Fast & Furious Update: Federal Funds Used To Purchase Weapons Sold To Drug Gangs

The latest revelations about Operation Fast And Furious raise more questions than they answer.

Several weeks ago, I took note of the ongoing investigation into an operation run by Federal agents that allowed guns from the United States to be sold to illegal buyers and transferred to Mexican drug gangs, resulting in hundreds of deaths in Mexico and the death of at least one Federal agent. Now it appears that the operation included selling guns procured with Federal funds as well:

Not only did U.S. officials approve, allow and assist in the sale of more than 2,000 guns to the Sinaloa cartel — the federal government used taxpayer money to buy semi-automatic weapons, sold them to criminals and then watched as the guns disappeared.

This disclosure, revealed in documents obtained by Fox News, could undermine the Department of Justice’s previous defense that Operation Fast and Furious was a “botched” operation where agents simply “lost track” of weapons as they were transferred from one illegal buyer to another. Instead, it heightens the culpability of the federal government as Mexico, according to sources, has opened two criminal investigations into the operation that flooded their country with illegal weapons.

The details of one operation reveal just how idiotic this entire operation seems in retrospect:

According to documents obtained by Fox News, Agent John Dodson was ordered to buy six semi-automatic Draco pistols — two of those were purchased at the Lone Wolf gun store in Peoria, Ariz. An unusual sale, Dodson was sent to the store with a letter of approval from David Voth, an ATF group supervisor.

Dodson then sold the weapons to known illegal buyers, while fellow agents watched from their cars nearby.

This was not a “buy-bust” or a sting operation, where police sell to a buyer and then arrest them immediately afterward. In this case, agents were “ordered” to let the sale go through and follow the weapons to a stash house.

According to sources directly involved in the case, Dodson felt strongly that the weapons should not be abandoned and the stash house should remain under 24-hour surveillance. However, Voth disagreed and ordered the surveillance team to return to the office. Dodson refused, and for six days in the desert heat kept the house under watch, defying direct orders from Voth.

A week later, a second vehicle showed up to transfer the weapons. Dodson called for an interdiction team to move in, make the arrest and seize the weapons. Voth refused and the guns disappeared with no surveillance.

Up until the last part, this story seems like a fairly standard buy and bust operation. Why the ATF was willing to let this weapons get away without any means of tracking them is the question everyone has been asking since this story became public back in March, largely thanks to Dodson finally coming forward. Without a valid explanation, it becomes harder to accept the “botched sting operation” theory unless you believe that the ATF is staffed by people who make the Keystone Cops seems competent.

Meanwhile, down in Mexico, law enforcement authorities are still waiting for someone from the U.S. to tell them what’s going on:

Marisela Morales, Mexico’s attorney general and a longtime favorite of American law enforcement agents in Mexico, told The Times that she first learned about Fast and Furious from news reports. And to this day, she said, U.S. officials have not briefed her on the operation gone awry, nor have they apologized.

“At no time did we know or were we made aware that there might have been arms trafficking permitted,” Morales, Mexico’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, said in a recent interview. “In no way would we have allowed it, because it is an attack on the safety of Mexicans.”

Morales said she did not want to draw conclusions before the outcome of U.S. investigations, but that deliberately letting weapons “walk” into Mexico — with the intention of tracing the guns to drug cartels — would represent a “betrayal” of a country enduring a drug war that has killed more than 40,000 people. U.S. agents lost track of hundreds of weapons under the program.

Concealment of the bloody toll of Fast and Furious took place despite official pronouncements of growing cooperation and intelligence-sharing in the fight against vicious Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. The secrecy also occurred as President Felipe Calderon and other senior Mexican officials complained bitterly, time and again, about the flow of weapons into Mexico from the U.S.

(…)

Patricia Gonzalez, the top state prosecutor in Chihuahua at the time of her brother’s 2010 kidnapping, noted that she had worked closely with U.S. officials for years and was stunned that she did not learn until many months later, through media reports, about the link between his death and Fast and Furious weapons.

“The basic ineptitude of these officials [who ordered the Fast and Furious operation] caused the death of my brother and surely thousands more victims,” Gonzalez said.

Fast and Furious weapons have also been linked to other high-profile shootings. On May 24, a helicopter ferrying Mexican federal police during an operation in the western state of Michoacan was forced to land after bullets from a powerful Barrett .50-caliber rifle pierced its fuselage and armor-reinforced windshield. Three officers were wounded.

Authorities later captured dozens of drug gang gunmen involved in the attack and seized 70 weapons, including a Barrett rifle, according to a report by U.S. congressional committees. Some of the guns were traced to Fast and Furious.

Email traffic and U.S. congressional testimony by ATF agents and others make clear that American officials purposefully concealed from Mexico’s government details of the operation, launched in November 2009 by the ATF field offices in Arizona and New Mexico.

