On the night of December 14, 2010, Brian Terry, 41, was with three other Border Patrol agents when they came across a group of five illegal aliens in Peck Canyon, Arizona, 18 miles north of the border with Mexico. Terry, a former Marine and an Iraq War veteran, was a member of an elite tactical unit called BORSTAR–Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma and Rescue team. BORSTAR’s primary mission is to rescue people in distress along the border. While much of this involves rescuing people from exposure to the desert climate, they are also responsible for securing the border area from criminal gangs who prey upon both residents and people crossing the border illegally. On this night, Terry and his crew were looking for just such a gang known to be operating in the canyon area.
And they found them.
Two of the illegals had AK-47s. Terry and his team identified themselves and demanded that the men drop their weapons. When the men did not respond, one of the BORSTAR members fired a beanbag round from his shotgun. Apparently, Border Patrol agents were instructed to use non-lethal force as a first recourse–this was a political decision made after the shooting death of a Mexican teenager in 2010. The gang members returned fire and a gunfight ensued. During the fracas, one of the illegal aliens was wounded. Terry was shot from behind with a bullet that shattered his pelvis. As soon as the site was secured, a helicopter was called and Terry was airlifted out. However, he died in route to the hospital.
Terry was survived by his parents, a brother, and two sisters.
Both of the AK-47s were recovered at the scene. As it turned out, the US government already knew about these two guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had observed when these guns were purchased in Arizona on January 16, 2010 by one Jaime Avila.
(The above memo and the one below comes from the US Senate’s Joint Staff Report, “The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Accounts of ATF Agents“)
The ATF had put Avila under surveillance two months prior when they discovered that he was buying guns from straw purchaser Uriel Patino. Patino and Avila were buying guns in Arizona, and selling them to criminal gangs in Mexico.
At this point, the plot thickens. ATF agents are legally compelled to interdict illegal gun sales and transfers. However, in an operation called Fast and Furious, they were instructed by their ATF superiors–over their protests–to do nothing to control the sale of these weapons, ostensibly so that they could gather information about the Mexican drug cartels through monitoring the flow of weapons, and destroy the gangs by catching the “big fish”. However, the arrests of the “big fish” never occurred–and never could have occurred–under this flawed strategy. Indeed, in the end only 20 “small fry” were arrested on minor charges. Instead of destroying the drug cartels, Operation Fast and Furious resulted in an explosion of violence in Mexico and along the border.
This memo, from ATF Phoenix Group VII Supervisor David Voth, shows that the ATF was well aware of the rise in gun violence because of this new policy:
While the knowledge of this violence should have caused Voth to question the wisdom of the operation, ATF officers described Voth as “giddy” at the news: In his view, it validated their strategy, as with this violence they could catch the “big fish” behind the drug cartels.
Though Mexicans were the greatest victims of Fast and Furious, at least one other federal officer, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata, was killed by a Fast and Furious weapon, in February 2011.
The death of Brian Terry led to the uncovering and inevitable dismantlement of Fast and Furious, but even now there are many unanswered questions. Both Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Charles Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, are trying to investigate the matter. However, while they have been able to get lower-level ATF agents to testify, they have been met with stonewalling from the upper levels of the ATF, the Justice Department, and the White House.
This stonewalling has led many people to suspect that Fast and Furious was a high-level political initiative of the Obama administration with the purpose of using the added violence in Mexico and along the border as an excuse for stricter gun control measures. For example, Michael Walsh, reporting in the New York Post, writes,
The (dumb) idea was to trace cross-border arms trafficking, and so prove the (false) claim that 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexican drug war zones originate in the US. (The real figure is closer to 17 percent.) … the evidence strongly suggests that Fast and Furious was hatched in the Justice Department in an attempt to paint law-abiding American gun dealers and gun owners as renegades, to give the administration an excuse to crack down. In other words, it was a deliberate provocation, undertaken without a thought for how it might affect our relations with Mexico — or how many people might die.
The false claim that 90% of the guns seized in the Mexican drug war originated in the US was in fact made by Barack Obama.
