ATF Gunwalker Scandal Explained

If you want to know why in Sam Hill the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (and Really Big Fires) would tell American gun dealers to go ahead and sell weapons to Mexico-bound gun smugglers, you have to understand the ATF’s modus operandi. Unlike other law enforcement agencies who react to crime and investigate, the ATF goes out and creates crime and then arrests a bunch of people. No really. Since its elevation to federal agency status (a HUGE mistake), the ATF has had more stings than a naked apiculturist. So when gun dealers dropped the dime on straw purchasers buying guns headed for narco killers, the ATF treated it like a sting operation already in progress . . .

Their sting operation. Notice the smorgasbord of law enforcement agencies above. Most times the ATF has to work with everyone but your uncle Louie to make a collar. And share the glory. But Project Gun Runner and Operation Fast and Furious belonged to the ATF. Again: it was their gig.

There was NO WAY the ATF was going to share intel. Not with U.S. Border Customs and Border Patrol (who lost an agent to ATF-enabled smuggled guns). Not with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (who lost an agent to ATF-enabled smuggled guns). And not with the Mexican government (who are still busy losing hundreds of lives to ATF-enabled smuggled guns).

The nub of the matter is easy enough to grasp: the ATF will do anything to catch criminals. Including create them. It’s a profoundly unconstitutional SOP by an Agency that’s happy to ensnare otherwise legal American gun owners in a paperwork trap, BTW. But let’s stick with today’s nearasdammit perfect example of the ATF run amok.

Undercover storefront sting nets over 100 the Department of Justice’s press release proclaims.

A multi-agency law enforcement task force led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Phoenix Police Department, with assistance from the U.S. Marshall’s Service, began arresting suspects in the case early last week. Over its duration, the Operation resulted in the seizure of 223 weapons – including handguns, assault rifles, rifles and sawed-off shotguns, many of them stolen.

Agents and officers also seized narcotics, including methamphetamine, “crack” and powder cocaine, prescription medications, marijuana and heroin. ATF agents and a detective from Phoenix PD culminated the nine-month investigation in January.

The agents operated a secondhand merchandise store dealing in military supplies and used electronics, where they purchased guns and narcotics from individuals who came into the store. As with previous successful ATF investigations in other states, the store was equipped with electronic surveillance equipment to capture all of the transactions.

Think about this. A store opens up in a bad part of Phoenix for the express purpose of purchasing stolen weapons (for the ATF) and drugs (for the other agencies). The store lets it be known that they’re open for [criminal] business and spreads a ton of cash around. No one gets arrested. And so their “success” snowballs over nine months. The bad guys know there’s a thriving market for stolen guns. So what do they do? Steal guns.

Now look at this from an Arizona gun owner’s point of view. You’re sitting in your house with a nice collection of guns. Suddenly, bad shit goes down. A group of very bad people (with a nice new income stream to keep them ungainfully employed) have decided that they want your guns. And by God they’re going to take them. Why? So they can sell them to the federal government.

News flash: sting operations don’t stop crime. The foster it. Although not enough judges are willing to lay down the law in cases where obvious bad guys appear before them thanks to “here run this down the street for me right quick” law enforcement, sting operations are illegal. They lure people into committing crimes.

The “set ‘em up and knock ‘em down” ethos (a.k.a. entrapment) is so deeply embedded with the ATF that they feel free to admit it.

ATF Special Agent in Charge, William Newell added, “This joint operation with the Phoenix Police Department is clear evidence of ATF’s continued commitment to proactively address the threat of firearms related crime in communities across the country with our State and Local law enforcement partners. We also truly appreciate the support from the U.S. Attorney and Arizona Attorney General in prosecuting these cases.”

Proactive. Not reactive. Or preventative. Proactive. And there’s the reason for Operation Fast and Furious.

While I look forward to seeing members of the Obama administration laid low for participating in the resulting coverup, my fondest desire is that Congress pulls the plug on the ATF is disbanded. That’s the only “proactive” way to stop this murderous confederacy of dunces from wreaking havoc on the American people. And, not so by the way, Mexicans.

avatar

About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

24 Responses to ATF Gunwalker Scandal Explained

  1. avatarGabriel says:

    This is a good opportunity to ask a question that has been bothering me. Is it worse to take guns away from law abiding citizens or supplying guns to people who either are breaking, or who intend to break the law? Trick question, the ATF does both.

