I'm watching the House Oversight Committee grill a panel of current and former ATF agents about Operation Fast and Furious. I believe the hearing will be rebroadcast tonight on C-SPAN.
Chairman Issa and some - not all - of the Committee's members are pressing the witnesses to explain why the ATF sanctioned the illegal purchase of nearly 2,000 firearms by straw buyers in the southwestern U.S., and then stood by as many of those firearms were transferred to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. At least 122 of the weapons were found at Mexican crime scenes or in the possession of drug cartels, and two of them were found at the scene of the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December. About half of the weapons are still loose.
It's a good, dramatic, hearing because some of the witnesses are there to defend ATF (and themselves), and some are there to blow the whistle on the corporate suits.
The quote of the day was provided by ATF Agent Carlos Canino, acting ATF attache to Mexico:
"I can say with authority 'walking guns' is not a recognized investigative technique," Canino testified. "These guns went to ruthless criminals. ... It infuriates me that people, including my law enforcement, diplomatic and military colleagues, may be killed or injured with these weapons."
Canino said Mexican officials regularly complain about American indifference to Mexican violence and death, a view he does not share. "However, in this particular case, with these specific guns, I am unable to defend this operation."
The former ATF attache to Mexico shared that sentiment.
"I would like to apologize to my former Mexican law enforcement counterparts and to the Mexican people for Operation Fast and Furious," said Darren Gil. "I hope they understand that this was kept secret from most of ATF, including me and my colleagues in Mexico."
The Oversight Committee also released this statement, which focuses on how the ATF kept its own agents who were posted to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico in the dark about F&F.
Findings in a second staff report released by Representative Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley show that ATF officials based in the United States Embassy in Mexico City were increasingly worried about the alarming rate of guns found in violent crimes in Mexico from a single ATF operation based out of the ATF's Phoenix Field Division. Issa is Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Grassley is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"The consequences of arming Mexican drug cartels seem obvious. But even guns turning up at crime scenes in Mexico wasn't enough for Justice Department officials to arrest straw purchasers and shut down their trafficking operations. Tragically, it wasn't until Fast and Furious guns were found at the murder scene of a Border Patrol Agent that Justice officials finally ended this reckless and arrogant effort," said Issa.
"It's incomprehensible that officials at the Justice Department, the ATF and the U.S. attorney's office would keep their counterparts at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the dark about Operation Fast and Furious. Keeping key details secret while straw purchasers continued buying weapons for gun traffickers jeopardized our relationship with our southern ally and put lives at risk," Grassley said.
The report released today outlines several important findings, including:
• There was little to no information sharing from the Phoenix Field Division, ATF Headquarters and the Justice Department to their colleagues in Mexico City. Every time Mexico City officials asked about the mysterious investigation, their U.S. based ATF counterparts in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. continued to say they were "working on it" and "everything was under control."
• Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, was clearly aware of Operation Fast and Furious and touted the case during a visit to Mexico.
• ATF officials in Mexico City were incredulous that their agency would knowingly allow guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and they were incensed when they finally began to learn the full scope of Operation Fast and Furious and the investigative techniques used.
Issa and Grassley are leading a congressional inquiry into the ill-advised strategy known as Operation Fast and Furious.
A copy of the report can be found here.
A quote in the report suggests that the ATF deliberately kept information away from not only its own Attaché in Mexico, but the U.S. Ambassador as well:
According to [former ATF Attaché in Mexico Darren] Gil, ATF leadership withheld information from him and other ATF agents in Mexico because of a fear that they would brief the Government of Mexico on the investigation and would jeopardize Operation Fast and Furious:
-- snip --
"Myself, my deputy, my staff, we were all frustrated. We didn’t understand it. We understand the concept to keep secret investigations, that if you leak something potentially that it could get corrupt the case or get somebody ... unfortunately get somebody hurt or killed. We understand that, but as I said, one of my screaming matches was over this issue that, okay, you don’t want us to -- okay, if you tell me I’m not going to release anything to the Government of Mexico then I won’t release it, but let me know."
"When you tell me, well, we don’t want to let you know because we’re afraid you'll notify the ambassador or ultimately somehow the Government of Mexico is going to find out, yes, that irritates me."
I'll bet former Attaché Gil isn't the only one who is irritated by that.