesn’t go quite as far as Owens does in specifically saying that the operation was designed to essentially manufacture evidence that could be used to justify renewed restrictions on gun sales and ownership. The problem with these theories, though, is that there simply isn’t any evidence to support the leaps of logic that one must make to go from the facts of Operation Fast & Furious as we know them to a conclusion that Eric Holder and others were consciously involved in dumping thousands of weapons into Mexico for the purpose of gaining a political advantage in the United States. There are no smoking gun emails, for example, nor have any of the ATF Whistleblowers who have one an admirable job of coming forward and revealing the truth about this program said anything close to what the conspiracy theorists want us to believe. Indeed, there’s not even any evidence that gun control has been a significant agenda item for the Obama Administration. The one time in Obama’s Presidency when there was arguably the best political ground for such an agenda to be pushed was in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and, even then, the Administration did nothing. Are we supposed to believe that they crafted some intricate conspiracy theory to achieve a policy goal that quite obviously wasn’t really all that important to them?

The one piece of evidence I’ve found that seems to support some connection between Fast And Furious and ATF’s efforts to restrict gun sales comes in a December 7, 2011 piece by CBS News’s Sharyl Atkinson, who recently won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her coverage of this story:

Documents obtained by CBS News show that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) discussed using their covert operation “Fast and Furious” to argue for controversial new rules about gun sale

ATF officials didn’t intend to publicly disclose their own role in letting Mexican cartels obtain the weapons, but emails show they discussed using the sales, including sales encouraged by ATF, to justify a new gun regulation called “Demand Letter 3″. That would require some U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or “long guns.” Demand Letter 3 was so named because it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.

On July 14, 2010 after ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. received an update on Fast and Furious, ATF Field Ops Assistant Director Mark Chait emailed Bill Newell, ATF’s Phoenix Special Agent in Charge of Fast and Furious:

“Bill – can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same (licensed gun dealer) and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales. Thanks.”

(…)

On Jan. 4, 2011, as ATF prepared a press conference to announce arrests in Fast and Furious, Newell saw it as “(A)nother time to address Multiple Sale on Long Guns issue.” And a day after the press conference, Chait emailed Newell: “Bill–well done yesterday… (I)n light of our request for Demand letter 3, this case could be a strong supporting factor if we can determine how many multiple sales of long guns occurred during the course of this case.”

Now, the fact that the ATF would try to use a program where it was creating its own straw sales (under circumstances where ATF agents were assuring gun dealers that the sales were completely legal) in order to justify increased regulation is more than a little disturbing, but it’s a far cry from what’s reported here to the assertion that the program was designed for the purpose of manufacturing facts that would make the political case for gun control. That’s not what the incident’s reported here demonstrate at all. The July 2010 email occurred after the program was well underway, and the January 2011 incident occurred after Brian Terry had died and when the entire operation was already beginning to fall apart. At most this tells us the ATF was trying to make the best of a bad operation, more likely it’s another demonstration of how blunder-headed the people who designed the operation actually were. What it isn’t, though, is proof of a conspiracy that supposedly started in 2009.

There’s an old saying that one should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It’s known as Hanlon’s Razor, although it had apparently been stated by many authors long before the person who is given credit for its is said to have uttered it. Whatever its origins, though, it is always something worth keeping in mind in these situations. Especially when one is dealing with government, there is always a temptation by partisans to see conspiracy where it doesn’t really exist when the truth is that the situation that they complain of can be explained far more easily by incompetence, bad decision making, and bad crisis management. It’s far easier to believe, for example, that a combination of bureaucratic inertia and inter-agency turf wars caused law enforcement and intelligence officials in 2000 an 2001 to miss the warning signs of the September 11 attacks than it is to believe that American political officials either knew the attacks were going to come and let them happen or were actually involved in planning the attacks themselves. Similarly, it is far easier to believe that ATF officials and agents put together a badly designed and badly executed “sting” operation than that the White House and the Attorney General came into office and immediately began concocting a massive conspiracy to make it possible for them to pass increased gun regulations. Unless there’s clear evidence supporting a conspiracy theory, and in this case as in nearly all the others, there simply isn’t it’s best to assume that what you’re seeing is an example of government incompetence. It is, after all, quite a common phenomenon.

None of this means, of course, that Fast and Furious should not be thoroughly investigated. Both because of the deaths of two American agents and the impact the Fast & Furious weapons have had inside our neighbor Mexico, Congress has a right and indeed a duty to find out what went on here. If there is evidence that crimes were committed either in execution of the operation or in the aftermath when people likely went into CYA mode, then those matter should be turned over to law enforcement and prosecuted if that is appropriate. There’s no need, however, to jump to conclusions about conspiracies when there simply isn’t evidence to support the same. Such an attitude detracts from the goal of finding out what went on here, and tends to discredit the people who are concerned with getting to the bottom of the story even if they don’t believe that what they’ll find is the “smoking gun” memo some on the right seem to be convinced exists somewhere.

