ATF Death Watch 8: Gunwalker’s Can of Worms

I recently shared a cup of Java with a man who commanded a mine sweeper. After the Gulf War, he represented America’s interests with some thoroughly nasty people in some profoundly undemocratic parts of the world. Like tens of millions of Americans, he’d never heard of the Gunwalker scandal. As I explained the history of the ATF’s gun-smuggling enablement program and subsequent cover-up, I grew increasingly skeptical about my own account of the story. In the end, he had to reassure me that Gunwalker wasn’t some bizarre spy novel . . .

After that, I shared my suspicions about the role of bribery in the ATF’s efforts to “allow” guns purchased in the U.S. to walk to Mexican drug cartels. Despite derisory snorts from the website that “broke” the scandal, I continue to suspect that ATF agents at the sharp end saw project Gunwalker and Operation Fast and Furious as a way to make a quick buck.

Hence no GPS trackers on the guns. Or arrests of ATF-tagged gun smugglers at the border. Or any attempt to follow the weapons into Mexico [via Mexican law enforcement] and arrest the “big fish” supposedly opening the sluice gates of the “Iron River” of smuggled guns. Any of these activities would have queered the deal for both the bad guys and the agents sucking cash from the bad guys.

To be clear, I agree that the ATF initiated the anti-gunrunning gunrunning program as a form of bureaucratic self-aggrandizement. And it worked; Congress shelled-out an “extra” $180 million for new agents and offices to plump the pillows under Project Gunrunner. But I’d bet dollars to donuts that the [almost] well-intentioned program quickly sank into a morass of personal corruption.

“Why wouldn’t they let a few guns walk for a few thousand dollars per run?” my Navy guy asked. “Maybe even a few hundred. That’s tax-free cash; worth twice as much as anything they make in salary . . . Anyway, that’s besides the point.

“The cartels are worth billions. By now, they control the Mexican government. Influence it at the highest level. The United States government supports the Mexican government. So the United States government supports the cartels. Some of them. The ones the Mexican government likes. The friend of my friend is my friend.

You don’t think [the] State [department] knows that U.S. military weapons are going to the cartels? Of course they do. But there’s one thing Uncle Sam values above anything else in its foreign policy: stability. They’ll make a deal with anyone to keep things on an even keel. What is it [you said] the Brits say about playing ball with bad people?”

“You’ve got to go along to get along,” I replied.

Makes sense to me. As Calvin Coolidge remarked, “the business of America is business.” U.S. firearms and ammunition sales to drug cartels (through Mexican law enforcement agencies and the country’s military forces) are big business. Why mess with that? What for? To stop the drug trade?

Where’s the evidence that the U.S. wants to do that? In January, the head of the Department of Homeland Security declared “mission accomplished” re: securing America’s southern border. And still billions of dollars worth of marijuana, cocaine and meth flow north. And guns and ammo flow south, via  sales to the drug thugs’ government proxies.

Conjecture? OK, let’s get some facts then. Let’s ask The Freedom Group how many Bushmaster ARs they’ve sold to the Mexican police and federales. How many of these weapons remain under government control? How many found their way to the drug cartels via “seepage”?

The Mexican government could give us an idea of what’s really going on with the cartels’ weaponry by releasing data on ALL the weapons they’ve confiscated from the drug gangs. Don’t hold your breath. The Mexicans started withholding the entirety of their captured gun data about the same time Project Gunrunner gained traction. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Gun rights groups outraged by the Gunwalker scandal believe the Obama administration put the pedal-to-the-metal on the ATF’s anti-gun-running gun running to launch a jihad against American gun owners. The ATF’s stalled attempt to create an illegal long gun registry on our southern border—to combat a crisis of their own creation—certainly seems to square that circle. BUT—

Think of Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious as a classic magic trick. The audience pays attention to the hand waving about rather than the hand doing the actual “magic.” In the same sense, the ATF’s nominal interdiction efforts focused attention away from the real devil’s bargain between America and the Mexican drug cartels (i.e. the Mexican government).

Well, it would have if the ATF had enabled the illegal sales but stopped the gun smugglers from actually smuggling. If the agents hadn’t been greedy and let the guns go native. (My guess.) Then a member of a Mexican “rip crew” wouldn’t have shot Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry with an ATF-enabled rifle. And ICE Agent Zapata wouldn’t have shared a similar fate.

