Revising Fast and Furious

Revising Fast and Furious June 28, 2012

This is an important article in Fortune:

On Dec. 14, 2010, a tragic event rewrote the narrative of the investigation. In a remote stretch of Peck Canyon, Ariz., Mexican bandits attacked an elite U.S. Border Patrol unit and killed an agent named Brian Terry. The attackers fled, leaving behind two semiautomatic rifles. A trace of the guns’ serial numbers revealed that the weapons had been purchased 11 months earlier at a Phoenix-area gun store by a Fast and Furious suspect.

Ten weeks later, an ATF agent named John Dodson, whom Voth had supervised, made startling allegations on the CBS Evening News. He charged that his supervisors had intentionally allowed American firearms to be trafficked—a tactic known as “walking guns”—to Mexican drug cartels. Dodson claimed that supervisors repeatedly ordered him not to seize weapons because they wanted to track the guns into the hands of criminal ringleaders. The program showed internal e-mails from Voth, which purportedly revealed agents locked in a dispute over the deadly strategy. The guns permitted to flow to criminals, the program charged, played a role in Terry’s death.

After the CBS broadcast, Fast and Furious erupted as a major scandal for the Obama administration. The story has become a fixture on Fox News and the subject of numerous reports in media outlets from CNN to the New York Times. The furor has prompted repeated congressional hearings—with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifying multiple times—dueling reports from congressional committees, and an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general. It has led to the resignations of the acting ATF chief, the U.S. Attorney in Arizona, and his chief criminal prosecutor.

Conservatives have pummeled the Obama administration, and especially Holder, for more than a year. “Who authorized this program that was sofelony stupid that it got people killed?” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, demanded to know in a hearing in June 2011. He has charged the Justice Department, which oversees the ATF, with having “blood on their hands.” Issa and more than 100 other Republican members of Congress have demanded Holder’s resignation.

The conflict has escalated dramatically in the past ten days. On June 20, in a day of political brinkmanship, Issa’s committee voted along party lines, 23 to 17, to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly failing to turn over certain subpoenaed documents, which the Justice Department contended could not be released because they related to ongoing criminal investigations. The vote came hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege to block the release of the documents. Holder now faces a vote by the full House of Representatives this week on the contempt motion (though negotiations over the documents continue). Assuming a vote occurs, it will be the first against an attorney general in U.S. history.

As political pressure has mounted, ATF and Justice Department officials have reversed themselves. After initially supporting Group VII agents and denying the allegations, they have since agreed that the ATF purposefully chose not to interdict guns it lawfully could have seized. Holder testified in December that “the use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable, and it must never happen again.”

There’s the rub.

Quite simply, there’s a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But 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….

How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It’s a story that starts with a grudge, specifically Dodson’s anger at Voth. After the terrible murder of agent Terry, Dodson made complaints that were then amplified, first by right-wing bloggers, then by CBS. Rep. Issa and other politicians then seized those elements to score points against the Obama administration, which, for its part, has capitulated in an apparent effort to avoid a rhetorical battle over gun control in the run-up to the presidential election. (A Justice Department spokesperson denies this and asserts that the department is not drawing conclusions until the inspector general’s report is submitted.)



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  • Scot-
    Thanks for your words!

    I tend to believe that the problem is the lack of creativity…

    Creativity births more creativity. It offers hope, regeneration, and future. But what happens when we lose our ability to be creative?

    Allow me to connect some dots…

    The administration’s failure in their recent Fast and Furious program exemplifies a hopeless and shallow creativity. The DEA allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexican cartels, with the hopes that we could follow the trail to the drug lords. Guns bring death – an easy (and very final) end to the problems surrounding drugs and violence. But like all creativity, it breeds future. And a future of death is no future at all.

    But instead of new ideas, of long-term, difficult, ideas, the DEA opted for the immediate gratification of bullets to brains.

    The same Taliban fighters we’re fighting in Afghanistan today, we equipped and trained in the 80’s. The short-sighted and shallow creativity bred a future of violence.

    Guns have been done before.
    Tanks have been done before.
    Arms trading is old hat.

