Friday, June 24, 2011

Gun sales to Mexican drug gangs was a foolish U.S. operation

Mary Sanchez:

Every kid who's ever played cops and robbers knows that the good guys try to keep guns away from the bad guys.

The last thing you'd do is sit around and watch crooks sell each other weapons, let them walk off with hundreds of AK-47s, sniper rifles and revolvers, then sit back and wait for the carnage.

But that's exactly what leadership within the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are charged with doing, in an apparently harebrained ploy to get close to Mexico's drug cartels.

The plan was dubbed Operation Fast and Furious. Foolish and Fatal might be more accurate.

In 14 months, agents in Phoenix tracked the sales of more than 1,700 guns, mostly purchased by "straw" buyers — i.e., buyers procuring them for criminals. The goal was to then see where the guns turned up, in an attempt to bust drug kingpins.

Many ATF agents complained bitterly about the operation, frustrated that they were not allowed in many cases to make busts and seize weapons they knew were destined for cartel gunmen. They say they were told to go against all training and sense of humanity, to watch as guns were sold to straw buyers of suspected cartels, then let guns and the traffickers "walk." All in the interest of catching bigger fish.

One ATF agent testified: I cannot see anyone who has one iota of concern for human life being OK with this."
Another agent charged, "It's like they grabbed the ATF rulebook and threw it out the window."
And ATF agents dreaded the inevitable.

When Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six others killed by a gunman, Phoenix agents braced. They feared the gun would be one they'd let walk.

Finally, tragedy occurred. In December 2010, U.S. border agents pursued a small group of armed criminals they believed were preying on undocumented immigrants crossing the border. In a shootout, Agent Brian A. Terry was murdered. Two AK-47s were found by the 40-year-old ex-Marine's body in the Arizona desert.

The initial sales of both guns from a Phoenix-area gun shop, along with serial numbers, had been careful tracked by ATF agents.

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