    • avatarpsmcd says:

      “…There is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow. … Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing.”
      –Daniel Webster, June 1, 1837

  2. avatarIke says:

    Robert:

    You hit the nail squarely on the head! That’s exactly the modus operandi of too much of ATF; ‘create crime’. Tempt Randy Weaver into sawing off the barrels of a couple of shotguns; plant a tempting collectible Thompson SMG into the collectors market; encourage gun traffickers to buy more AK47 style rifles; create a ‘sting’ market for stolen guns….. Need I go on?

    This extends to the Regulatory area as well. When ‘Investigators’ audit a dealer’s books, and don’t find enough legit errors, then they ‘invent’ violations – even some explicitly allowed in some ATF documents. Creating violations where none actually exist.

    This extends to other areas as well. Demilled machine guns, for example. At one time, a cutting torch cut through the receiver was allowed. Now, you can go to jail for the exact same cut.

    Then, we have ATF Firearms Technology, which formally ruled that a piece of string was a machine gun. I have a copy of the letter.

    Create crime? You bet!

  3. Since it was my 28 December post that broke this story out into the open, and, since it was the efforts of David Codrea and me that brought the Senators to our whistleblowers and got them protection and, since CBS wouldn’t have contacted the whistleblowers without our introductions, pardon me if I feel competent enough about this scandal to dispute your opinions expressed above.

    Conflating the store-front sting in Phoenix with Fast and Furious or the larger Gunwalker scandal is comparing tiny apples to a huge rotten grapefruit the size of Chicago. It also, in the process, lets the truly guilty off the hook. Look at the size of the Gunwalker scandal as we now understand it. Gun store owners in Houston were being told to let guns walk. Straw buyers, some of them paid confidential informants, were buying weapons with ATF knowledge in at least three states. The Phoenix office did not control the deals in Texas or New Mexico. This was a wide-ranging policy, ordered from above. We already have information from whistleblowers that the conspiracy goes as high as Rahm Emanuel. The public documents and testimony of whistleblowers referred to in the CBS pieces and Grassley letters take the thing into the State Department, Homeland Security, ICE and include, by name, US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Acting Director of ATF Melson. And we haven’t yet figured out who on the National Security Council played the role of Oliver North in this thing but there had to have been an over-all coordinator of inter-agency knowledge and effort.

    My opposition to and derision of ATF’s modus operandi in a multitude of previous lesser scandals is well-documented, but to put this down solely to institutional culture within the ATF is to minimize the size and scope of what was in fact an intentional, wide-ranging, well planned and well executed conspiracy to subvert the Second Amendment rights of American gun owners, gun dealers and gun shows attendees. It would have worked — IT WAS WORKING — until the ATF street agents blew the whistle on it. So don’t minimize what happened here. This is far greater than institutional culture.

    Indeed, while this essay of yours is closer to the mark than your first theory that this was all about corrupt ATF agents, it was the agents themselves who blew the cover off the greatest scandal of federal government, perhaps ever. No one died at the Watergate Hotel. There are hundreds of dead so far from Gunwalker, and more happening every week from what I hear. And that is the way the evil bastards who planned this wanted it. Those guilty SOBs would never have even considered joining ATF — too much risk, too little power. The agency was the TOOL, not the hand that wielded it. For that you have to go to DOJ and, especially, the White House. Aside from being the truth, it is the only explanation that is consistent with all the facts now known and still makes sense.

    Mike Vanderboegh
    http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com
    GeorgeMason1776@aol.com

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Mike,

      I defer to your greater knowledge of the scope and scale of this scandal. I have no reason to doubt your assertion that Gunwalker reaches to the highest levels of public office, and every reason to believe your analysis. Including, of course, your relentless and thorough pursuit of the truth.

      I didn’t say that corrupt ATF agents are responsible for Gunwalker in toto (the whole enchilada, not Dorothy’s dog). I suggested that corruption may well account for the final part of the chain, where the guns somehow “disappeared” off the ATF’s radar.

      I add that to the mix because

      A) Oh. My. God. The Mexican drug trade is awash with money. ATF agents are paid a pittance. Do the math. The cartels do.

      B) I have a difficult time believing that the ATF plan was “let the guns walk so we can catch up with them later and then nail the big fish when the guns turn up at crime scenes—even though we won’t tell the Mexicans that we let the guns walk in the first place.”

      That said, this explanation is just stupid enough to be plausible. As the article above suggests, Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious were sting operations, like all the other ATF sting operations. It was just bigger and more deadly and less well supervised and bone-headed from the word go.

      The alternate theory: the ATF let guns walk into Mexico to justify their budget for stopping guns from walking into Mexico. See? We told you we need more money and a new gun registry in border states.