H/T: David Frum

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. It’s far easier to believe, for example, that a combination of bureaucratic inertia and inter-agency turf wars caused law enforcement and intelligence officials in 2000 an 2001 to miss the warning signs of the September 11 attacks than it is to believe that American political officials either knew the attacks were going to come and let them happen or were actually involved in planning the attacks themselves

    Apparently documents declassified this week show more pre-9/11 warnings than previous thought, and cuts in funding to “get Osama.” That said, it does also look like bad decision-making rather than any crazy conspiracy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  2. mattb says:

    Great summation of the situation Doug. Totally agree. An open question on this point:

    If there is evidence that crimes were committed either in execution of the operation or in the aftermath when people likely went into CYA mode, then those matter should be turned over to law enforcement and prosecuted if that is appropriate.

    On F&F itself, has anyone made a real argument for what laws were broken by the operation? Obviously guns were allowed to be illegally purchased — but this isn’t itself a necessarily violation of the law, otherwise how would any sting operations involving contraband materials work.

    As P.D. Shaw has asked elsewhere, the other major question, is was a law broken by either knowingly or unknowingly giving incorrect information about the program in the February 2011 letter to Congress — the one that was later recanted? Was that effectively swearing false testimony?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  3. mattb says:

    @john personna:

    That said, 9/11 does also look like bad decision-making rather than any crazy conspiracy.

    Agreed. I firmly believe that 9/11 would have most likely happened under Gore’s watch as well. It was a perfect storm sort of event.

    A far stronger argument can be made about the manipulation of evidence in the lead up to Iraq. But even there, the question is did the actions rise to that of a true “conspiracy” (i.e. part of a master plan) or was it more a case of group think (that everything thought the invasion was the right thing to do, and fully expected to find weapons, and therefore ignored evidence to the contrary).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. @mattb:

    As I’ve said, I think the simplest explanation is that the Downing Street Memos were true. It becomes tribal and partisan politics to disbelieve short declarative lines clearly written:

    There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

    That’s plain English, from an informed observer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. Ron Beasley says:
  6. Dean says:

    Doug,

    In generally I agree with your premise, but this from the CBS News story does give me pause:

    ATF Field Ops Assistant Director Mark Chait emailed Bill Newell, ATF’s Phoenix Special Agent in Charge of Fast and Furious:

    “Bill – can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same (licensed gun dealer) and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales. Thanks.”

    Was Chait acting on his own in looking for anecdotal evidence or was this coming from higher up in ATF or Justice? If from higher ups, who made the request?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. And if the President were a Republican Rachel and the rest of MSNBC would be telling us this is the worst scandal in the history of the Republic

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 13

  8. Gustopher says:

    I’m pretty sure the entire thing was created by the producers of the movie “Fast And Furious” as a promotional stunt to boost sales of DVDs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. Paul L. says:

    I remember Mike Nifong claiming it was a stupid innocent mistake at his disbarment hearing for not turning over DNA results favorable to Duke lacrosse players charged with rape.

    Just a conspiracy theory to believe Nifong engaged in misconduct.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Incompetence Is Always More Believable Than A Conspiracy Theory

    Definitely.

    That said, however, there comes a point where “incompetence” becomes so overwhelming, so screaming neon red sign flabbergasting, so “there’s no way they could have been that dumb” staggering, it necessarily moves past incompetence and towards something far more sinister. Litigators learn that concept early on if they handle such items as fraud claims. Someone can look like they’re playing fast and loose and really it’s just that they’re a screw up. But when their screw up is so bad they literally would have had to have been clinically brain dead to have made it, then you can bet your bottom dollar that what they did was in fact intentional. Not the results, necessarily, but their actions.

    You can’t ‘f’ things up as bad as DOJ did with this fiasco. Put aside the effects. Focus on the program itself. Nobody could screw up that badly merely by virtue of being incompetent. Simply not possible. Nobody could be that dumb. There had to be an ulterior, sinister purpose. Not necessarily a “conspiracy,” mind you, at least not in the literal sense of that term, but definitely something highly criminal and far beyond the scope of an ordinary scandal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  11. mattb says:

    @Paul L.: #analogyFail

    There’s a lot of day light between a single individual lying to cover his ass (mistake versus misconduct), and setting up and maintaining this complex of a multiperson conspiracy to enact stronger gun laws by allowing illegal guns to be sold and cross the border.

    But for far too many people (especially the “this is the worst coverup since Watergate” crowd) reality left this conversation a long time ago.