But they did. So now our duly elected representatives are raising a stink about the ATF and the chain of command that gave Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious the go-ahead—and then tried to cover-up their shenanigans. Which are both far-reaching and profoundly anti-democratic.

That’s democratic with a small “d”. At least until now. Democratic legislators have fired off a letter to the Prez demanding “prompt and complete answers to the questions surrounding this operation.” The bi-partisan push threatens to open a whole can of worms. If Democrats want answers, we may actually get some–but they won’t be the ones Gunwalker watchers expect.

“”I wouldn’t be surprised if they arranged to have crates of American-made guns delivered straight to the cartels,” my Navy guy said. “It’s in no one’s interest for the truth to come out.”

“No one except Brian Terry’s family,” I said. And yet we’ve heard nothing from them, either. Have they been bought off? Has everyone?

“Not yet,” Navy guy said, referring to the Congressional investigators and their newfound Democratic allies. “You know that old joke about the guy who asks a beautiful woman if she’ll sleep with him for a million bucks? We already know what kind of people politicians are. It’s only a matter of time before they start haggling over price.”

comments

  1. avatar tom swift says:

    “Then a member of a Mexican ‘rip crew’ wouldn’t have shot Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry with an ATF-enabled rifle.”

    Where did this come from? The news reports, even from the more rabid leftoid sections of the mainstream press, repeatedly reported that two of the “smuggled” guns were found “near” the scene of Agent Terry’s death. No report said that either of the guns were directly involved in his death, or even that either of them had been fired. For all we can tell from the reports, they could have been in crates, packed in cosmo.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      Google is your friend. Here’s a quote from Texas Congressman Ted Poe’s website (’cause politicians are a veritable font of truth): “A thousand or more of those weapons have gone to Mexico. Of course the ATF has not been able to trace those guns. We do know about two of them. One of those guns was used apparently in the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. One of those other weapons was used in the shooting of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico.”

  2. avatar Phil says:

    The real problem here Robert is in trying to tell the truth to people (the American public) who willfully refuse to consciously see and hear the truth. We have cultivated an absurd ability to deny the most obvious on all fronts: monetary policy, economic policy, foreign policy, domestic policy, individual rights, ad nauseum. I’ll puke if I begin to list all the examples of the ever increasing contradictions. We’re exceptional, exceptionally deluded. This outfit, America, really is going to hell in a hand-basket and the democracy or republic we think we experience is really on the order of “The Truman Show” or another simulacrum, maybe “Pleasantville”. It really pisses people off when you inconvenience them with reality. Deep down, they know we’re fucked in so many ways and they just want to pretend as long as possible. Just like the ATF wants to make believe they’re doing something useful and all America should fund their silly ass, redundant jobs. Rant over, think all catch some shut-eye and conjure a nice dream, these reality bits like Gunwalker are more the nightmare.

  3. avatar Jimmy Crack Corn says:

    Well, by God, Robert if we ain’t lucky to have somebody as smart as you to figure all this out for the rest of us.
    Keep digging – America is depending on you buddy.

    PS -The secret handshake for this week has been changed due to a security breach at the treehouse.

    1. avatar Brad Kozak says:

      Just curious…what kind of “crack” are you referring to, in your nom de web?

      1. avatar Jimmy Crack Corn says:

        Awesome – I can see from your website(s) Bradley that you seem to be another narcissistic folk-singer wannabe in search of groupies to reinforce your ego. Don’t let reality get you down though chief – you’ll land that “big record contract” any day now I’m sure. I’m rooting for ya buddy!

  4. avatar Lana says:

    Brian Terry’s Family has done many news interviews to keep his case investigated because they get no answers from anyone and a bunch of lies. If it was not for Senator Grassley and Rep Issa they would only know what Dodson came forward and said. But they cannot be bought off, they want Justice for their brother and son! Not to say they wont sue the government and I think with all the cover up the government deserves everything they get. Brian was a true american hero!

  5. avatar Nate says:

    People are surprised about this? Of course the US government (and pretty much any other) don’t want to stop either the trafficking of illegal drugs or illegal weapons. Some government agencies have a long history with both. They’re likely the two largest sources of liquid capital in the world. If you can think of something else that creates more liquid capital (besides the Fed’s printing press), please say so. I can’t think of anything.

