BY PETER J. THOMAS
Have you heard about Operation Fast and Furious?
Most people haven’t. And the Obama administration and its media allies would like to keep it that way.
It’s a scandal that has the potential to be Obama’s Watergate.
A program that began as an intelligence operation to track guns to Mexican drug cartels apparently morphed into something else entirely, perhaps an effort to gin up support for the Obama administration’s gun control agenda. The administration encouraged the sale of guns to criminals through frontmen known as “straw purchasers” – guns that were supposed to be tracked, but weren’t – and those guns were used to kill hundreds of Mexicans and, in all probability, at least one U.S. agent, Brian Terry of the Border Patrol.
In the 20 months since the murder of Agent Terry, administration officials have given false information to Congress about the case. They have stonewalled congressional investigators by refusing to let them see critical documents. The attorney general, Eric Holder, has become the first Cabinet officer ever to be held in civil and criminal contempt by Congress. And the President himself has impeded the investigation by invoking “executive privilege” in order to hide information.
This is how the scandal developed:
During the Bush administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) conducted a program in which guns were “walked” into Mexico – that is, gun dealers were encouraged to sell weapons to straw purchasers and smugglers who planned to move them across the border. Working with Mexican authorities, ATF tracked these guns, obtaining information that was vital to understanding the cartels’ operations. Project Gunrunner, as it was known, was successful, leading to hundreds of arrests.
Then came the Obama administration, and the Apology Tour – an effort to curry favor with other countries by apologizing for U.S. actions ranging from the bombing of Hiroshima to the CIA operation in the ’50s that kept Iran out of the Soviet orbit.
One such apology was made to Mexico for that country’s drug war, which was supposedly the fault of the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “90 percent of that weaponry [used by the cartels] comes from our country” and that “The guns sold in the United States, which are illegal in Mexico, get smuggled and shipped across our border and arm these terrible drug-dealing criminals so that they can outgun these poor police officers along the border and elsewhere in Mexico.” At a press conference with the president of Mexico, President Obama claimed that “More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from the gun shops that line our shared border.”
There was, administration officials said, an “Iron River” flowing from U.S. gun dealers to Mexican criminals.
That claim was a fraud. For one thing, some of the guns traced to the U.S. had actually come from the diversion or theft of American aid to the Mexican army, not from gun sales. And the “90 percent” statistic came from a small sample of the guns recovered in Mexico, a sample made up of guns that had markings indicating they were from the U.S. Saying that 90 percent of those guns came from the U.S. is like saying that 90 percent of cat-food buyers have cats!
In fact, the vast majority of the cartels’ guns enter Mexico from south of that country, not from the U.S.
Blaming America for Mexican guns was a key part of the Obama administration’s campaign for more restrictions on the sale of guns, especially sales of so-called assault weapons (“so-called” because the term “assault weapon” has no specific definition). Obama administration officials said that, because the hellish conflict in Mexico was our fault, we had a responsibility to do something about it, even at the risk of our Second Amendment rights.
Also, they told us that the torrent of U.S.-to-Mexico gun trafficking showed the need for an international agreement, a treaty that would override the Constitution and give the United Nations more power to control guns. (Sure enough, the administration recently conducted negotiations on such a treaty, but backed away from a deal at the last minute out of fear of a backlash on Election Day.)
Thus, much of the Obama administration’s plan for increased gun control depended on the claim – the myth – that the U.S. was responsible for Mexico’s plight.
That brings us back to Fast and Furious. The Obama administration resumed gunwalking into Mexico, but here was a big difference between the old Bush program and the new Obama program. This time, the guns weren’t actually tracked!
Mexican authorities were kept in the dark about the operation. So was Congress. Of some 2,000 guns, two – that’s right, two – were fitted with tracking devices. Serial numbers were recorded, but, without help from the Mexicans, there was simply no way to trace the guns once they got to Mexico, where, typically, they were dumped at crime scenes.
Hundreds of Mexicans were killed with the guns. One of them was the brother of the state attorney general in Chihuahua, Mexico.
On December 14, 2010, Brian Terry, a member of an elite group of Border Patrol agents, was killed during a border interdiction mission in Peck Canyon, in Arizona near the border. Most likely, he was killed with one of the F&F guns found at the scene.
Then the lies started.
A couple of months after the murder of Agent Terry, an assistant attorney general, responding to questions from Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), claimed falsely that “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transport into Mexico.” Grassley was told that the ATF didn’t allow gunwalking.
The following May, Attorney General Holder testified before Congress that he first heard about Fast and Furious “over the last few weeks.” Later, it would turn out that Holder had received memos more than a year earlier detailing F&F, and that the staff of Holder’s top aide had approved wiretaps connected to the operation.
When members of Congress discovered that they had been misled, they demanded that Holder and his aides turn over documents revealing what they knew and when they knew it. They refused, and the House voted 255-67 to hold him in criminal contempt. The House is now suing to enforce its subpoenas.
Were the administration’s actions regarding Operation Fast and Furious influenced by the need to stigmatize border-area gun sales and lay the foundation for new gun controls? We don’t know. That’s why my organization has offered a $100,000 reward for proof of White House involvement to that effect.
In the meantime, the cover-up continues. It’s often said that the cover-up is worse than the crime, that it’s better to come clean. But that’s not really true; the great majority of the time, cover-ups work, at least for liberals and Democrats who don’t face the sort of media scrutiny directed at conservatives and Republicans.
As talk show host and former CNN correspondent Chris Plante puts it, the media’s greatest power is the power to ignore. So far, the media, with a few exceptions, have barely mentioned a jaw-dropping scandal that could have crippled the Obama administration. If only people knew…
Peter Thomas is chairman of the Conservative Caucus, which has offered a $100,000 reward for proof of White House involvement in the origin of the Fast and Furious scandal.