Entries in Gun Trafficking (5)


'Fast and Furious' Probe Clears Holder, Faults ATF and Justice Department

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- "Operation Fast and Furious," the controversial undercover operation that allowed U.S. guns to be walked into Mexico, was a "risky strategy" that did not "adequately take into account the significant danger to public safety that it created."

That was the conclusion Wednesday from the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, after an investigation that spanned more than a year and a half.

The OIG investigation found that Attorney General Eric Holder was not aware of the strategy and tactics used in "Fast and Furious," and turned up no evidence that Holder tried to cover up the operation, or mislead Congress about it. Holder was held in contempt of Congress earlier this year for allegedly withholding documents about DOJ's "Fast and Furious" investigation from congressional investigators.

In a statement Wednesday, Holder said, "It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations -- accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion."

The IG report did find that a misleading letter that the DOJ sent to Congress was "troubling" because senior officials who were involved in drafting it knew, or should have known, that reckless behavior had occurred.

The political combat triggered by the flawed undercover operation played out in a series of contentious hearings on Capitol Hill in the past year. Behind the battles, the OIG found, was an undercover operation to catch gun-runners on the Southwest border that quickly turned bad.

Some of the 2,000 guns that made their way into Mexico as a result of "Operation Fast and Furious" were later recovered at crime scenes, including two found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

The "Fast and Furious" strategy called for agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to conduct surveillance and review phone and financial records to track guns they believed to be going to Mexican drug lords, who could then be arrested. But ATF lost track of most of the guns, few arrests were made, and yet "the purchasing activity by Operation Fast and Furious subjects continued unabated, individuals who had engaged in serious and dangerous criminal conduct remained at large, and the public was put in harm's way."

The OIG investigation "revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the Headquarters of the Department of Justice."

The report also details serious mistakes in DOJ's response to congressional inquiries about "Fast and Furious."

The Inspector General's review has recommended 14 Justice Department and ATF officials for disciplinary and administrative review, including the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

As a result of the OIG findings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned his post Wednesday. The OIG report charged that Weinstein, a senior aide to Breuer, did not adequately share critical information about "Fast and Furious," and its predecessor operation, "Wide Receiver," with top DOJ officials.

Because that information did not reach the attorney general, more aggressive oversight of the operation did not occur, and misinformation was passed on to Congress, according to the OIG report. Weinstein and his attorney vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying Weinstein did not receive the key information he needed from the agents carrying out the operation. The former acting director of ATF during the operation, Kenneth Melson, on Wednesday retired from the Department of Justice, effective immediately.

The report was highly critical of William Newell, the former special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office. "Newell also bore ultimate responsibility for the failures in Operation Fast and Furious," the review found, citing his leadership position and involvement in the case.

Newell is working at ATF Headquarters in Washington.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the leading congressional critics of DOJ's handing of "Fast and Furious," issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters. And, we still don't know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General. It's clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious."

The OIG report also detailed the mistakes that lead to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry: "On January 16, 2010, one of the straw purchasers purchased three AK-47 style rifles from a Phoenix-area gun store. ATF agents learned about that purchase 3 days later and, consistent with the investigative strategy in the case, made no effort to locate (the purchaser) or seize the rifles although ATF had identified the suspect in November 2009. Two of the three rifles purchased by (the suspect) on January 16 were recovered 11 months later at the scene of the murder of Agent Terry, who was shot and killed on December 14, 2010, as he tried to arrest persons believed to be illegally entering the United States ... "

The day after Agent Terry's death, ATF agents arrested that suspect, Jaime Avila, and later 20 more alleged gun buyers and traffickers. As of Sept. 1, 2012, 14 defendants, including Avila, had entered guilty pleas to one or more counts of the indictment. In all, "Fast and Furious" identified more than 40 subjects believed to be connected to a trafficking conspiracy responsible for purchasing more than 2,000 firearms for about $1.5 million in cash. The vast majority of the firearms purchased by "Operation Fast and Furious" subjects were AK-47 style rifles and FN Herstal 5.7 caliber pistols.

