There are three competitive theories as to why the ATF let some 2000 guns walk from U.S. gun stores to Mexican drug thugs. I believe the ATF enabled gun smugglers as part of a government-wide plan to arm the Sinaloa drug cartel against Los Zetas. The gun blogging community believes the ATF let the guns go to manufacture a crisis, bolstering the Bureau’s case for more funding and regulatory control (i.e. to grab more guns from average Americans). And the ATF says it was all a big mistake. I’ve laid out my case for the Los Zetas explanation. Gun bloggers like Mike Vanderboegh have made their point on the 2A front. And now, ATF Special Agent Bill Newell has “gone public” with his explanation for Operation Fast and Furious . . .
Before I deconstruct Agent Newell’s “I didn’t mean to perjure myself” letter to the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform [click here for the pdf], I’ve got two words: Operation Castaway.
Even if you take everything that Newell writes at face value—accepting his depiction of Operation Fast and Furious as nothing more or less than a well-intentioned law enforcement effort gone slightly awry—are we expected to believe that Operation Castaway, the ATF’s Tampa-based “guns to Honduras” black bag job, was also a “simple” mistake?
What are the odds that the ATF somehow lost track of firearms that somehow made it to drug cartels in two locations at the same time? And what of Grenadewalker, wherein the ATF and U.S. Attorney’s office let a bomb maker off the hook so he could continue smuggling explosive devices into Mexico?
How does all that square with the “we meant to catch the big fish” narrative? Especially considering the fact that the ATF didn’t catch a single pescado grande. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Newell’s letter to the Congressional Committee. It starts as it means to finish: a literary version of Warren Zevon’s Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.
After taking the time to reflect and review my testimony, I realize I could have given clearer, more complete and more direct responses to some questions. It was not my intention to give answers that lacked the clarity everyone on the panel deserved from a federal law enforcement agent in my position. It is not an excuse but the reality of the pressure I have been under the last several months has been nothing like I have ever experience; this enquiry and the way it has been handled has taken a physical toll on my family, me, and the dedicated men and women who continue to pursue the goals of this investigation.
Newell’s opening salvo could well be the most disgraceful part of this entire disgraceful scandal. The man who orchestrated the delivery of firearms to vicious drug thugs, three of which were used to murder U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, has the temerity to ask the Committee to pity him?
The fact that Newell more-or-less blames the Committee for his family’s stress, when the Terry family and dozens of Mexican families have to deal with the “stress” of loved ones murdered by ATF-enable guns, is beyond imagination. Before this letter I thought Newell’s gang was guilty of hubris. This missive identifies them as psychopaths.
Newell’s letter goes on to assail the Committee for the hearing’s format and accuses its members of being too stupid to understand what he was trying to say. With the help of his lawyers, Newell summarizes his defense (for Committee members who are both stupid and lazy):
To be clear, any errors were unintentional errors of omission and are rooted in the laws we have at our disposal in attempting to address this type of illegal activity, the inherent risks posed by the nature of these investigations and the rapid progression of this investigation . . .
So it’s the Huffington Post defense then. U.S. gun trafficking laws are so weak they hamstring the ATF (because of the Republicans), the gun-grabbing ATF are the good guys (always) and things just kinda got away from them. Never mind all that. Listen to this:
Throughout the course of this investigation we attempted to be innovative in the tracking and seizing of firearms purchased by the suspected “straw” purchasers of the firearms in order to identify the decision makers, the financiers and an ever-expanding network of straw purchasers of the firearms in order to ultimately disrupt the entire criminal organization.
So Fast and Furious—an operation where ATF chiefs specifically instructed concerned Agents NOT to intercept gun smugglers mid-smuggle—was “innovative” (as opposed to, say, illegal). And I guess we’ll just ignore the fact that the FBI has admitted that it provided seed money to at least one of the gun smugglers to purchase the weapons headed from the U.S. to Mexican narco-terrorists.
Be that as it is, Newell would clearly have us believe that all the Mexican gun running under ATF investigation was part of a large, well-coordinated, monolithic criminal enterprise; with financiers and, by implication, a Mr. Big or two. (The aforementioned “Plaza boss”.) Note: “the criminal organization. Not “a criminal organization” or “a confederation of criminal organizations” (i.e. a cartel).
It’s no fluke; Newell uses the singular designation throughout his letter. “It was believed that it was important to adopt an investigative plan to terminate this organization’s [emphasis added] ability to traffic in firearms.” With that nomenclature the main question suddenly becomes “Is Newell lying or is he insane?”
All of the straw purchasers “nabbed” during the course of the ATF’s anti-gun smuggling gun smuggling program are bit players. Petty criminals. All of them. Equally, anyone familiar with the way the Mexican cartels work would know that the bad guys at the sharp end are part of an ever-shifting alliance of bad guys. They are not run by an all-controlling KAOS-like Mr. Big.
The U.S. government has officially designated Los Zetas a terrorist organization. Although Newell never names the singular organization responsible for gun smuggling, for our purposes here, it doesn’t matter. Mexican drug cartels are all terrorist groups. And like all terrorist groups, they operate using discreet “cells.”
Bottom line: there was no way on earth the ATF was going to nail the caretl jefes using small time gun smugglers.
Newell should have known this. Apparently not. His main excuse for letting the guns walk is that arresting the smugglers would have been “premature.”
The premature arrest of “straw” purchasers prior to the arrest and identification of the organizers and financiers of the enterprise would have permitted the unabated trafficking of guns, as, in addition to potentially fatally exposing the investigation, the arrested “straw” purchasers would have been replaced by new purchasers, unknown to law enforcement.
That explains precisely nothing; the main problem here was that the ATF failed to maintain surveillance on the buyers. For sure Newell knew that. His letter blames a lack of resources and admits that he should have been more diligent in his supervisory roll.
I don’t think Newell is a lying scumbag who deliberately deceived Congress as to his true motivations during Operation Fast and Furious. I reckon he’s a delusional psychopath who honestly believes he was fighting a devious criminal mastermind or two. A federal employee whose psychosis reflects the principle that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I also think Newell was played. Given the Agent’s obvious narcissism, the CIA convinced Newell (or his bosses) that allowing guns to flow to the Sinaloas and their friends was a good thing, not a bad thing. It would help defeat Mr. Big.
In any case, Newell’s letter also reveals that the ATF put an informant inside their stingless sting, who “ultimately was not successful.” And as I suspected, the Bureau did put a tracking device into at least one of the firearms. That led to the “proactive” and “lawful” seizure of 21 of 200 guns bought by one Uriel Patino.
You’d think that a 10 percent recovery rate on the ATF’s “guns for goons” program would have given Newell pause. But then this is a man who’s happy to throw the ATF “whistleblowers” under the bus for not committing career suicide by taking their complaints to the ATF’s famously vindictive Internal Affairs Division. If only I’d known!
Still, it must be said: this letter lends credibility to the ATF’s claim that the Fast and Furious’ f-up was down to ATF Agents’ stupidity. I still maintain that the CIA told the ATF this is how we do it. The Company has a long and ignoble history of bending other federal agencies to its will. Considering the alphabet soup of federal agencies involved in this, I can see only one master chef.
In any event, this missive makes it clear that the ATF is run by po-faced bureaucrats who are either devious liars or simply don’t have a clue as to the true nature of criminal activities. Or both. Do we need a law enforcement agency that rewards deceit and incompetence, placing our civil rights and foreign policy in harm’s way? We do not.