      As I asked before, why would the ATF bother with real guns? They’d already hoodwinked Obama and the MSM into believing that 90 percent of drug lords’ guns came from U.S. smuggling ops (using entirely misleading trace requests submitted by Mexico the ATF).

      All they had to do was keep lying. Genuine cross-border guns? Not needed. Not so many, anyway.

      In any case, I’m sure the Gunwalker scandal owes its genesis to a confluence of politics at the highest level AND the ATF’s corrupt culture. The Administration had the motive, the ATF had the means and the escalating drug war provided the opportunity. More simply, Obama lied (about drug gangs’ guns) and people died.

  4. avatarDirtCrashr says:

    …So it’s really the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ENTRAPMENT,” more than anything else – and that’s exactly how they secure funding to continue to operate and run the agency. Bureaucracy in Action!

  5. avatarFirehand says:

    Over at Sipsey Street I ran across a post on the problem with flat-out shutting down ATF. To borrow a part:
    No one is going to repeal the federal gun laws.

    Therefore they will be enforced by some agency.

    Which would you rather take the job?

    The FBI? Think Ruby Ridge and arsonists at Waco. Besides, they’re too smart to take it.

    The Department of Homeland Security? Sure, they’d LOVE that.

    Oh, great — secret political policemen with even less oversight than ATF.

    I prefer the devil I know in rehab than the devil I don’t, with the same mission, more power and less oversight. And if you take the time to think it through, so would you.
    I tend to agree; unless a lot of the idiot laws and regulations are thrown out, giving it to DHS or FBI would be bad. Especially after reading this:
    http://www.survivalblog.com/2011/03/beware_of_homeland_security_tr.html

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Less government is always better than more government. The FBI is better than the ATF. Nicer people. More in tune with America’s Second Amendment rights, which the ATF wants to grind to dust beneath their jackboot.

      Would the FBI have launched Gunwalker? Maybe. But doubtful. Gunwalker was a logical outgrowth of the ATF’s diseased anti-gun culture. The FBI has issues, but they’re not the same ones.

      As Machiavelli counseled, when your enemies are defeated, show them no mercy. Put the good ones on your team and leave the rest on the side of a hill with all those abandoned babies. Or something like that.

    • Defunding an agency is the way Congress has of stopping abusive or archaic institutions that no longer serve a purpose. The laws do not have to be taken off the books for enforcement of them to stop: that only requires the ending of the funding for the agency involved.

      Laws that define agencies as the agents for them are accountable for to those agencies. The laws, by defining the agency and requirements, cannot be enforced when the defined agency disappears due to lack of funding by Congress. To put the gun laws under another agency requires serious amendment and re-write by Congress: that is not something done by the Executive but the Legislative branch.

      Without an agency to enforce the laws, then the laws are not enforced as Congress has used the expediency of defunding an agency to remove its power of enforcement. When the power is absent then the law is unenforced and unenforceable as the organ is no longer available for enforcement. Currently the laws are archaic enough and keep legitimate historical and single man carried arms from the hands of US Citizens, and that is contrary to the militia power of the States for self-protection. That is why a number of States are seeking to make the power of the BATFE nullified for in-State created arms sold in-State to residents of that State. Once that is done the major power of the BATFE starts to disappear as the States are the guarantors of their own safety and security via the militia power. The violation of State sovereignty by the BATFE in multiple ‘stings’ needs to be brought up to local AGs… when they are not part of the operation, and then an IG equivalent needs to be contacted on the legality of those operations performed by those local organizations. The federal government cannot be all-powerful in the way of arms as that is contradictory to the outlay of powers in the Constitution, and the abuses by the BATFE point out the wisdom of restricting the power of the federal government in that realm.

  6. avatarBrad Kozak says:

    I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is the best. I’m also a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s assertion that after you discount everything thing that impossible, whatever’s left, no matter how improbable is the truth. And now for the aphorism hat trick, as Michael Crichton pointed out in his book Airframe, it’s never ONE thing that goes wrong that causes the disaster. It’s always a combination of two or three things, because systems are designed to deal with single problems, but not multiple failures simultaneously.

    I think the whole thing stinks. I have no doubt this scandal goes all the way to the top, because I know something of Chicago politics. It’s a top-down organization, and improvisation by the troops is strongly discouraged. I also believe that corruption breeds corruption (bonus aphorism: “Live with the lame and you limp” or “Lay down with dogs, get up with fleas.” hey…I’m a heavy tipper). So what we’ve got here is a Strother Martin Special – a failure to communicate, local corruption, and an overarching plan by the ObamaNation to manufacture a crisis made to order.