What has been lacking in this investigation is a smoking gun which proves that the operation came from the upper levels of the government, and that it was primarily motivated by political concerns.
At least, there has been no smoking gun until now.
The field agent in charge of Fast and Furious, and the center of the initial investigation, was Phoenix ATF Special Agent in Charge William Newell. We now know that William Newell was in direct contact by both e-mail and phone with Kevin O’Reilly, Director of North American Affairs at the White House, and reported to him on the progress of operations in Arizona (see pdf). This apparently represented a back channel that went around ATF headquarters in Washington, as at one point Newell replied with an e-mail to O’Reilly about a small tidbit that O’Reilly wanted to pass along to his staff, “Sure, just don’t want ATF HQ to find out, especially since this is what they should be doing (briefing you)!”
Unfortunately, the e-mails between Newell and O’Reilly, though suspicious, do not absolutely prove that the White House knew what Newell was doing. Newell never mentions Fast and Furious directly, nor does he mention directly that they were letting guns walk into Mexico. Instead, Newell talks about GRIT–Gunrunner Impact Team. O’Reilly and the White House are thus allowed the luxury of plausible deniability, at least for the moment.
Of course, for plausible deniability to be believable, O’Reilly has to explain how he could not understand–or did not see–this graphic sent to him by Newell:
This “arrow” chart reflects the criminal investigation side of the GRIT. Each arrow represents the ultimate destination of firearms we intercepted and/or where the guns ended up and through firearms tracing we were able to initiate criminal investigations.
Newell also sent photos of firearms, ammunition, and drugs seized in Mexico, along with this graphic noting–and showing–the violence:
It is important to remember that when the bureaucrats in charge of this mess talk about “collateral damage”, they are talking about human lives, people with names, names like Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata. In the case of Mexican deaths, the people are unnamed by the US government–they are just numbers. However, they are still just as valuable as any American, and certainly more valuable than any political initiative that the Obama administration might have.
This investigation is still ongoing. Meanwhile, the Attorney General and Obama administration are so intent on stopping investigators that they are even floating the idea of abolishing the ATF and firing all 450 ATF officers as a sort of sacrificial lamb. As pointed out by Katie Pavlich of Townhall,
ATF field agents weren’t the problem with Operation Fast and Furious, high ranking officials within ATF and the Department of Justice were and still are. DOJ would eliminate ATF only to take the heat off of the Obama Administration. By eliminating the bureau, it makes it seem like DOJ is taking Operation Fast and Furious so seriously, they decided to “clear out the corruption, clean house,” however, it would only be a distraction away from the people at the top of the investigation. In fact, evidence shows the DOJ has been stonewalling the Oversight Committee investigation into the operation to protect Obama political appointees.
Issa and Grassley need to continue this investigation and not let things lapse. We need to know who gave the original orders for Fast and Furious, and why. We also need to know who else at the White House knew, and who O’Reilly reported to. Ultimately, whoever ordered this needs to go to jail–and not just for obstruction of justice or some other nonsense. Accessory to homicide is more like it.
- CONFIRMED – New Fast And Furious Docs Show Extensive Communication With Obama Administration (politicons.net)
- FAST-AND-FURIOUS FALLOUT? DoJ Considering Elimination of ATF. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving … (pajamasmedia.com)
- Obama Evades Hispanic Media’s Questions about Operation Fast & Furious Scandal, Speculation That More Is Being Covered Up As More Outrageous Information Surfaces (video) (frugal-cafe.com)
- FBI informant smuggled Fast & Furious guns across border (hotair.com)
- Secret Recordings Show Possible ATF Coverup In Operation “Fast And Furious” Scandal (politicons.net)
- FBI Now Linked To Botched Operation Fast & Furious (politicons.net)
- At Least 200 Murders In Mexico Linked To Operation Fast & Furious Weapons (politicons.net)
- Unanswered Questions Haunt Family in ‘Fast and Furious’ Case (americanthinker.com)
- Fast And Furious Document Dump Raises More Questions About a White House Cover Up (yidwithlid.blogspot.com)