As the article goes on to note, one official at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City warned that failure to share information with the Mexican government would irreparably harm U.S.-Mexican relations. Now it, appears that this is exactly what’s going to happen.

What exactly was going on here? And why would the ATF have been buying four semi-automatic pistols and selling them to known criminals if it wasn’t part of a sting operation?

These strike me as being questions that need to be answered sooner rather than later.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Remember how upset the wingnuts were when the U.S. military lost track of 190,000 AK-47s that were supposed to be going to the Iraqi military?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/05/AR2007080501299.html

    Me neither.

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    These strike me as being questions that need to be answered sooner rather than later.

    I think you have a better chance of getting a pony before you get answers. And why are you questioning the virtue of these good police officers who stand on the thin line between us and utter barbarism and chaos? How dare you sir. How dare you.

  3. CB says:

    @ponce:

    true enough ponce, but the issue here isnt the hypocrisy of partisans. unlike so many other faux scandals, this looks like something that cant just be dismissed because ‘the other side does it too’. personally, i want to know how far up F&F goes in the ATF, and what they could have possibly thought they were accomplishing.

  4. ponce says:

    i want to know how far up F&F goes in the ATF, and what they could have possibly thought they were accomplishing.

    I feel the same way about the Iraq “War.”

  5. tps says:

    @ponce: Uh Ponce? We’re talking about Mexico, Fast&Furious, and the Obama administration here. Not 2003, Iraq, and Bush. Quit trying to change the subject please.

  6. ponce says:

    Quit trying to change the subject please.

    I’m sorry.

    Was it unsporting of me to mention the Republicans lost 190,000 assault rifles on their watch?

    The wingnuts have been trying to flog this relatively minor incident for over 6 months to no avail.

    It’s awfully hard not to laugh when the partisan hacks dredge it up every.single.time the Republican primary turns into an embarrassment.

    It’s the new Obama’s birth certificate.

  7. CB says:

    @ponce:

    were certainly in agreement that iraq was an absolute crime, but that shouldnt excuse what has become a botched operation that has claimed lives and become a diplomatic clusterf@ck. im no friend of the right wing, but they are right to be digging into this. granted, the grandstanding jokers calling for impeachment over it should be ignored, as they are clearly more interested in the politics of the scandal than in enacting any real change, on this we agree.

    but i think F&F brings alot of questions to the fore, especially with regards to cross border cooperation in fighting the ‘drug war’, and it would be a shame to dismiss them because of political allegiance. so i understand where youre coming from, but dont let it blind you.

  8. ponce says:

    but dont let it blind you.

    The ATF director resigned months ago over this.

    That’s a reasonable human sacrifice for this botched operation, and it should have closed the books on it.

  9. CB says:

    does it bother you that…

    Marisela Morales, Mexico’s attorney general and a longtime favorite of American law enforcement agents in Mexico, told The Times that she first learned about Fast and Furious from news reports. And to this day, she said, U.S. officials have not briefed her on the operation gone awry, nor have they apologized.

    that is my main problem with the program. lack of accountability and transparency, even when dealing with our supposed partner. it implies to me that we still havent learned very much from our collective ‘wars on everything’.

  10. tps says:

    @ponce:
    Just like the thousands of anti-aircraft missiles the Democrats have lost of their watch too?

    If its so minor I wonder why they haven’t gotten on the phone to explain things to the Mexican government?

  11. CB says:

    Just like the thousands of anti-aircraft missiles the Democrats have lost of their watch too?

    speaking of partisan nonsense…

  12. tps says:

    @CB: Apologies but I couldn’t let that one slide. Even if this were a Republican administration I would be supporting a full investigation because from what we know so far it was just so….stupid! There’s no logic as to what was being done so what did was going on? The hints so far say that there was more then just the ATF involved so we need to know who was involved and when did they know it.

    And Ponce, the human sacrifice in all of this has been innocent people in Mexico.

  13. ponce says:

    Just like the thousands of anti-aircraft missiles the Democrats have lost of their watch too?

    I agree, these go down on Obama’s balance sheet.

    I was against the Libyan…adventure for exactly this reason.

    Another make work cleanup operation for the U.S. military.

    No doubt President Hilary Clinton will be going to war against today’s Libyan freedom fighters sometime around 2018.

  14. Jay Tea says:

    Let’s see… the simple question was “what was the big idea behind this? What was the intent?”

    Ponce immediately proves his Obama loyalist credentials with the ever-popular “hey, look over there! Republicans are bad, too!” ploy.

    Then he follow up with “the ATF director quit, so let’s just let it go.”

    ponce, are you referring to Mr. Kenneth Melson, who left the ATF to be a “senior advisor on forensic science” at the Justice Department? Or the three overseers of F&F who were promoted and reassigned?