    I had thought the Immigration Policy change would be where the Republicans launched cries for Obama’s impeachment. I’m beginning to suspect it will come from here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  12. wr says:

    @john personna: “Apparently documents declassified this week show more pre-9/11 warnings than previous thought, and cuts in funding to “get Osama.” ”

    Not that you’d know it reading OTB…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  13. Seerak says:

    I think the error you are making is that the F&F “conspiracy” requires central and conscious control, such as a cabal or mastermind — and it’s either that, or ordinary incompetence.

    That’s like assuming that if 1000 computers running the exact same software end up performing exactly the same sequence of actions to the exact same result, it *must* be a “conspiracy”, there must be some sort of network with a “command and control” server and 999 clients.

    There is a third explanation: People holding identical (or nearly so) ideologies, given the same set of inputs, will act like a school of fish. It *seems* like they are under central command as they move in concert, but they aren’t and don’t need to be.

    Leftism is philosophically monolithic. They do have a lot of mindless followers among their numbers who do observe and follow “leaders” — but even if they were completely cut off from one another, their ideological homogeneity is such that they can be counted upon to “school” reliably, to “follow the program” without central control.

    For this reason, while I agree that there’s no evidence of an actual “conspiracy” as in conspiring at this time, it does not follow that the explanation for F&F must therefore be one of mere incompetence or error. There is another explanation: the simple logic of the dominant ideas present among those who were active participants in the pushing of the “90% of drug cartel guns come from the U.S.” meme back in 2010.

    Where then, is the “malice” in this third explanation? In blindly executing an ideological program without questioning it. Willfully closing one’s eyes and smacking into an unseen brick wall as a result is not “incompetence”, it is a moral failing. There will be no absolution in subsequently screaming “But I didn’t mean for that to happen!”; that’s just the equivalent of the Nuremberg defense (“But I was just following orders!”) used by participants in actual organized conspiracies.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 17

  14. mattb says:

    @Seerak:

    Leftism is philosophically monolithic. They do have a lot of mindless followers among their numbers who do observe and follow “leaders” — but even if they were completely cut off from one another, their ideological homogeneity is such that they can be counted upon to “school” reliably, to “follow the program” without central control.

    The irony to me in anyone writing this is astounding. I’m not arguing that leftism is not “philosphically monolithic.” But rather at the implied supposition that it’s the only “philosphically monolithic” entity in town.

    Given the extreme levels of epistemological closure on the Conservative side around a host of issues, the “mega ditto” lock steppedness of messaging across Conservative Media, and the elevation of Charismatic hosts (Limbaugh, Beck, etc) and political figures (in particular populists like Palin and Bachmann among others), its the height of self delusion to pretend that Movement Conservatism isn’t “philosophically monolithic.”

    All that said, I’m sure that you will retreat to the time honored position of “my side isn’t philosophically monolithic, I just CHOOSE to hold 99% of the positions that Fox News personalities and other Conservative Pundits hold. Otherwise I’m a total free thinker and free thought is encouraged at all times on my side.*”

    Other than that nice way to go straight to the Nazi references. Thanks for the “deep thoughts.”

    * – BTW, I suggest talking to individuals like David Frum and Jim Manzi to get their perspective on how philosophically open conservatives are.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  15. @wr:

    Not that you’d know it reading OTB…

    Ah, but you see “Rachel Maddow … both sides do it”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  16. Tillman says:

    Jesus, mattb’s on the warpath today!

    There are no smoking gun emails, for example, nor have any of the ATF Whistleblowers who have one an admirable job of coming forward and revealing the truth about this program said anything close to what the conspiracy theorists want us to believe.

    That reminds me, what happened to those whistleblowers? Did the Obama administration go after them like the rest?

    @Seerak:

    Leftism is philosophically monolithic. They do have a lot of mindless followers among their numbers who do observe and follow “leaders” — but even if they were completely cut off from one another, their ideological homogeneity is such that they can be counted upon to “school” reliably, to “follow the program” without central control.

    Ah, the kind of condescension you must have for your fellow man to write this.

    About the only thing you can reliably say about a leftist (and this also applies to rightists) is that they are annoying, and smelly in groups.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  17. PD Shaw says:

    Frankly I give a lot of credence to a conspiracy by plants from the NRA and the gun lobby to encourage Fast and Furious so as to completely discredit ATF as a bunch of dangerous buffoons and morons, resulting in universal acclaim for its disbanding.

    I have better reasoned that the rooster’s crow is intended to give rise to the sun.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  18. anjin-san says:

    Took a quick look at the Fox News homepage, pretty quite about F&F. I would think they would be shouting from the rafters if they really thought they had something on Obama…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  19. Tillman says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You can’t ‘f’ things up as bad as DOJ did with this fiasco. Put aside the effects.

    Oh, you can totally eff things up worse than DOJ did. Cited for example: the Iraq War’s aftermath.

    Put aside the manipulation of intelligence to back a dubious claim for war. Focus on the policies implemented immediately after “Mission Accomplished,” specifically policy during L. Paul Bremer’s administration of the Coalition Provisional Authority. You know, the braintrust that dissolved the Iraqi army, just to name one gigantic blunder.

