Monday, June 20, 2011

Three BATFE agents tell their story to congress

"Fast and Furious" operation put an estimated 1,800 weapons in cartels' hands, their whereabouts unknown today following whistle blowers' revelations about "Operation Gunwalker"

Washington – Operation Fast and Furious slowed to a microscopic crawl last week as three whistle blowing BATFE agents told Congressmen how the government participated in arms smuggling to Mexican drug cartels.

They speculated that the goal of the top management of the Department of Justice is to “pad” the number of firearms that reach the Mexican drug cartels after straw purchasers buy them from American firearms dealers in gun stores and at gun shows.

Agent John Dodson testified how known straw purchasers bought an estimated 1,800 firearms for smugglers – many of them assault style rifles and semiautomatic handguns – who then secretly transshipped them to Mexican drug cartel members on the other side of the border.

In each case, their superiors in Washington told them to stand down and do nothing, according to one investigator who testified, Agent Olindo James Casa.

He said, “On several occasions I personally requested to interdict or seize firearms, but I was always ordered to stand down and not to seize the firearms.”

Along with another colleague, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives Investigators Peter Forcelli, the three testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, answering questions put by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Ca).

Asked why surveillance was terminated far from the border, Agent Dodson said, “I can't tell you why...Hopefully, this committee can find out.”

In each case in which he had personal knowledge, Agent Dodson testified, “Although my instincts made me want to intervene and interdict these weapons, my supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest, but rather, to keep the straw purchaser under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk.”

At one point, Agent Dodson recalled in his testimony, he watched a straw purchase suspect receive a bag of money from another party, take the money and buy weapons, then deliver them to the real purchaser. The agent said his instructions were to do nothing.

The operation came to light when two such weapons wound up back on the American side of the border, used in a firefight with Border Patrol Agents at Rio Linda, Arizona, where Agent Brian Terry lost his life in December.

“We ask that if a government official made a wrong decision that they admit their error and take responsibility for his or her actions,” said Robert Heyer, a cousin of the slain agent. “We hope that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is forthcoming with all information.”

Mr. Heyer noted that his cousin lost his life some 18 miles inside the U.S. Border in a rugged canyon land area near Nogales where smugglers of humans and drugs are known to attack and rob unsuspecting illegal immigrants as they make their way under cover of darkness on the first leg of their journey to a destination where they will live without the benefit of visas or work permits.

The controversial program, known by its detractors as Operation Gunwalker, was reportedly prompted by a Department of Justice Inspector General's report that criticized the Bureau for its near exclusive focus on licensed firearms dealers and their transactions with purchasers in stores and at gun shows. The strategy gained political currency after President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton voiced their concern that most of the weapons seized in Mexico from drug cartel members were purchased at American gun shows.

The truth is they were mainly acquired from international arms traffickers who bought them from Central American governments or in Asia from the People's Republic of Vietnam, organizations which stockpiled the weapons, including hand grenades, following victorious campaigns against regimes so armed by the American government.

The report said that, “Federal prosecutors told us that directing the efforts toward building larger, multi-defendant conspiracy cases would better disrupt trafficking organizations.”

As in the straw purchase he observed, Agent Dodson told Congressmen, “Surveillance operations were the rule, not the exception. This was not a matter of weapons getting away from us, or allowing a few to walk so as to follow them to a much larger or more significant target.” A time line of the operation looks like this.

Similarly, Agent Forcelli recalled that “when I voiced surprise and concern with this concerns were dismissed...To allow a gun to walk is idiotic.”

The trio originally reported their concerns to Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, a member of the Senate Judiciary Commmittee who has been instrumental in blocking appointment of various executives to high posts in the Bureau by the Obama and other Administrations.

He told the House committee members that the Department of Justice continues to stonewall his requests for information and answers to his questions.

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