    The only person to actually be penalized over it so far has been Agent Vince Cefalu, the whistleblower who was given termination papers.

    But keep on trying, ponce. Your spinning and attempting to cover this up for Obama and Holder will not go unnoticed, and you just might be rewarded for your loyalty.

    And in the meantime… has ANYONE come up with a plausible rationalization for this cluster-frack of an operation? One that actually explains all the known facts to date?

    J.

  15. ponce says:

    Your spinning and attempting to cover this up for Obama and Holder will not go unnoticed

    Jay,

    Out of curiosity, do you think George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks?

  16. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: Tell you what, ponce: I’ll answer that one if you will actually address the topic at hand. Deal?

    J.

  17. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: (crickets)

  18. ponce says:

    Deal.

    Some bureaucrat screwed up and got fired.

    End of story.

    Now, is you a Truther, Jay?

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Ponce immediately proves his Obama loyalist credentials with the ever-popular “hey, look over there! Republicans are bad, too!” ploy.

    And yet the point still stands that many people who are now howling about this didn’t make much of a peep about the Iraq clusterfvck…very similar to how so many suddenly discovered the debt and spending were such major problems around January 20, 2009…

  20. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: I savage Truthers, ponce. They piss me off no end.

    And just how highly-placed was this anonymous bureaucrat, anyway? Just how highly-placed does a bureaucrat have to be to come up with a scheme that not only has zero chance of actually achieving a single positive objective, but in the process gets several hundred innocent people killed (one of them a certain US Border Patrol Officer Brian Terry), but actually consists of an act of war against a friendly nation?

    My own hunch is that you’re not that wrong — but the “bureaucrat” was Attorney General Eric Holder, if not even more highly placed.

    So, let’s keep digging and find out just what “bureaucrat” screwed up, and what the hell the theory was that he/she/it thought was worth a couple hundred deaths and threatening a sovereign state.

    J.

  21. Jay Tea says:

    @An Interested Party: Perhaps because this case goes beyond negligence, consisted of an act of war against an allied nation, led to a couple hundred innocent deaths including a US Border Patrol officer, and gave weapons to a Mexican drug cartel.

    And on that first point: as badly as ponce wants to spin it, this case simply can’t be explained as carelessness, negligence, or incompetence. Someone had an agenda at play here.

    I’ve gotten to the point, though, where I don’t care what the agenda was. Let it come out as part of their defense in their criminal trial.

    J.

  22. ponce says:

    So, let’s keep digging and find out just what “bureaucrat” screwed up

    Jay,

    You wingnuts are welcome to continue flogging this dead horse, but don’t be surprised by the collective yawn it elicits from normal America.

    It’s really just an admission on your part that you haven’t got anything on Obama.

  23. Jay Tea says:

    Hey, ponce, tell me more about that ATF director who resigned in disgrace that closed off the story. I’m sure he really learned his lesson, with that horribly punishing assignment in the DoJ, where he can be taken care of…

    J.

  24. Jay Tea says:

    And while you’re at it, explain why the ONLY ATF official who’s been actually punished was the agent whistleblower, while all the people apparently in charge of it have all been given transfers and promotions…

    J.

  25. ponce says:

    Jay,

    You sound exactly like a Truther.

    And a Birther.

    What shall we call the wingnuts who can’t let this non-story go?

    Walkers?

  26. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: And you’re sounding like Charles Johnson. Why not also call it a “nontroversy?”

    So I take it you not only can’t explain why the ATF was actually having its agents buy guns and giving them to Mexican drug cartels, then helping them smuggle them across the border into Mexico, with absolutely NO plan for tracing those weapons or intention of explaining to Mexico, but don’t even care why?

    Boy, you really nail the latter part of “useful idiot” perfectly.

    J.

  27. ponce says:

    Just come out and say it, Jay.

    Tell us your wacky conspiracy theory regarding the Mexican drug gangs.

    Did Hilary have them kill Vince Foster?

  28. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: ponce, I’m on record numerous times that I have NO IDEA what the hell the idea was behind Fast and Furious — but even the wackiest conspiracy theories make more sense than the official story you’ve swallowed and are regurgitating. So I have decided I don’t care what it is — let the guilty people explain it as mitigating circumstances when they go on trial for treason, espionage, aiding and abetting terrorists, committing acts of war against a friendly state, and all kinds of conspiracy. Or let them explain it when they’re trying to not get deported to Mexico and face trial there.

    I understand that flies in the face of your fervent beliefs that “whatever the Obama did is fine with me, because Republicans did bad things, too” and “anything conservatives believe obviously is so deeply wrong that I don’t even have to look for an alternate explanation,” but just because you love shoving your head up your ass doesn’t mean that you get to shove everyone else’s heads up there, too.