October 3, 2012
Univision has done some outstanding investigative reporting on Operation Fast and Furious, the ill-conceived and disastrously-executed gun-smuggling operation designed to identify the kingpins of a Mexican fire¬arms trafficking network. Now comes a voluminous report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General, which criti¬cizes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, and senior DOJ officials for their roles in this botched investi¬gation. The report cites “a series of misguid¬ed strategies, tactics, errors in judg¬ment, and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Yet President Obama remains in a state of denial. When asked about it two weeks ago, he responded: “Well, first of all, I think it’s important to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program, begun under the previous administration. When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it.” This is wrong on two counts. First, Operation Fast and Furious was begun in the fall of 2009, under this administration. Second, it ended on December 15, 2010, the day it was discovered that two Fast and Furious weapons were found at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered. That was two full months before Attorney General Eric Holder claims to have known about the operation.
Operation Fast and Furious began in 2009 when federal firearms licensees informed ATF that several individuals were purchasing large quantities of AK-47 style rifles and FN 5.7 caliber pistols. These pistols are known as “cop killers” in Mexico because of the bullets can penetrate the Kevlar vests worn by law enforcement authorities. ATF encouraged the gun store owners to continue selling to the straw purchasers, with the idea that the weapons could then be tracked to warring drug cartel members in Mexico.
Former Mexican Attorney General Victor Humberto Benítez Treviño estimates that, to date, approximately 300 Mexican citizens have been killed using Fast and Furious weapons. Some victims have long been known. For example, there was Mario Gonzalez Rodriguez, the brother of former Chihuahua State Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez, who was kidnapped by members of the Sinaloa drug cartel October 21, 2010. His tortured body was later discovered in a shallow grave. Following a shootout with Rodriquez’s suspected kidnappers, Mexican police seized 16 weapons, two of which were traced to Operation Fast and Furious.
Univision has now made some startling new and tragic connections. On the night of September 2, 2009, 12 hit men carrying AK-47s forced open the main door of Casa Aliviane, a drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez. Once inside, they sprayed the building with bullets from Fast and Furious guns. Of the 19 young recovering addicts, 18 were killed, one escaped. The massacre was ordered by Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez (also known as “El Diego”), the leader of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel.
At the time, Acosta Hernandez was at war with Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, an enforcer close for the Sinaloa cartel. Marrufo once reportedly skinned an enemy's face to make a soccer ball. When Mexican authorities captured Marrufo in February 2012, they found a cache of guns that included powerful anti-aircraft weapons and firearms linked to Operation Fast and Furious.
According to Univision, Acosta Hernandez was behind another blood bath involving Fast and Furious guns. On January 30, 2010, a commando unit of at least 20 hit men parked outside a house in Ciudad Juarez . A birthday party of high school and college students was going on inside, but Hernandez mistakenly thought it was occupied by members of the Sinaloa cartel. Around midnight, his men broke into the house and opened fire on nearly 60 teenagers. Outside, lookouts gunned down a screaming neighbor and several students who tried to escape. When the hit men fled, they left 16 young people dead and 12 others wounded. Three of the weapons that night were traced to Operation Fast and Furious. When Acosta Hernandez was finally captured in July 2010, with Fast and Furious weapons in his possession, he confessed to Mexican authorities that he was responsible for nearly 1,500 murders.
And, as if letting 2,000 high-powered Fast and Furious guns “walk” were not enough, it appears that this administration launched other gun-walking operations as well. According to Univision, “weapons from [Florida-based] Operation Castaway ended up in the hands of criminals in Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela….” And the Inspector General’s report states his office is investigating “at least one other ATF [operation]… that involves an individual suspected of transporting grenade components into Mexico, converting them into live grenades, and then supplying them to drug cartels.”
The Mexican government has every right to be furious about this matter. If foreign law enforcement agents had let nearly 2,000 "cop killer" weapons be delivered into the hands of U.S. gang-bangers—without any notice to or coordination with the feds—there would be serious repercussions. We’re talking severe sanctions and, quite possibly, military reprisal.
Operation Fast and Furious is a disaster and a disgrace. Univision and the Inspector General deserve credit for attempting to get to the bottom of the mess.
John G. Malcolm is a Senior Legal Fellow in the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in National Review Online.