The OIG report also noted, "What began as an important and promising investigation of serious firearms trafficking along the Southwest Border that was developed through the efforts of a short-staffed ATF enforcement group quickly grew into an investigation that lacked realistic objectives, did not have appropriate supervision within ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and failed to adequately assess the public safety consequences of not stopping or controlling the alarming purchasing activity."

The report indicates that the OIG reviewed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed more than 130 witnesses, many on multiple occasions.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, "We operated with complete and total independence in our search for the truth, and the decision about what to cover in this report and the conclusions that we reached were made solely by me and my office."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Army Staff Sgt. Charged with Heading International Gun Trafficking Ring

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A National Guardsman and two Chinese nationals have been charged with running an international gun trafficking ring.  

Joe Debose, an Army Staff Sgt. from North Carolina, has been charged with the illegal dealing of pistols, rifles and military-style assault weapons.

Court records say he supplied two Chinese nationals based in New York with guns and prosecutors say the men "ran a pipeline of illegal firearms from the U.S. to China" for nearly two years, but were caught when police in Shanghai intercepted a package containing several firearms hidden inside stereo speakers.

Court records say the serial numbers had been defaced but were eventually traced to Debose.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


AG Eric Holder to Congress: 'Lying' About Fast and Furious 'A State of Mind'

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congressman Darrell Issa, R-CA, declared Attorney General Eric Holder a "hostile witness" before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday as Holder testified about the botched gun trafficking operation called Fast and Furious run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Issa, who serves on the judiciary committee, has been leading the Congressional inquiry into the ATF operation as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  He said that not all documents have been provided to his Committee's investigators and he wanted to know why no emails to or from Holder appeared in the thousands of pages of documents that the Justice Department (DOJ) has provided to Congress.

"There is not one email that is yours," Issa said, surrounded by boxes of documents that the DOJ has provided to his staff.

Issa indicated that he may subpoena Holder and other top Justice Department officials to testify before his committee in January.  Holder said that the DOJ has provided unprecedented information to Congress and that he would consider the request to appear before Issa's committee.

In his prepared testimony, Holder called Fast and Furious "inexcusable," and said the operation run by the ATF made use of "misguided tactics."

In asking why a Department of Justice letter to Congress was withdrawn last week, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner pressed Holder, reminding him that lying to Congress constitutes a federal felony. "There have been statements [made to Congress by the Justice Department] that have been so misleading that a letter had to be withdrawn," Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said. "...Heads should roll."

Holder insisted, "Nobody at the Justice Department lied," and then when pressed about, "the difference between lying and misleading congress" by Sensenbrenner, Holder explained, "It all has to do with your state of mind."

Congress has been investigating Fast and Furious and how the ATF ran the gun trafficking operation that resulted in a reported 1,800 firearms flowing into Mexico. Two were found at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed by Mexican drug smugglers on Dec. 14, 2010.

Testifying on Thursday, Holder said that the operation was organized by ATF in Phoenix and did not originate out of Washington or from orders out of Justice Department headquarters.

He claims that he became aware of the operation sometime in the beginning of 2011 and directed the Justice Department Inspector General to conduct a formal inquiry after learning about the tactics used in Fast and Furious and getting some conflicting information from media reports and Congressional inquires.  The Inspector General's review is expected to be released sometime early next year.

And despite calls from some members of Congress for his resignation, Holder -- who rolled his eyes and slouched defiantly in his seat throughout his testimony -- said on Thursday that he had no intention to resign over the Fast and Furious controversy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NRA Turns Up Heat on AG Holder for 'Fast and Furious' Controversy

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The National Rifle Association is turning up the heat on Attorney General Eric Holder, running television ads charging that he committed perjury in Congressional testimony about the controversial “Fast and Furious” undercover, gun-running operation.  The ad calls on President Obama to fire Holder.

Things could get even hotter for the attorney general on Tuesday, when he returns to Congress to be questioned again about Fast and Furious.

The NRA ad is the latest salvo in a battle between critics in Congress and the Justice Department on the controversial “gun-walking” operation.  Run by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Fast and Furious involved tracking weapons sold to straw purchasers, who then passed the guns along to their hidden buyers in the Mexican drug cartels.