    Imagine a world where our creativity is truly creative. In this world we might combat regions of war with plowshares rather than weapons of war. But we must be willing to dream of futures that we’ve yet to experience. We must risk it all on creativity. We must risk it all on hope.


    you can read more here:

  • Wow. This is helpful background. I have not followed this story much because I just figured it was more complicated than the poltical chatter allowed, but this is even more complicated than I thoguht.

  • Howard Walker

    So why the Executive Order then? Didn’t see that in the article. Did I miss it?

  • Tom F.

    Ross- I though the feds tried to arrest the people and were prevented from doing so by the AG’s? Did I miss that.

    Howard- Good question, but there may be things we don’t know. Now that more has come out, though, it seems that both sides have made a few missteps, no?

  • Howard –
    The executive order covers documents that were circulated as the executive branch sought to determine how to respond to the Congressional subpoena. It’s much the same as asserting attorney-client privilege. The courts have repeatedly held that one branch of government does not need to share its internal deliberations with another unless there are specific allegations of criminal behavior, which in this case there aren’t. Issa knows this but continues to push forward in the hopes that the distinction will be lost on the public.

  • Jamieson


    Are you able to read to read Issa’s mind?

  • No, but I can read his actions.

  • DRT

    Thank you so much for this.

    My 19 year old son has pushed me into getting a gun, and we are researching and discussing issues with guns. I live in Virginia. I have not had a desire to have guns because for the first 10 or so years of my career I would design and test armored combat vehicles and once you blow up cool stuff with really big military ordinance on a regular basis it seems silly to play with small arms.

    Just today we were talking about going to the gun store and getting one, and apparently he can walk into the store, at 19, buy a gun, load it with ammo, and put it on his belt and walk out and about in public with the loaded weapon. Then he can go sell it to his friend, or whoever he wants.

    But, if he wanted to have a knife that has a button on it to switch the blade out, then he could be in big legal trouble for that. A little button to lock the blade on a knife is bad, but a trigger on a gun that can kill is just fine for anybody.

    So we loaded up the 9 mm that neither of us has much training on and went in the back yard and shot a bunch of cucumbers and coffee cans. It was fun, and dangerous.

    If you are not in the gun culture out there then it is actually quite disturbing what our laws allow. I empathize with these agents whom we seem to have given an impossible job. This is a sad state of affairs.

  • JohnM

    DRT – If he’s 19 the dealer can’t legally sell him anything he could put on his belt. He could buy a rifle or shotgun though. I don’t know if Virginia law allows open carry or not. I do know he can’t legally sell a gun to whoever he wants, not to juveniles or to convicted felons, just to name a couple examples. Your researching the issues is a good idea and I’d recommend you look into both Federal and State law, and possibly local ordinaces as well.

  • DRT

    JohnM, you are right! I appears that he can get a rifle but not a handgun on his own.

    And the open carry laws in VA are quite astounding, at least to me. I, if not him, can walk around with one on my belt right away. But I can’t put it in my pocket.

  • Scott Gay

    A reasoned approach. Intuitively nuanced from that perspective.

  • Patrick

    Dodson’s complaints don’t need amplifying by the ultra evil “right wing bloggers”. They stand alone as witness for a criminal enterprise and have been corroborated by 2 other agents willing to destroy their careers. Whoever ordered this should be in prison.

    Not only do we have the testimony of special agent Dodson, Forcelli and Olindo, some of the private gun dealers the ATF used have spoken as well and now we have “Executive privilege” exercised by the POTUS to prevent examination of any more documentation about who knew of this.

  • DRT

    I went out this afternoon and bought a rifle and a .357 magnum and then shot them in the back yard. It was fun!

    As I understand it, I can put that .357 magnum on my belt and walk around in public now, with no training or anything. But if I want to conceal it I have to get a class. This seems too easy.

  • Patrick


    It’s based on your state’s laws, all are different. I can carry a weapon openly or concealed if I want. I am supposed to get a permit to carry loaded and concealed and if I choose to I have to take a course in gun safety.

    Back to the criminal enterprise fast and furious: