By Sharyl Attkisson
(CBS News) The Inspector General (IG) draft report on Fast and Furious heaps
blame on the Phoenix-based staff of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(ATF) according to those familiar with the document.
A year and a half in the making, the report examines Operation Fast and
Furious, which began under the Obama administration, and the smaller Operation Wide Receiver
which started under the Bush administration and was prosecuted under the Obama
administration. In both cases, ATF agents allowed guns to "walk" or fall into
the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The idea was to see where the guns ended up
and catch a "big fish" of a cartel.
The IG's report is expected to be publicly released in the next few
Those familiar with the contents say ATF Phoenix officials shoulder much
blame, including then-Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell, the lead Fast and
Furious case agent Hope MacAllister, and group supervisor David Voth.
Since the controversy was first exposed, a divide has developed between the
ATF staff in Phoenix who oversaw and implemented Fast and Furious; and their
supervisors at ATF headquarters and the Justice Department. The Phoenix
officials say higher-ups
approved of the case. But the higher-ups say it was all the brainchild of
rogue ATF officials in Phoenix.
Phoenix ATF officials tell CBS News that higher-level officials were integral
in shifting focus away from arresting ground level gun buyers, to "a cartel
focused strategy" that allowed guns hit the streets in an attempt to make a
bigger case. They say the idea was codified in the September 2010 ATF document
Gunrunner-A Cartel Focused Strategy." The document refers to using the
tactic of "limited or delayed interdiction" of guns, while cautioning that such
investigations "must be closely monitored."
When that document was published, Fast and Furious was already ten months
old, and hundreds of weapons had fallen into the hands of traffickers for
Mexican drug cartels with no arrests. Fast and Furious weapons were turning up
at crime scenes across Mexico. Two would later be found at the murder scene of
Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
As alleged proof that they had the blessing of their superiors, ATF officials
in Phoenix point to regular briefings provided headquarters and the Justice
Department's National Drug Intelligence Center. Agents from Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had agents working the case. The Justice
Department also approved seven wiretaps in Fast and Furious. However, then-head
of ATF Kenneth Melson and officials at the Justice Department say they never
intended for agents to allow guns to walk, and didn't know it was happening.
They also say they either didn't read written briefings submitted about the
case, or that the briefings and affidavits didn't reveal the controversial
strategy being used. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, who oversees ICE,
also says she knew nothing of the case.
Documents released during the course of the investigation show the head of
the Justice Department's criminal division, Lanny Breuer, learned that ATF had
let guns walk --even as the Justice Department was denying that had ever
happened. When those documents were made public last November, Breuer issued a
statement saying he regretted not alerting others in Justice Department
leadership. Breuer also signed off on the Fast and Furious wiretaps.
Also sharing blame in the IG report are then-US Attorney Dennis Burke and his
lead deputy on Fast and Furious, Emory Hurley and Melson. Melson and Burke
resigned a year ago and Hurley was reassigned.
At the beginning of the Congressional investigation into Fast and Furious,
the Justice Department issued a letter to Congress denying there had been any
gunwalking. The Justice Department then retracted the denial almost a year
later. Congress subpoenaed internal documents regarding the denial and
retraction, but Attorney General Eric Holder said Congress had no right to them
and the White House invoked executive privilege. That led to Congress finding
Holder in contempt June 28. The House Oversight Committee has filed a civil
lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to enforce the Congressional
Internal emails revealed that ATF's Newell communicated with then-White House
National Security Staffer Kevin O'Reilly about Fast and Furious. The White House
has refused to make O'Reilly available for interview by Congressional
investigators saying O'Reilly didn't know about "any of the inappropriate
investigative tactics at issue... let alone any decision to allow guns to
Other alleged gunwalking operations in the past few years include "Too Hot to
Handle" in Dallas, "Castaway" in Tampa, and cases in Evansville, Indiana;
Columbus, New Mexico; and Houston, Texas.
The draft IG report was provided to the Justice Department last Tuesday. As a
matter of procedure, those who are criticized are offered the chance to view
excerpts of IG reports and submit comments before the final report is released
to the public.
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