    Let’s not fall victim to innuendo and hyperbole in evaluating the stupidity of public policy, shall we? Now, give it a couple of years, and if it turns out the Mexican body count due to F&F is nearer to the Iraqi after a comparable period of time, then we can reconsider your claim.

    Normally I don’t pull out Iraq as a basis of comparison (a bylaw of Godwin’s, really) but since both policies resulted in a bunch of innocent foreigners getting killed, it seemed appropriate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ Tillman

    since both policies resulted in a bunch of innocent foreigners getting killed

    How did F&F result in “innocent foreigners getting killed”? Please be specific, and bear in mind that Mexican drug gangs have access to vast supplies of weapons regardless of F&F guns. Are you saying those who pulled the triggers would have been unarmed if not for F&F?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  21. MM says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You can’t ‘f’ things up as bad as DOJ did with this fiasco. Put aside the effects. Focus on the program itself. Nobody could screw up that badly merely by virtue of being incompetent. Simply not possible. Nobody could be that dumb. There had to be an ulterior, sinister purpose. Not necessarily a “conspiracy,” mind you, at least not in the literal sense of that term, but definitely something highly criminal and far beyond the scope of an ordinary scandal.

    Of course you can. Trying to track Semtex through the cartels or C4 for example. The ATF could have given them what they needed to make a dirty bomb in hopes that the radiation signatures would create a physical map of weapon smuggling pipelines in Mexico.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  22. @anjin-san:

    Are you saying those who pulled the triggers would have been unarmed if not for F&F?

    So if two guys attack you with guns, will you care the next day where only one of them came from?

    Seriously, dude, the gun just being their changes your odds of survival.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  23. (“which gun fired the fatal shot” is a monumentally stupid argument.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  24. (It would be different if F&F was pushing crappy guns, but as I understand it, they were moving pretty good ones.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  25. (It would be awesome if they made sure all sights were out of line, and all cartridge springs were slack.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  26. anjin-san says:

    @ john personna

    So if two guys attack you with guns, will you care the next day where only one of them came from?

    I don’t think I would care where either gun came from. Criminals always manage to get guns, down to the lowest street thug. I think the F&F guns are probably a drop in the bucket to the cartels, and if F&F had never happend, the outcomes in terms of violence would not have changed.

    I keep coming back to two things:

    1. Americans love drugs. If we want to get at the root of the problem with violence, we need to take a look in the mirror.

    2. The WOD is a monumental failure. The war does more harm that the drugs, and we all know it. Yet we continue to stick with this failed policy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  27. @anjin-san:

    So … that was pretty much an anti (US) gun control comment, right?

    (jeez louise … so much for the conservative fear that this is an agenda to crack down on guns. no worries! anjin-san, of all people, thinks criminals can always get them so it doesn’t matter.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  28. anjin-san says:

    anjin-san, of all people

    I like guns, I own guns, and I am a decent shot. Not sure what “of all people” means…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  29. Dazedandconfused says:

    @john personna:

    (It would be awesome if they made sure all sights were out of line, and all cartridge springs were slack.)

    This indicates a belief that the BATF was buying guns and handing them to the cartels. Not the way it worked. The agents were just told to just monitor the straw buyers and not interfere, and even ignored reports from concerned sellers, as a quick and dirty description.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. Tillman says:

    @anjin-san:

    How did F&F result in “innocent foreigners getting killed”?

    Is it really that farfetched an inference to make that I have to cite a source for it? We sold guns to a Mexican drug cartel. I think they probably used them to get rid of uncooperative Mexicans. Or what, they just bought the guns to shoot into the air victoriously?

    and bear in mind that Mexican drug gangs have access to vast supplies of weapons regardless of F&F guns

    …but they had F&F guns. Two thousand or so. Is it hard to imagine that those guns were used to kill people? Sure, those people probably would’ve died from other guns if F&F didn’t exist, but that doesn’t change the fact that our guns could’ve been used, and most likely were. More to the point, the theoretical existence of “other guns” to replace ours’ doesn’t diminish our moral culpability in providing guns to a Mexican drug cartel.

    I’m not trying to score a political point here, I’m stating a very real likelihood.

    Are you saying those who pulled the triggers would have been unarmed if not for F&F?

    Did I say that? I don’t recall saying that. On rereading my post, it still doesn’t look like I ever said that. Why would you think I said that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. anjin-san says:

    doesn’t diminish our moral culpability in providing guns to a Mexican drug cartel.

    My understanding is that we declined to stop cartel gun runners when we had it in our power to do so. That is a somewhat different thing than “providing guns”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  32. JKB says:

    Lack of evidence does not disprove a conspiracy. But perhaps some not in the loop on F&F sought to use the US guns in Mexico meme in ignorance.