    What scares me is that Obama has apparently decided that he doesn’t need to even stonewall…if he ignores it and pretends all is well, the news media (save CBS) seems to be giving him a pass, and those cowards in Congress aren’t about to try and go after him. They’are all frightened of being called ‘racists.’ We are truly screwed on this. If this had been a plot by a Republican Administration, they’d be not just impeached and in jail, Hell, they’d be crucified, literally, on pay-per-view. But not this President. Not this administration. Not today.

    • avatarTTACer says:

      What scares me is that Obama has apparently decided that he doesn’t need to even stonewall…

      Some men, you just caint reach.

  7. “had more stings than a naked apiculturist”

    Dangit Robert, now I gotta clean a mouthful of tea off of my monitor and out of my keyboard!

  8. “Less government is always better than more government. The FBI is better than the ATF. Nicer people. More in tune with America’s Second Amendment rights, which the ATF wants to grind to dust beneath their jackboot.”

    The federal jackboots come in all brands, not just ATF.

    Three points:

    1. It was an FBI sniper who deliberately shot Vicky Weaver while she held her baby in her arms, a fact that at that range with the equipment he had he had to have known before he took the shot.

    2. The botched ATF raid on 28 February 1993 killed five Davidians and four ATF agents. The deliberate events of 19 April immolated almost 80 men, women and kids while the FBI called the dance of death and kept the firetrucks from the scene.

    3. If we had had whistleblowing FBI agents willing to come clean on the sting-gone-bad which was the Oklahoma City bombing (and yes, the ATF isn’t the only agency which lives for stings), those 176 dead innocents wouldn’t still be waiting for full justice and Bill Clinton would be an expatriate somewhere, unable to show his face among decent folk in the United States without having his shoes spat upon. (The ATF wanted to raid Elohim City, OK, the base of the Aryan Republican Army in February of 1995 based on the reports of their snitch inside, Carol Howe. They were told to back off by the FBI: “Elohim City is our operation.” On 19 April their “operation” got away from them and a whole bunch of people got dead.)

    “Nicer people.” Right.

    This is the second major scandal I’ve been drawn into over the past 16 years and have had one-of-a-kind, in depth experience with both agencies. The FBI is smoother, generally more competent and meaner when riled — and just as prone to deadly misadventure. They’re just better at covering it up, more disciplined when it comes to saluting and saying “yes, sir!” and keeping quiet afterward while pocketing their pensions.

    IF THIS WAS AN FBI SCANDAL IT IS MY FIRM BELIEF THAT THERE WOULD BE NO SCANDAL. The conspiracy would still be going on and it would be successful. It is only because of the ATF agents that we know what we know. Nicer people?

    The FBI, like every federal bureaucracy, is “in tune” only with its own institutional survival. But it responds to the same masters as the ATF. Never forget that. The bureaucracies — all bureaucracies — try to please the politicos in the White House at any given time and keep the Congress in the dark. It is what they do and what they are, regardless of administration. Need I remind you that it is the FBI which is doing a masterful job of STILL covering up the circumstances of the death of Brian Terry? And they will keep doing so until they are forced not to by Congressional oversight or press reports showing their hand, and then and only then will we get a “modified, limited hangout” that is equally masterfully defended by their friends in Congress and the press.

    Harry S. Truman famously marveled at the Marine Corps’ PR skills. The Corps doesn’t hold a candle to the FBI. They wrote the book on cover-up, misdirection, disinformation and spin.

    Mike Vanderboegh

  9. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that over the past 16 years I’ve been personally threatened by agents of both agencies and while the Fibbies don’t snarl as often as ATF agents, they are better at communicating a credible threat. Not that it did them any good. Threaten them with publicity and they all run like cockroaches from the light.

  10. avatarMALTHUS says:

    FBI Mission Statement: The overall mission of the FBI is to uphold the law through the investigation of violations of federal criminal statutes; to protect the
    United States from hostile intelligence efforts; to provide assistance to
    other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; and to perform
    these responsibilities in a manner that is faithful to the Constitution
    and laws of the United States.

    The FBI is better than the ATF. Nicer people. More in tune with America’s Second Amendment rights,..–Robert Farago

    Using Brad Kozak’s reference to A. Conan Doyle, may I be permitted to mention Holmes’ “curious incident” of the dog that did not bark?

    Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
    Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
    Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

    A conspiracy the size of “Gunwalker” would have been impossible to keep secret from the FBI, yet they did not disclose, disrupt or otherwise hinder its operation “in a manner that [was] faithful to the Constitution and laws of the United States.” This can only be attributed to their being involved in its implementation

    Given their complicity in “Gunwalker” there is nothing to support Farago’s suggestion that the FBI is “in tune with America’s Second Amendment rights” and every reason to believe Mike’s assertion that they are rat bastards.