  6. avatar Res Publica Americana says:

    Electric chairs are beginning to sound mighty fine right about now, for members of a certain federal agency and the legislative titans that enabled their madness.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      DS II—and counting. As I wrote in the piece and remarked on your blog, it’s not either / or. Ideological arrogance AND personal corruption. I know the case is circumstantial, but “follow the money” applies here as well as anywhere else.

    2. avatar Phil says:

      Mike, I commend you for the deep work you are doing on this issue. And everyone should read Kathleen Millar’s article slowly, start to finish, http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2011/06/gunwalker-dynamite-from-foreign-policy.html or http://globalorganizedcrime.foreignpolicyblogs.com/tag/atf-agent-john-dodson/ , to grasp the enormity of what’s going on. But it’s not just about the 2nd Amendment. People have to quit assuming that that the American gov’t is and does right. There are many good people doing good work in the gov’t but where ever there’s power there’s potential for abuse. Upper level violators count on minions to become fall guys by their own personal abuses in the greater schemes. It’s in the nature of any organization. But beyond the constant spin employed in their defense, the upper level players depend on division and contention to defuse the power of their critics. If your “snort” is to spur people to look deeper, good on you. If it’s to deride Robert’s views and place yours/you above him, you just play into their grand scheme. Just like Iran/Contra, Gunwalker will have violations of law and principle at all levels. But pursuit of wrong doing at the top does not warrant derision of abuses at the operation’s front. Rape, torture, lying, theft etc. must be owned by the perpetrator, whether ordered or facilitated by another.

      1. avatar Brad Kozak says:

        One thing to add to that line of reasoning – when we talk about any organization – the ATF, the “Federal Government,” the Obama Administration, or “Gun Dealers,” we tend to think of them as entities that act with a single mind or purpose. That’s the kind of thinking that can keep you from seeing the truth. Fact is, everyone has (at least) two motivations in any given situation – what they are supposed to do (orders from the boss, job description, et cetera) and their own rational (or IRrational) self-interest.

        Take Robert’s hypothesis on ATF agents in it for the money. Anybody in a position of having access to guns, a certain amount of authority, the opportunity to make some money on the side, and what are likely HUGE bribes offered by the cartels – you think they aren’t going to be tempted? Just this one time…Nobody will notice…I’m not hurting anybody…my pay sucks and I need the money…” Fill in the blanks.

        I have absolutely no doubt that somewhere, someone in the ATF is using and abusing their position of authority to sell guns for profit. The only questions I have are “how many crooked agents are there” and “how high-up in the food chain are they?” We could be talking about one or two guys who pass over some confiscated guns from a bust, all the way up to a “middle management” agent who’s colluding with persons unknown to divert crates of guns to the narco-terrorists. The former is almost a given, in my book. The latter? I dunno. But Robert’s right. “Follow the money” is good advice in any investigation.

  7. avatar MALTHUS says:

    “Gunwalker” is a sideshow for TTAG, but the main feature at SSI and WOG.

    Mike and David are much better informed about this scandal than Robert and his anonymous sailor source.

    May I respectfully suggest that Robert investigate the “argumentum ad verecundiam” definition in a logic textbook before proceeding any further with his sailor’s theory?

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      I respect the work those sites have done to uncover the Gunwalker scandal and bring it to the mainstream media’s attention. However, I make my argument ad abundantiam. To wit:

      “New figures show 122 current or former U.S. federal agents and employees of the Customs and Border Protection agency have been arrested or indicted for corruption since October 2004. It is a trend that has both the FBI and key members of Congress concerned.

      In addition, 92 of those cases were considered instances of “Mission Compromising Corruption,” in which the employee violated, or facilitated the violation of the laws the agency enforces– such as those related to the smuggling of drugs or illegal aliens.

      The above numbers are derived from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data released to KHOU-TV in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.”

      Why would ATF agents on the border be immune?

  8. avatar Ralph says:

    ATF is a zombie organization, except that even taking out the head (it doesn’t have one now) won’t put it down. The ATF will disappear around the same time as “temporary” bridge tolls and airline fuel surcharges, i.e. when pigs fly.

  9. avatar Gerard says:

    I wonder if T. Jefferson Parker will roll this into his next Deputy Hood novel.

  10. avatar Beagle2 says:

    If there was a significant “money trail” it would not pass through field agents. No doubt there are some ‘dirty’ agents, but the conception, policy and directives of Gunwalker eclipse rogue officers.