    Of course, that certainly doesn’t explain why Obama is protecting Holder and others in DOJ after they conducted an operation to facilitate the smuggling of firearms into a foreign sovereign nation, which could be considered an act of war.

    Nor the fact that Obama let the President of Mexico suggest the US needs more stringent gun control in his address to Congress due to US guns showing up at Mexican crime scenes.

    Or Secretary of State Clinton pledging in 2010 increased efforts to stem the flow of guns to Mexico even as their is no evidence she directed the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls to investigate the unlicensed exports of firearms in violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which the DDTC administers with administrative, civil and criminal actions. Could it be someone warned off the DDTC special agents?

    Or the fact that more than a few of the straw buyers who subsequently smuggled the guns out of the US were FBI informants using US taxpayer dollars to buy the weapons.

    Don’t rush to attribute to governmental incompetence when so many other, supposedly, uninformed cabinet secretaries and enforcement agencies turn a blind eye.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  33. David M says:

    @JKB: You’ve posted a masterpiece explaining how incompetence and stupidity were the hallmarks of this operation. I’m certainly more convinced than ever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. wr says:

    @JKB: “Lack of evidence does not disprove a conspiracy.”

    Ah, the siren song of every conspiracy kook. And the glory is, it only reinforces itself. “What, there’s no evidence? That only proves how big and how powerful the conspiracy is!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  35. steve says:

    I guess I really dont understand the whole thing. You can buy .50 cal rifles and AK-47s in the US already. We know from prior evidence that Mexicans are buying a lot of their guns here. I can see being upset about the incompetence in losing track of the guns. (Yes, I am a gun owner)

    http://www.50bmgstore.com/50bmgcurrentprices.htm

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: Cue Orly Taitz and all the rest of the birthers. The fact that they’ve been slapped silly in court 129 times already (in two of those cases losing to an empty chair) just convinces them that all U.S. judges are in on Teh Conspiracy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  37. JKB says:

    @steve:

    You can buy a .50 cal semi or single action rifle but not a .50 cal machine gun

    You can purchase an AK-47 that is currently in private hands if you obtain a Federal Firearms License but you cannot purchase one that was not in private ownership prior to 1986.

    There is actually little evidence that Mexicans are buying weapons from private sellers in the US. A lot of the firearms now in cartel hands were sold to the Mexican government and military under license by the Department of State, in accordance with the law then sold, stolen or given to the cartels by Mexican nationals/officials.

    The reports of high percentages of firearms having US origin were biased by only those weapons traceable for counted, F&F guns were included and there was no filtering for weapons licensed for export by the US government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  38. JKB says:

    @wr:

    No it doesn’t reinforce it, it simply doesn’t eliminate the possibility. I personally believe others, probably not privy to F&F sought to use the US origin weapons turning up in Mexico for their own gun control agenda arguments.

    What I do find odd, is that other agencies, supposedly not in the loop, did not discover the operation in the normal course of their investigations in their areas of responsibilities. It would be a simple matter for an export enforcement agent to inquire of the US commercial seller of a weapon found to have been exported without license and be told the sale was ordered by the ATF. He/she then might inform their boss, the Secretary of State that DOJ was permitting unlicensed exports of firearms in violation of several international treaties and Mexican law. Given the exports had foreign relations impacts which is in the Department of State’s authorized area responsibility.

    So what is odd, is how the BATF and DOJ were permitted to run an operation that could be considered a hostile act against Mexico and created an international incident without anyone in the foreign relations area discovering the activity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  39. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    There is actually little evidence

    There is actually little evidence in your posts as well. Lots of claims, nothing to back them up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  40. Eric Florack says:

    Mark twain Used to say that it is a lot easier to fool people then it is to convince them that they’ve been fooled. Your first paragraph would seem to be a case in point doug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  41. Janis Gore says:

    Well hell, if we all gonna create a conspiracy, let’s say the Mexican government knew perfectly well what was going on but demanded “plausible deniability.”

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  42. anjin-san says:

    Mark twain Used to say that it is a lot easier to fool people then it is to convince them that they’ve been fooled.

    You should probably avoid quoting people who crapped out more brainpower in a day that you will generate in a lifetime.

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  43. jan says:

    This piece is entitled Why would anyone trust Eric Holder? Holder is starting to remind me John Mitchell.

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  44. jukeboxgrad says:

    This piece is entitled Why would anyone trust Eric Holder?

    This piece entitled “Why would anyone trust Eric Holder” was written by the person who wrote this:

    It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

    Why would anyone trust a person who said that?

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  45. @anjin-san:

    I said “of all people” because you seem a solid defender of the Democratic Party platform. I’m surprised that you’d think gun control was no big.

    @Dazedandconfused:

    I understand, I’m just trying to emphasize the problem of providing good, new, reliable, modern guns to criminals. Some above seem to think a gun is a gun … actually more than that.