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Gentlemen. Pardon me for suggesting that the FBI are not all a bunch of rat bastards. I have met many agents and would trust all of them with my life, and my rights. The ATF Agents I’ve met have all been . . . well . . . less than civic-minded.

      No matter. The thing is, the less federal agencies the better. Full stop. How can you support the existence of one agency by saying well it’s not as bad as this other agency? That’s what’s called a false paradigm. Coke or Pepsi doesn’t leave room for I’m not thirsty right now. If you know what I mean.

  11. avatarMALTHUS says:

    “Pardon me for suggesting that the FBI are not all a bunch of rat bastards. I have met many agents and would trust all of them with my life, and my rights.”

    Please note that it was ATF agents who exposed this conspiracy. What does it say about your agency when it exhibits less integrity that the BATmen?

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Where’s the evidence that the FBI knew about Gunwalker? Show me some of that bad joss and I’ll STFU.

      • avatarMALTHUS says:

        Where’s the evidence that the BHO knew about Gunwalker? You are able to make such inferences from the facts at hand, are you not?

        You’ll catch BATs
        and (fibbie)rats
        and Elephants
        but sure as yer born,
        You ain’t gonna catch
        the (skittle-farting) unicorn

        The evidence for the FBI’s involvement will not be long in coming, but it will be used to exonerate higher-ups.

  12. Robert said: “Less government is always better than more government.” This statement makes perfect sense in the context of the above discussion of out of control government agencies. In the context of, say the past 4000 years, more government has drastically reduced the chances of getting killed violently and generally (not always) made it easier for humans to thrive. (Steven Pinker gave a TED Talk on the counterintuitive notion that the 20th century was comparatively very safe compared to previous centuries.) So that such a statement is made and feels right is a measure of just how badly government is out of control in the US.

    That a deeply divisive domestic issue (2nd amendment vs gun control) is evidently more important than defending our borders is ludicrous. I grew up in the 50s and I believe back then most people basically trusted the government to act on their behalf. Now we all have to recognize that we have the same problem as Little Red Riding Hood. :-)

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Defending our borders? The ATF was supplying guns to criminals across our border—which Mexican drug thugs then used to kill a Border Patrol agent withint the continental U.S. (Not to mention the ICE agent killed in Mexico with an ATF-enabled weapon. Oh what the hell:

      Records showed that one of the guns found at the scene of a deadly drug cartel ambush in Mexico in February was bought at a gun show in Fort Worth. The semiautomatic Draco AK-47, legally sold by the Off-Duty Armory sporting goods store at the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall, was found after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was killed and his partner was wounded.

      You do know that the ATF knew about that gun, right? Let it walk? With border defenders like that, who needs foreign enemies?

  13. avatarMALTHUS says:

    Where’s the evidence that the FBI knew about Gunwalker? Show me some of that bad joss and I’ll STFU–RF

    From the FBI web site:

    The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is all about saving lives and protecting people from harm—by not letting guns and explosives fall into the wrong hands. It also ensures the timely transfer of firearms to eligible gun buyers.

    Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase. More than 100 million such checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials.

    Did the FBI run background checks on the gun runners? Yes. So, they KNEW. They were in on the conspiracy.

  14. avatarDouble A.D. says:

    Is the ATF a redundant, dictatorial and oppressive agency? Absolutely. But I have a problem with your theory that the ATF and the police department created criminals with their sting operation. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to break into anyone’s home and steal firearms just because I know a store that will buy them from me. Why? The same reason I follow my states (absurd) gun laws. Because I’m not a criminal. You can gripe (justifiably) that the ATF and FBI were overly heavy handed with Randy Weaver and he paid a terrible price, but HE BROKE THE LAW and was a criminal. I don’t care how much pressure my felon step father in law puts on me or how many times he asks/begs, he is not touching my guns. Why? Because I’m not a criminal.

    Just to clarify, I am no fan of any of the alphabet agencies and I am very pro 2nd (no restrictions short of a nuke).

  15. avatarBlake says:

    Double A.D. I would suggest that criminals are like any other organization interested in making a buck: market forces will influence which direction they commit their crimes. Making it easier to sell stolen guns more than likely created more stolen gun robberies than would otherwise have occurred.

    Yeah, it’s a perverse incentive, but it is still an incentive.

    I do agree, the sting operation didn’t create criminals, merely redirected their criminal activities.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.