By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 07/24/2011 02:30:24 AM PDT
OPENING SCENE: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) acting director, Kenneth Melson, tells Congressional investigators he didn't know about specific orders to let straw buyers walk off with guns purchased in the United States until the “Fast and Furious” scandal surfaced in the press. In the jargon of B films, “he's singing like a canary.”
Melson spills the beans about a Department of Justice/ BATFE operation called “Fast and Furious” that went horribly wrong. He's fighting for his life and is determined not to be the fall guy for something that involves his agency and numerous others.
In a desperate act of survival, Melson admits the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and possibly the Homeland Security Department are also involved in the growing Fast and Furious scandal.
NARRATOR: Thousands of U.S. operatives -- with virtually no principles -- will do whatever the government tells them to do. A few, like BATFE director Ken Melson, may be taken down, but the really big shot-callers will probably never answer for their crimes.
BACKROUND: “Allegations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) allowed U.S. arms to flow to murderous Mexican cartels now face Congressional scrutiny in Washington,” according to a story by the Christian Science Monitor on July 16.
Also on the table is the involvement of a covert operation (Fast and Furious) that may have partially contributed to the deaths of a U.S. law enforcement officer and numerous Mexicans.
Operation Fast and Furious went bad after the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, and the Justice Department tried to cover up the connections. The gun used to kill Agent Brian Terry was traced, not to Mexico, but to a gun store in Phoenix. It turned out the store was cooperating with a federal investigation into arms trafficking, according to news reports.
U.S. agents didn't stop the sale or the transfer of the gun that the cartels used to kill Terry, despite internal information that was available about the shooter/buyer.
A Reuters report stated, “Two semi-automatic Kalashnikov-pattern rifles were found at the scene.” When traced, they were discovered to have been purchased from an American gun shop cooperating with agents of the Phoenix office of the ATF in an investigation of gun smuggling known as “Project Gunrunner.”
Before Melson decided to come clean, five separate but connected accusations were leveled by current or former employees of the ATF against ATF and DOJ officials.
THE PLOT THICKENS: Word about agent whistleblowers reached U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Chuck Grassley of Iowa through news sources, who learned of their existence from their own sources within the ATF.
There has been a series of meetings between the senators and the whistleblowers. Protection is promised to the whistleblowers for sharing the true circumstances of Terry's death.
As the story gets wider coverage, more whistleblowers are coming out. A story recently surfaced in Florida in the Examiner (Special Report by David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh): “Breaking News: Source claims ATF's Tampa SAC walked guns to Honduras. Part of Operation Castaway?”
According to the article, “Virginia O'Brien, Special Agent in Charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Tampa Field Division, ran a gun-running investigation that walked guns to Honduras using techniques and tactics identical to Fast and Furious.”
In a letter recently released by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Daryl Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley accused the Justice Department of blocking their investigation into the burgeoning scandal. They said the Justice Department had muzzled the ATF and was involving other federal agencies, including the FBI and the DEA, in funding for flawed operations that stemmed from Project Gunrunner.
Both Obama and Holder have said they learned of Operation Fast and Furious only after the scandal broke in January. Despite Holder's claim, The Christian Science Monitor reported this month that he played up BATFE's Project Gunrunner, under which Fast and Furious was spawned, in a speech in Mexico in 2009, saying that $10 million of the 2009 stimulus bill would go to fund new arms interdiction measures.
There's evidence not only that the Justice Department allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities.
As It Stands, stay tuned to see if this is another dramatic reality show starring corrupt officials who get off the hook.
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