    If the cartels can influence and control the Mexican government with cash, why would they bother bribing low level BATFE field agents? Wouldn’t it be more effective to influence an agency or a department through fiat policy and procedure changes initiated by the bureaucratic directors, circumvent the lower echelons and depend on the field agents to “just follow orders” from their commanders?

    It’s well documented that the vast majority of military weaponry supplied to the Mexican drug cartels is provided by military, police and government channel contract suppliers. The paltry number of guns purchased through straw buyers in the U.S. and smuggled to Mexico is not the result of rogue agents trying to enrich their bank accounts from cartel bribes. If I had a few hundred million narco dollars would I spend them bribing ATF field agents to let a few rifles slip across the border or would I bribe the Mexican cop who has keys to an armory and a local family I could hold hostage for his cooperation and silence? Or would I spend them buying up surplus arms sold when an entire department or agency is upgraded? Or would I just buy into a business that legitimately deals in military grade weaponry?

    “Gunwalker” is the brainchild of insulated U.S. .gov bureaucrats who wouldn’t know the difference between a bolt action hunting rifle and a chrome Kalashnikov.
    It was an ill conceived plan to create a political illusion, feed the media false and misleading information with intentions to build political support and consensus for additional restrictions and reporting requirements aimed solely at regulating gun ownership and financially damaging the civilian firearms industry. It was a pure and simple ‘under the radar” gun control initiative welded onto an already operational interdiction operation.

    Trying to tie policy directives and operational guidelines to greedy field agents is a red herring. I think, evidence and testimony under oath will bear this out.

    Smuggling a few guns across the Mexican border may help some low life criminal coyotes and dope smugglers in the short term. Controlling firearms ownership in the U.S. serves the present regime in the long run. If I were looking for narco dollars, I’d be following a trail far removed from the dusty, dirty border war.

    And by the way, if there’s an appointed bureaucrat who’s naive enough to believe gun shops along the border are supplying 90% of the drug cartels firearms… that bureaucrat needs to get cut loose from the tax payer teat and become one of the newly employed McDonald’s workers.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      As Brad pointed out the ATF is no one thing or person. In the same way that the pencil pushers with the Border Patrol may be beyond bribery, the mid-level ATF managers may be clean as a whistle. In the same way that some of the Border Patrol guys on the border are dirty, some of the ATF agents dealing with the actual gun smugglers may have had their hands out. Being from Rhode Island and a Watergate-era journalist, I assume that cops dealing with scum are dirty until . . . that’s it. I assume they’re dirty.

      Proof? My sources around but not in the ATF ain’t sayin’ nothin’ I am but one man and I don’t fancy putting my life on the line to expose corruption amongst people who know people who decapitate their rivals and hang their bodies from highway overpasses. So I’ll just smear the ATF agents’ good name [sic] and wait and see what develops. Meanwhile, fresh mass graves in Mexico: http://mwcnews.net/news/americas/11181-guerrero.html

  11. avatar Gaviota says:

    I see a lot of suspicion and speculation in your post, Robert, with demands for facts and evidence from the Fed.gov & Freedom Group, and advice to unspecified people to “follow the money,” but I’m not seeing any evidence that supports your assumptions. Understand, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but HAVE you followed the money? Do you have any evidence at all of “a morass of personal corruption” amongst ATF agents? If so, as much as I despise the ATF and all of the freedom-destruction that it stands for, I’d REALLY like to see it.

  12. avatar David B says:

    Yes, it is about money.

    But if it is about field agents taking bribes, it doesn’t follow. The paper trail is too clear. Too many meetings about this situation.

    It started as a plan to create two things, increased regulation and higher budgets. But the “need” had to be created. And then add persons who did not care or think of the consequences of those actions.

    Result: The situation is still playing out.

  13. avatar revjen45 says:

    “No matter how paranoid you are what they are actually doing is worse than you can possibly imagine.” _ Ralph J. Gleason

  14. avatar CUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    “Trust no one and move silently. Stay in the shadows and move in the night.” Anonymous

  15. avatar bubba says:

    Senator Grassley has been investigating this for awhile and I’d be interested to know what he thinks about the evidence and where it leads. I doubt that he thinks it involves lowly ATF agents stealing the coffee and doughnut money at the office.

    Who has the most to gain from this if the scandal was never found out? If the allegations are true, as presented by Mike at Sipsey Street Irregulars, DOJ and (ultimately the WH) have the most to gain.

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