Hundreds of guns flowed into Mexico under the program, while ATF agents watched and did nothing.  The ATF says it hoped to track the guns to their ultimate destination, and then make arrests.  Instead, many of the guns were used in crimes, including one that was used in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

The controversy has focused on testimony Holder provided to the House Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2011.  During that hearing, Rep. Darell Issa, R-Calif., who is spearheading the Congressional investigation, asked Holder, “When did you first know about the program officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious?  To the best of your knowledge, what date?”

Holder answered: “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released last month a series of Justice Department memos sent to Holder’s office going back to July 2010, that made reference about the gun trafficking investigation being run out of Arizona.

Justice Department officials say the memos are only generic updates and offer no detail or specifics of ATF strategies to allow the guns to pass in large numbers.

Holder has stood by his previous statements, writing to members of Congress on Oct. 7, “Much has been made in the past few days about my Congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious.  My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout.  I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it."

In prepared testimony released Monday evening, Holder reiterates previous comments about the flawed operation in a statement, asserting, “This operation was flawed in concept, as well as in execution.  And, unfortunately, we will feel its effects for years to come as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crimes scenes both here and in Mexico.  This should never have happened.  And it must never happen again.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


ATF Agents in Mexico Kept in Dark About Gun Trafficking, Fast & Furious Op

Thinkstock/Comstock)(WASHINGTON) -- The ATF office in Phoenix allegedly kept ATF agents in Mexico out of the loop about a botched gun trafficking investigation that resulted in numerous weapons going to Mexico’s drug cartels, with almost 122 weapons being recovered there.  The ATF’s program, dubbed “Fast and Furious,” allowed firearms to “walk” across the U.S. border into Mexico in hopes of tracing the guns and locating major weapons traffickers. The operation took a tragic toll when two firearms investigators say killed U.S. Border Patrol Brian Terry were linked to Fast and Furious.
In 2009 ATF devised the program to try and track straw purchases of firearms where a gun is legally bought but then illegally sold to another individual. A congressional investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have revealed deep flaws in the program that was run out of the ATF’s Phoenix office. On Tuesday, current and former ATF officials are expected to testify before the House Oversight Committee about their frustrations with the program -- over being denied access to information about the Fast and Furious operation and being blocked on gun trace information about weapons that were being recovered in Mexico.
According to the report in March 2010, “ATF intelligence analysts told ATF and DOJ leadership that the number of firearms bought by known straw purchasers had exceeded the 1,000 mark. The briefing also made clear these weapons were ending up in Mexico.”
In a congressional report being released in conjunction with the hearing, the findings note, “ATF and DOJ leadership kept their own personnel in Mexico and Mexican government officials totally in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, ATF officials in Mexico grew increasingly worried about the number of weapons recovered in Mexico that traced back to an ongoing investigation out of ATFs Phoenix Field Division.”
The congressional report notes that ATF intelligence analysts notified the ATF’s attaché in Mexico, Darren Gil, and Carlos Canino, deputy attaché, about a large number of guns showing up in Mexico from the Phoenix field office investigation.
“Hundreds of weapons were suddenly appearing in Mexico -- traced to Phoenix -- without explanation. Gil and his agents struggled to get answers from their own agency. Although ATF officials in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., acknowledged that an investigation was underway, they refused to share the details of the strategy and operation with the agents in Mexico…ATF officials in Mexico finally realized the truth: ATF was allowing guns to walk. By withholding this critical information from its own personnel in Mexico, ATF jeopardized relations between the U.S. and Mexico,” the report noted.
The Tuesday hearing intends to examine why ATF was knowingly allowing the guns to travel south to Mexico. According to the report, in an interview with committee investigators the Mexico Deputy Attaché Carolos Canino said, “There was no gray area here. We knew that these guys were trafficking guns into Mexico. There is no gray area. They weren't trafficking, [the] guys weren't going out and buying two Larson 22 pistols. These guys were buying 7.62, 223's, .50 caliber rifles, okay, there was no mistake about this.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio