December 8, 2012
By John Malcolm
The Professional Review Board of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has reportedly recommended firing four managers — William Newell, Mark Chait, William McMahon, and George Gillett — and disciplining two lower-level employees — David Voth and Hope MacAllister — for their roles in Operation Fast and Furious. The panel’s recommendations will now be reviewed by high-level ATF managers.
Operation Fast and Furious was the botched law-enforcement initiative in which agents allowed approximately 2,000 high-powered weapons obtained by “straw purchasers” (individuals who purchased them illegally for someone else) to “walk” into Mexico. It was an ill-conceived attempt to develop criminal firearms cases against higher-ups within the vicious Sinaloa drug cartel.
Most of these guns remain unrecovered. Two, however, were linked to the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. Others were used to kill or wound approximately 300 Mexicans, according to former Mexican attorney general Victor Humberto Benítez Treviño. As reported by Univision, Fast and Furious guns were involved in a September 2009 shootout that left 18 dead at a drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Jaurez. Fast and Furious guns were also used in a January 2012 ambush at a birthday party, in which 16 teenagers were killed.
As special agent in charge (SAC) of the Phoenix Field Division, Newell oversaw all ATF operations in Arizona and New Mexico. He is the person who conceived and implemented the strategy behind Operation Fast and Furious and its equally-foolhardy predecessor Operation Wide Receiver. Although there is plenty of blame to go around, he is the person who is most responsible for over 2,000 weapons (including 410 from Wide Receiver) being handed over to criminals in Mexico.
Gillett, the assistant SAC in the Phoenix office, reported to Newell. He was fully aware of the failed tactics used in Operation Wide Receiver and worked closely with Newell in devising and implementing Operation Fast and Furious, including the decision not to interview or arrest any of the “straw purchasers.”
McMahon, the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations, was Newell’s supervisor at ATF headquarters. He received a plethora of information about the operation but didn’t see it as his job to ask even the most rudimentary questions about what was going on in the field and what steps Newell was taking to interdict the weapons or to slow the rate of those purchases. As the DOJ inspector general noted in his 471-page report, McMahon “failed to exercise any meaningful oversight of Newell’s activities in Operation Fast and Furious.”
Chait, the assistant director for field operations, was McMahon’s supervisor. He received weekly updates on Fast and Furious and had several opportunities to put an end to the operation, but did nothing. Opting to stick his head in the sand, Chait merely forwarded important recommendations (such as applications for wiretaps) from the field and let people above him (who wrongfully assumed that he and McMahon had reviewed the material and concurred in those recommendations) make the decisions. Chait requested an “exit strategy” in March 2010, but didn’t lift a finger to see to it that he received one or that it be implemented, nor did he suggest any safeguards to prevent gun walking.
The Review Board is recommending that MacAllister, the lead case agent in the investigation, be reprimanded and transferred to another field office. The inspector general faulted MacAllister for making poor tactical judgments about how to conduct the investigation and for failing to reassess the investigative approach as the case progressed.
The Board also recommends that Voth, MacAllister’s supervisor, be demoted. As the first-level manager overseeing the investigation, Voth was actively involved in implementing and reaffirming its goals and tactics. Moreover, it was Voth who rejected complaints from ATF agents (particularly Olinda Casa and whistleblower John Dodson) about the operation. He dismissed their concerns as “petty arguing” and characterized the needlessly risky and dangerous tactics that ATF was using as “the pinnacle of domestic law enforcement techniques.”
Operation Fast and Furious continues to stain the reputation of the Department of Justice in general and ATF in particular. And more shoes are likely to drop. The inspector general’s report announces plans “to issue a separate report on at least one other ATF investigation that involves an individual suspected of transporting grenade components into Mexico, converting them into live grenades, and then supplying them to drug cartels.”
It is high time that ATF begin the process of purging this taint by taking appropriate disciplinary action. One can only wonder: What took them so long?
— John G. Malcolm is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.
First appeared in National Review Online's "The Corner."
Director and Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973