    Mexico’s gun control is obviously effective, or the cartels wouldn’t be buying in Texas. Right?

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  46. jan says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    Here’s another person who can’t seem to get the truth straight, even about his own biography.

    Obama tells stories to support his radical agenda, in his memoir, Dreams From My Father.

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  47. jan says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    You’re posting a link from an article Posted on July 28, 2005 by John Hinderaker , regarding Bush. And, in your mind this completely discredits anything currently he currently writes about Holder’s role in F&F?

    Anything goes, I guess, to rationalize your position.

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  48. Scott O. says:

    Anything goes, I guess, to rationalize your position

    Once again jan pegs the hypocrisy meter.

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  49. mattb says:

    @jan:

    Anything goes, I guess, to rationalize your position.

    Says the person who posted an article on Obama’s “bad” use of executive powers written by an attorney who drafted the basic legal arguments for George W. Bush’s radical expansions of executive powers to authorize torture.

    You don’t get to ignore a person’s past writings and thoughts just because they momentarily forward an argument that you like. You get that right? Tell me that at least on some level you see the issue with that…

    Past writings don’t necessarily negate the current argument. But it contextualizes it. And helps a reader understand where they might be being disingenuous.

    His point is that John Hinderaker is an extreme partisan, so, go figure, he doesn’t think anyone should trust Holder. Further, Hinderaker’s essay suggests (that at least at that time) he would wonder why the heck anyone wouldn’t trust George W. Bush.

    The repeated issue that we have with much of the material you keep pointing to is you completely ignore any potential bias in it because the writers biases match your own.

    And you clearly don’t like anyone calling you one it, because you resort to these sort of crappy arguments about the material you post — despite numerous patient attempts to explain the problems with it.

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  50. mattb says:

    @jan: Here’s the real question — are you seriously interested in a conversation or debate?

    You claim to be, but then you immediately dismiss any feedback that comes your way or that challenges your position.

    I know you have said in the past you feel you can’t talk to anyone whose mind is set in “concrete.” I’m just curious if you feel that your mind isn’t set in concrete on these issues?

    Because, from my reading, I’ve never seen you move at all (other than further towards the conservative party line) on any issue you’ve ever “attempted” to discuss here. Nor have you ever remotely conceded to any point we have raised about the issue with the sources you use.

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  51. jukeboxgrad says:

    jan:

    in your mind this completely discredits anything currently he currently writes

    The statement I cited (” … brilliance approaching to genius … “) is sufficient to demonstrate that Hinderaker is a fool (especially since he has never, as far as I can tell, lifted a finger to modify or correct that statement). Life is short. I have only limited time available to consider claims made by fools, so the burden is on you to explain why anyone should waste any time reading the fool you cited. Or why anyone should waste any time considering statements made by someone who is foolish enough to cite a fool.

    And aside from being a fool, there’s plenty of proof that he’s a liar (example).

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  52. mannning says:

    While I am quite willing to suspend judgement in the F&F matter until completion of investigations, I do hope that the full story comes out for all to read. Perhaps I am too military-minded, but the Captain of the ship is responsible for the doings of his crew. This means that Obama, Holder, Napolitano, and everyone under them in the chain must be held responsible for the terrible outcomes in Mexico and the US if they are adjudged to have been a result of criminal actions of US government employees.

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  53. jukeboxgrad says:

    the Captain of the ship is responsible for the doings of his crew

    Of course. That’s why you’re upset that Issa hasn’t lifted a finger to hold Bush “responsible for the doings of his crew” when guns walked into Mexico during Bush’s Wide Receiver operation.

    You’re also terribly offended by the normal GOP practice of blaming the little guy. One classic example is blaming sailors for the famous “Mission Accomplished” banner. Another classic example is Abu Ghraib. Wolfowitz (among others) blamed it on “a few bad apples,” and it was the little guys who took the fall, even though we later learned this:

    senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques … Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses … The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own

    11 GOP Senators put their names on that finding, which makes it harder to ignore. But of course it has been ignored. And this offends you, because “the Captain of the ship is responsible for the doings of his crew.”

    Right? This is your big chance to show us that you are not completely devoid of intellectual integrity.

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  54. mattb says:

    @mannning:

    Perhaps I am too military-minded, but the Captain of the ship is responsible for the doings of his crew. This means that Obama, Holder, Napolitano, and everyone under them in the chain must be held responsible for the terrible outcomes in Mexico and the US if they are adjudged to have been a result of criminal actions of US government employees.

    In the same way that Bush was held responsible for the debacle known as Iraq, or more in particular the abuses like Abu Ghraib?

    I think Obama has accepted responsibility for what comes of this with the invocation of Executive Privilage. And that should be the case. And this investigation should definitely go on.

