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July 27, 2011

Former ATF Official: We Let Guns into Mexico


A former special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms told a House committee that the agency had, in fact, allowed firearms bought in the United States to be transported to Mexico, in the hope that “we could further the investigation” against Mexican drug cartels.

The admission came during a line of questioning from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) at today’s House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on ATF’s Fast and Furious operation. William Newell, the former head of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division and a key player in the implementation of Fast and Furious, repeatedly insisted throughout the hearing that the ATF “did not let guns walk” (meaning that it did not allow them to be transported into Mexico).

Chaffetz produced a January 2010 memo from Newell’s office, which stated that “our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place … in order to further the investigation and allow for the identification of additional co-conspirators who would continue to operate and illegally traffic firearms to Mexican [Drug Trafficking Organizations].”

Asked how that passage squared with his denials, Newell essentially reiterated the sentiment expressed in the memo. “Our efforts to allow the transfer to identify additional co-conspirators was so that we could further the investigation [and] take out the whole organization,” he told Chaffetz.

So the ATF did “allow the transfer” of firearms into Mexico, according to Newell, in an effort “to disrupt and dismantle the entire organization.”

That claim supports testimony given by others involved in the Fast and Furious investigation. ATF agent John Dodson told the committee last month, “my supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest, but rather to keep the straw purchaser under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk.”

“Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals, this was the plan,” Dodson claimed. “It was so mandated.”

Newell also confirmed that officials at three other federal agencies – the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a division of the Department of Homeland Security), and the Drug Enforcement Administration – aided in devising the Fast and Furious strategy. That strategy, again, included gun walking, according to Newell’s tacit admission and other evidence obtained in the investigation.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) asked whether the three agencies, which Newell called “full partners in this case,” were “aware that guns were being walked to Mexico?”

“Sir, again, I’m assuming – I mean, I know they were aware of the strategy,” Newell replied.

Lachlan Markay is a staff writer at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in Opposing Views

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