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.
I’ll take option “D”, all of the above, for $64000 RF. This is a very complex stew. The various governments and agencies involved, as well as many of the individual players, brought their own agendas to the game and made their plays as best they could with what they had to work with. Many were used and many didn’t even know they were being played, until it all blew up, because they were so intent on focusing on their own myopic objectives. I think that I largely agree with you on your primary premise regarding Los Zetas and the CIA’s interest in playing and controlling their Latin American marionettes. Still, many of the players figured that they could use this operation to advance their own agendas; whether it was bigger budgets and more power, manufacturing a “crisis” to get more sympathy for expanding gun controls, propping up one favored group/client/organization at the expense of those less favored, not to mention all of the money swirling around.
That said, bureaucrats, with few exceptions (like the CIA), rarely have the supreme Machiavellian skills to orchestrate such a large and dangerous misadventure, nor do they possess the wisdom, experience and foresight to gauge the unintended consequences , of something as profoundly stupid as this. How could anyone with an IQ above room temperature not see how badly something like this would go off the rails.
I don’t think Newell is a lying scumbag …. I reckon he’s a delusional psychopath
I vote for lying psychopatic scumbag with delusions of grandeur. Which makes him a perfect candidate to lead the Brady Campaign Against America.
He does have that look about him. I think that some of his colleagues over at CUATF might put a sharper point on it than you have.
Agreed – Newell is a lying scumbag
Newell appears no smarter or capable than the underwear bomber, or the various other knucklehead terrorists the FBI sponsors, coerces and entraps. When you think about how gov’t agencies operate they’re no different than the discreet cells (need to know) of the terrorists they claim to protect us from. In reality, the CIA is the largest terrorist, cartel, rogue organization on the planet. And when it comes to elaborate, innovative plans he claims no responsibility for when they go awry, Newell’s a piker compared to Rumsfeld.
Somehow, I get the feeling MSM is glad they have the distraction of reporting on Solyndra. That way, MSM doesn’t have to get caught up in the tawdriness of the current administration being implicated in a couple hundred murders.
Start lifting weights Bill, get used to sleeping on the top bunk and hope your family wont have to travel too far to visit you.
“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.”
I will have to remember that line if I am ever accused of lying to a federal officer.
“I wasn’t lying – my answers just lacked clarity.”
There’s a book called “The Sociopath Next Door”. This guy is a poster child for the description of a sociopathic liar – the “pity ploy” is a classic tool.
An unbiased (I am always unbiased) reading of Newell’s letters makes it clear that F&F was about increasing ATF’s power through support of the Obama adminstration’s gun control agenda. As you point out the Party line is
” … 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…”
He doesn’t talk about national security or support of other government agencies. The Obama adminstration used the ongoing CIA covert operation in support of the Mexican government as a cover for a false flag gun smuggling operation to shift public opinion in favor of restrictive gun legislation. As I have said many times before the CIA is not going to use a US government agency to send traceable weapons to a client. They will look to suppliers outside the region that aren”t traceable to the US, i.e, Eastern European and Asian gun dealers. The ATF was not involved in support of any CIA covert operations. They lack the basic legal authority to do so, e.g., they have no Title 50 USC authority and the CIA general counsel would run in the opposite direction if ATF approached them to play.
F&F, is and always has been, a false flag operation to stir up public support to restrict the access to firearms.
Do not presume the CIA is some brilliant nefarious organization black ops’ing its’ way around the globe with impunity and continuous success. This is an outfit that was convinced that the Soviet Union had decades of life left in it in 1984, even though every piece of Samizdat literature for the previous decade (cf: Andrei Amalrik) made it clear they were heading over a cliff. They armed the Taliban against the Russkies, and then walked away. Iran? Shambles. If they were actually any good Arafat and Castro would have met their makers decades ago. Middle East Spring? News to us! The fact that they are running an inept operation south of the border with absolutely no clue how it might end up is not surprising, it is par for the course. Guns making their way to some other group of gangsters? To steal someone’s else’s line, that is not a bug but a feature. And the fact that this nincompoop doesn’t want to admit it is merely depressing, not astonishing,
If I’m not mistaken, the CIA was also caught completely flatfooted, being unaware of the upcoming series of Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons tests conducted in May ’98.
I think we are missing the big elephant in the room. Newell’s mia culpa is about 16 months from now. Short of an economic miracle, we will be getting a new Republican administration and the F&F crowd will be going on trial. Newell wants to get his “I was only following orders” on the record before January 20, 2013.
I don’t want to rain on the parade, but I believe Whitehouse and DOJ will skate on this.
The question is: Can we finally drag the BATFE icon across the desktop into the trashcan? Seriously, if there is one good thing to come from all this,BATFE must go.
We should expend efforts there.
Here is a great quote from the Brady Campaign report blasting Rick Perry for his pro gun record:
“For four years running, Texas, of all states, has been the chief supplier of illegal guns recovered in crimes in Mexico, according to ATF trace data.1 Many thousands of Texas guns, predominantly high-powered, military-style assault rifles like the AK-47, are helping to arm Mexican drug cartels and are being used to murder Mexican children, women, and men – killing up to 50,000 in recent years.”
How is it that the Brady Campaign has never heard of Fast and Furious?