Don’t forget about “Operation Castaway”
Several lawmakers are questioning the Obama administration about whether the controversial “Fast and Furious” gunrunning probe may have had a cousin in Florida that resulted in guns being trafficked to Central America.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., penned a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson inquiring about a program known as “Operation Castaway.” Other top lawmakers are also starting to look into it, though ATF claims the program was above board and not similar to Operation Fast and Furious at all.
As Benghazigate continues to heat up, so too does the Operation Fast and Furious scandal. The gun-running operation was previously connected to the killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry after weapons found at the crime scene were traced back to a gun-walking scheme overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Now a bombshell report that the Spanish language television news network Univision aired on Sunday evening has linked more of the program’s guns to the massacre of at least fourteen Mexican youths and to other horrific crimes committed by Mexican drug rings against innocent Mexican citizens.
ATF is a division of Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department. This agency, for which Holder is ultimately responsible, decided to use unsavory gun smugglers as intermediaries in the movement of guns the smugglers purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers in Arizona and sold to Mexican drug cartels. The idea was allegedly to follow the trail of the guns to locate the drug lords and put them out of business. Instead, the drug lords used the guns provided to them courtesy of ATF to continue their rampage of killings.
In April 2009, Holder delivered a speech at the Mexico/United States Arms Trafficking Conference held in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He said that he was “committed to putting the resources in place to increase our attack on arms trafficking into Mexico” and promised that the United States “will take responsibility by joining our Mexican counterparts in every step of this fight” against the Mexican drug cartels.
What happened instead? The ATF launched Operation Fast and Furious in the fall of 2009 without informing the Mexican government.
On January 30, 2010, according to the Univision report, hired hit men working for the Mexican cartel La Linea invaded a house and opened fire on nearly 60 teenagers who had gathered there for a birthday party. More shootings occurred outside against neighbors and fleeing students. Univision reported that three of the high-caliber weapons used by the hit men were linked to Operation Fast and Furious.
This massacre does not appear to be an isolated incident. There is a disturbing pattern in which the ATF lost track of weapons provided to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers, some of which later ended up at crime scenes in Mexico. In other words, it allowed suspects to walk away with illegally purchased guns in order to try and catch bigger fish. But the big fish got away as well after using the guns to kill their prey.
“Many weapons cross the border and enter Mexico, but that [Fast and Furious] number, quantity and type of weapons had quite an impact in the war in this area” Jose Wall, an ATF agent stationed in Tijuana from 2009 to 2011, told Univision News.
Univision News reported that it had “identified a total of 57 more previously unreported firearms that were bought by straw purchasers monitored by ATF during Operation Fast and Furious, and then recovered in Mexico in sites related to murders, kidnappings, and at least one other massacre.”
Displaying the best of journalistic investigative reporting, Univision compared two lists and found some significant overlaps that had eluded congressional investigators – the list of serial numbers for weapons used in Fast and Furious and the list of guns seized in Mexico.
Mexican government officials claim that at least three hundred people in Mexico were killed with Fast and Furious weapons.
At least as far back as March 2010, some ATF agents were raising alarm bells about the operation, but were ignored by their superiors. ATF agents stationed in Mexico also expressed concern as they were aware that a large number of weapons being recovered at bloody crime scenes in Mexico were traced back to the beginning of the Operation Fast and Furious pipeline in Arizona. Still the operation continued.
Finally, when two rifles sold to a smuggler in the course of Operation Fast and Furious ended up at the scene of Brian Terry’s murder in December 2010, the lid on the secret operation blew open. It was revealed to the public in January 2011 and suspended in early 2011.
1,430 guns remain on the streets.
When congressional committees in the House and Senate began inquiring in early 2011 into the Fast and Furious operation following the death of Brian Terry, the Justice Department’s first response was to deny in writing that it ever allowed any guns to “walk” across the Mexican border. That turned out to be false. The Justice Department later withdrew its letter.
On March 22, 2011, President Obama was asked about Operation Fast and Furious on Univision.
“Well, first of all, I did not authorize it,” Obama told Univision. “Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it. There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that’s the case, then we’ll find– find out and we’ll hold somebody accountable.”
Univision has now reported the truly horrific impact of the Fast and Furious fiasco on innocent Mexican citizens who lost their lives by gunmen armed with Fast and Furious weapons. Dozens, if not more, including many innocent children, were murdered with weapons sold by our government through intermediaries to drug cartels without the means to carefully track and control the flow. Brian Terry is dead, and his family still is waiting for a truthful explanation of the role that Operation Fast and Furious may have played in his death.
Yet Holder continues to stonewall Congress in its investigation of what went wrong with the operation, refusing to turn over thousands of pages of documents. Holder is relying on spurious executive privilege grounds asserted by President Obama, who had promised Univision that he would make sure to “hold somebody accountable.”
Holder believes that a recently released report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, “exonerates” or “clears” him from being held accountable for what happened. While it is true the Inspector General report did indicate that Holder was not informed of Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011, that does not relieve Holder of responsibility both for the incredible mismanagement under his watch and the obstruction of the investigations that followed.
“We found, as we outlined in the report, we struggle to understand how an operation of this size, of this importance, that impacted another country like it did, could not have been briefed up to the attorney general of the United States,” Horowitz said. “It should have been, in our view. It was that kind of a case.”
This is especially true in light of Holder’s personal promise in his 2009 speech at the Mexico/United States Arms Trafficking Conference to put “the resources in place to increase our attack on arms trafficking into Mexico.” Instead, on his watch, the Justice Department’s ATF greatly increased the arms trafficking into Mexico with deadly consequences.
Just as is the case with its dissembling about the Benghazi terrorist attack, the Obama administration is in full cover-up mode. Attorney General Eric Holder should be held accountable at minimum for running an incredibly mismanaged department in which he was not kept informed about an operation with far-reaching impacts on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In addition, Holder continues to obstruct the legitimate oversight activities of Congress.
It is long past the time that Attorney General Holder resign or be asked to leave.