    But the hypocracy of the OUTRAGE of both the left and the right around this investigation (and the fallout) is pretty well in this daily show clip that Stephen posted earlier today:

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/differentiate-your-partys-assertion-of-executive-privilege-from-the-previous-administrations/

    Its hard to be become cynical about the reaction to these sorts of events when the positions of both sides seem so tied up in party alliances. Still we can hope something good does come out of this.

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  55. Tillman says:

    @anjin-san: It’s a very thin distinction for you to make, and either way some people are probably dead, so the “moral culpability” thing still exists.

    @john personna:

    Mexico’s gun control is obviously effective, or the cartels wouldn’t be buying in Texas. Right?

    I think that has more to do with the quality of U.S. guns rather than effective regulation in Mexico.

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  56. mattb says:

    @Tillman:

    Is it really that farfetched an inference to make that I have to cite a source for it? We sold guns to a Mexican drug cartel. I think they probably used them to get rid of uncooperative Mexicans. Or what, they just bought the guns to shoot into the air victoriously?

    The question of culpability/responsibility is a complex one. Yes, if people were killed, and they almost certainly were, with guns from the program, we have some culpability in those deaths.

    The issue that many of us have is the supposition, either stated implicitly or explicitly, that some how those deaths occurred BECAUSE of Fast and Furious. Or rather, that if those 2000 guns had not made their way across the border, those murders would never have happened.

    That second claim is where the over-reach comes in. For one thing, the 2000 guns represent a relative drop in the bucket for illegal guns in Mexico. But here’s another way to think about it, there was no similiar program in place to track the illegal flow of Machetes. And yet people keep getting beheaded as part of the Drug War.

    People have been writing about the Bloodiness of the Mexican Drug war for years. To somehow pretend that it would have been less bloody without the F&F arms just doesn’t grok.

    As I said, we still have to deal with the moral culpability of allowing those arms to cross the border. And that is huge. But it also needs to be kept in a larger perspective.

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  57. matt says:

    @steve: The drug cartels aren’t going to spend over ten thousand dollars for one semi-auto gun when they can get a truck full of full auto M16s from the Mexican military for a lower price all curtsey of Uncle Sam. The USA is literally shipping tons of m16s ammo and grenades to the Mexican military for anti-drug usage and a very large percentage of those weapons are being sold to or stolen by the drug cartels. The Mexican military and police near the border are extremely corrupt.

    The drug cartels are sure as hell not getting their RPGs or grenades from Texas. In the state of Texas if you buy a gun from a dealer (including gun shows) you have to submit to an instant background check and have a state issued ID. To get the state issued ID you need to have a birth certificate and a SS card and about 4 hours to stand in line (took me 6 hours to get my license when I first moved here). While I do find it utterly hilarious as to how clueless some of you are about what it takes to buy a gun in Texas I feel like I should at least give you guys a little bit of a reality check.

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  58. mannning says:

    @mattb:

    In the same way that Bush was held responsible for the debacle known as Iraq, or more in particular the abuses like Abu Ghraib?

    I won’t argue the point, since I had grave misgivings all along regarding the whole Iraqi situation and said so at the time, and I still do! Bush was the Captain then, just as Obama is the Captain now. The cure, the head-rolling, didn’t reach high enough then, and it most likely won’t now either.

    We ordinarily do not apply that discipline to Presidents; there is always a fall guy or two to take the blame and misdirect the retribution. (Except for Clinton, which proves the rule nothing.) Presidents do stand for reelection, however, and may reap their just reward then, such as no second chance to foul things up.

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  59. anjin-san says:

    so the “moral culpability” thing still exists.

    Yes it does. But “F&F killed people” does not fly.

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  60. Hepcat says:

    Compare this to the Plame Affair.

    The media got it’s panties in a knot about that. Nobody died. She hadn’t been in the field for … what was it, ten years? Richard Armitage was the guy who initially leaked her name and he was opposed to the Iraq war. The Plame Affair was a lot of noise about very little.

    With F&F, the U.S. supplied over 2,000 weapons, mostly semi-automatics to narco terrorists. Made no attempt to track them. None. The guns including thirty-eight .50 cal sniper riffles were given to the most violent criminals in the world who intimidate and kill Mexican politicians, judges, police officials. Two American agents died. And hundred of Mexicans.

    The press doesn’t much care. That’s the story.

    The media is protecting Obama. If Bush were in office, F&F would be as big as Watergate.

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  61. Hepcat says:

    Similarly, it is far easier to believe that ATF officials and agents put together a badly designed and badly executed “sting” operation than that the White House and the Attorney General came into office and immediately began concocting a massive conspiracy to make it possible for them to pass increased gun regulations.

    Nobody in ATF has explained why the program didn’t attempt to track the weapons. Many agents were against the plan and made their opinions known.

