An investigation by Fortune magazine reveals that contrary to allegations by Republicans in Congress and other critics, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) anti-gun trafficking team based in Arizona never purposefully allowed guns to be trafficked illegally to Mexico.
The magazine’s six-month investigation included reviewing thousands of pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewing several law-enforcement agents with direct involvement in the affair for the first time.
The scandal involves charges that the ATF deliberately allowed middlemen, or “straw buyers,” to purchase guns that later ended up in the hands of Mexican criminal groups. The subsequent investigation into the affair has had wide-reaching consequences, culminating with a vote yesterday in the House of Representatives that found US Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for withholding documents related to the investigation. It is the first time in history that a sitting Cabinet member has been found in contempt by Congress.
The Fortune magazine piece argues that claims by Republicans that the ATF intentionally allowed these guns to slip away from US enforcement is political theater:
Five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
The magazine documents incident after incident of ATF agents trying to present Arizona prosecutors with gun trafficking cases, only to be told that there wasn’t enough evidence to support a prosecution. Other efforts by the ATF team to try and speed up the investigation, such as applying to carry out wiretaps for certain cases in Arizona, took weeks to be approved.
The Fortune investigation also finds that the one proper case in which the ATF team could be described as having intentionally allowed guns to “walk” into the hands of a straw buyer involved agent John Dodson. Dodson was one of the first whistle blowers to claim that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican cartels.
InSight Crime Analysis
The AFT-led operation in Arizona, known as “Fast and Furious,” was supposed to track the sale of automatic rifles and other weapons from the point of purchase to the point of lethal use in Mexico. But as Fortune points out, there are a couple of misconceptions about the affair that allowed it to become today’s political scandal. The fundamental misunderstanding is that the ATF did little to stop these guns from “walking” into the hands of straw buyers, and then to Mexican criminal groups. As the magazine argues, the ATF team worked diligently to bring the gun trafficking cases to the attention of Arizona authorities, but were blockaded at every turn.