House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley today released the first part of the final report on the joint congressional investigation of conduct in Operation Fast and Furious. The report presents evidence detailing numerous errors and decisions by ATF officials and the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office that led to serious problems -- including inter-agency communication failures between ATF, DEA, and FBI. The failed operation might have contributed to the deaths of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and an unknown number of Mexican citizens. It also created an ongoing public safety hazard on both sides of the border. The failures happened because of conscious decisions not to interdict weapons and not to stop suspects in the hope that they would lead to cartel connections and a larger case.
"ATF and the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office failed to consider and protect the safety of Americans, Mexicans, and fellow law enforcement personnel throughout Operation Fast and Furious," said Chairman Issa. "Testimony and a persistent reluctance to fully cooperate make clear that many officials at ATF and the Department of Justice would have preferred to quietly sweep this matter under the rug. Though they are among the most vocal objectors to oversight by Congress, this investigation has also shown that both agencies are among those most in need of additional scrutiny and attention from Congress."
"The ATF wasted time, money and resources on wiretaps and put agents in harm's way trying to learn about the links that other agencies had already made," Grassley said. "It's a classic case of government agencies' failure to connect the dots. The ATF leadership claims it didn't get the full picture from the FBI until after the case was over. We know the DEA was actively giving information to the ATF, but the ATF dropped the ball. Whistleblowers put the spotlight on Operation Fast and Furious. The ATF clearly needs to clean up its act, and the Department of Justice needs to make certain this kind of program is never allowed to happen again. This report provides a road map of what went wrong."
This new report, "Fast and Furious: The Anatomy of a Failed Operation, Part I of III," is based on transcribed interviews with 24 individuals, some covering multiple days; informal interviews with more than 50 individuals; and the review of more than 10,000 pages of documents. While the Justice Department has withheld tens of thousands of pages of documents and denied access to numerous witnesses, the investigation did find sufficient evidence to draw conclusions concerning the origins of Operation Fast and Furious, the detrimental effect of inter-agency miscommunications and turf issues, flawed strategies, delays, and an overall failure to effectively supervise subordinate offices.
The complete report consists of 2,359 pages, including 211 pages of text with 692 footnotes, 266 exhibits, and three appendices.
Below are excerpts from the report's conclusion (starting on p. 210):
"From the outset, the case was marred by missteps, poor judgments, and an inherently reckless strategy. In the summer of 2009, the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. promulgated a "Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels.' The new aim was to zero in on the firearms trafficking networks. Agents were advised that "merely seizing firearms' purchased illegally by straw buyers should take a back seat to gathering information in hopes of dismantling entire firearms trafficking networks. To effectuate the new plan, ATF agents in Phoenix convinced local gun dealers to cooperate by supplying ATF with real-time information on the straw purchases, even though ATF knew the buyers were illegally obtaining firearms destined for the Mexican drug cartels. The gun dealers were reassured that ATF was closely monitoring the transactions, and interdicting the weapons. That was false."
"Shortly after the case began, in December 2009, DEA supplied ATF with extensive information on what would become ATF's prime target. At that point, ATF should have shut Fast and Furious down, but it failed to recognize the significance of the information the DEA had shared. Instead, ATF continued with its plan to identify all the players in the trafficking network rather than disrupt or deter them through confrontation and arrest. So, hundreds of guns flowed to criminals while two of the trafficking network's customers, who were its connection to the Mexican drug cartels, were already known to U.S. law enforcement. Both the FBI and DEA had key information on the network's connection drug cartels in Mexico by the time ATF's wiretaps were approved."
"Though Attorney General Holder testified that the case was "fundamentally flawed' and President Obama has stated that mistakes may have been made, all responsible ATF officials still work either at the ATF or within the Department of Justice. The two men most closely identified with the failed strategy of the case and who bear the brunt of responsibility for supervising the operation on a day-to-day basis, William Newell and David Voth, have both kept their jobs at ATF."
"This report is not intended to imply in any way that the mistakes and responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious are limited to ATF and other federal officials who were based in Arizona. While mistakes by figures in Arizona were immense, the joint Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious will issue a second report detailing the mistakes and culpability of Department of Justice officials based in Washington, D.C."
"Operation Fast and Furious was the largest firearms trafficking case involving the U.S.-Mexico border in the history of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The case began in the fall of 2009 in ATF's Phoenix Field Division under the leadership of Special Agent in Charge William Newell, an agent with a history of sanctioning the dangerous investigative technique known as gunwalking. Newell had been reprimanded before by ATF management for pushing the envelope with discredited tactics. But Newell had an audacious goal. He intended to dismantle the U.S.-based gun trafficking network that supplied the formidable Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. When the Obama administration resurrected an earlier case in which his division used reckless gunwalking tactics, Newell saw his opportunity."