    ATF has a history of running stings. Under Bush, operation Wide Receiver attempted to track a much smaller number of weapons but the tracking technology failed. The Mexican government was also notified of the program.

    What what was the idea behind F&F that was badly designed and failed? No attempt was made to track the weapons. That’s rises above “badly designed and badly executed.”

    I see no evidence at this time for a conspiracy. But the “incompetence is always more believable than a conspiracy” argument doesn’t make sense in this case either.

    It’s a crazy mess.

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  62. jukeboxgrad says:

    Under Bush, operation Wide Receiver attempted to track a much smaller number of weapons but the tracking technology failed.

    In Wide Receiver, there was no attempt to track most of the weapons. On one occasion, “some firearms” were equipped with a tracking chip, but the method was quite inept, and it utterly failed.

    The Mexican government was also notified of the program.

    More baloney that was fed to you by Rush or someone like him. See here:

    No evidence of Mexico cooperation in Tucson ATF probe … There seems to be an emerging talking point related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal that “The Bush administration did it too, but they did it right by working with Mexico.” … From what I’ve seen so far, that’s not true.

    So tell us who told you “the Mexican government was also notified of the program.”

    What what was the idea behind F&F that was badly designed and failed? No attempt was made to track the weapons.

    According to Dodson’s testimony, he was instructed “to keep the straw purchaser under surveillance.” This ended up not being effective, just like the Bush RFID chips on “some firearms” were not effective. But it was nevertheless some kind of “attempt … to track the weapons.”

    It’s a crazy mess.

    A lot of the mess is about people like Rush making all sorts of phony claims and then people like you spreading them.

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  63. @Tillman:

    I think that has more to do with the quality of U.S. guns rather than effective regulation in Mexico.

    As long as we stipulate that the quality is derived from the open gun laws, rather than just US manufacture.

    SIG Sauer and Heckler & Koch are not based in the United States.

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  64. mattb says:

    @mannning: Good points and I’m glad to see that you had problems with how some of those things were handled under Bush. That’s really consistent of you.

    BTW, if you missed it, I responded to you about martial arts and integrating gun training on the ‘death penalty’ thread. I had a couple suggestions that you might like.

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  65. mannning says:

    @mattb:

    Thanks for the suggestions, they fit right into what I thought was needed. Using a substitute non-lethal gun is a good idea. I had planned to use my 9mm unloaded for the same exercise, but in some steps the ability to fire accurately at close range is important, so that is where an air pistol would come in handy.

    To amplify what I had criticized the Bush administration for, it revolved around: imperfect intel on WMD; Shock and Awe, disbanding the Iraqi Army; too few troops up front to quash the insurrection; the far too ambitious and costly reconstruction program; Abu Ghraib; and misunderstanding the diverse Islamic cultures and tribal allegiences in Iraq up front. There is a lot more, but I think this sums it up well enough. (I must admit, however, that I thought Bush I cut off the first Gulf War way too early while we had the chance and the troop power. That might have obviated Gulf War II.)

    It does seem that some people of the left cannot imagine that conservatives can be just as critical of Bush I and Bush II as they were; there are a number of general principles that we all should follow in dealing with hostile foreign nations, don’t you think?

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  66. jukeboxgrad says:

    some people of the left cannot imagine that conservatives can be just as critical of Bush I and Bush II as they were

    Conservatives willing to criticize Bush are now coming out of the woodwork. But when it mattered, they were scarce.

    I thought Bush I cut off the first Gulf War way too early

    It’s interesting to recall how this was explained:

    I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we’d have had to hunt him down. And once we’d done that and we’d gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we’d have had to put another government in its place. What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi’i government or a Kurdish government or Ba’athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

    I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it’s my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.

    The speaker’s name is not on that page, but you can probably figure out who it is. Also here:

    The notion that we oughta now go into Baghdad and somehow take control of the country strikes me as an extremely serious one in terms of what we would have to do once we got there. You’d probably have to put some new government in place, it’s not clear what kind of government what would be, how long you’d have to stay. For the US to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who’s going to govern in Iraq strike me as a classic definition of a quagmire.

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  67. mattb says:

    @mannning: (Complete thread hijack)

    Thanks for the suggestions, they fit right into what I thought was needed. Using a substitute non-lethal gun is a good idea. I had planned to use my 9mm unloaded for the same exercise, but in some steps the ability to fire accurately at close range is important, so that is where an air pistol would come in handy.

    Please use an Airsoft or a Crossman. Generally speaking, live weapons should never be on the training floor. In fact, the folks I know who train with live guns loaded with chalk and simunition rounds all have a specific gun that is only used for that training (and actual bullets never come even close to those guns).

    I’ve heard too many horror stories (and witnessed one where an idiot had both a live and training blade on the floor and drew the prior thinking he was drawing the latter) to ever screw around with any type of live partner drilling with disarmed, but still armable, weapons.

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