Operation Fast and Furious is a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) effort conducted by its Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Bureau (ATF) in Phoenix, Ariz.
The operation was designed to snare Mexican drug cartel big fish by permitting the sale of firearms of various calibers to middlemen or straw-purchasers, who then would attempt to ship the weapons to the cartels or other Mexican criminals. Through surveillance and interdiction, the ATF sought to trace the weapons to major Mexican criminals.
Prosecution was the original end game, but at some point along the way, DOJ/ATF superiors instructed Fast and Furious operatives to continue surveillance (including wiretaps) of straw-purchasers but to cease interdictions (arrests).
Thus the weapons went south literally and figuratively, and things went terribly wrong. According to Mexican officials, at least 500 Mexican nationals have been killed with an estimated 2,500 weapons sold to the straw-men. Illegal transfers of weapons to Mexico apparently were conducted without the knowledge of Mexican authorities, who express outrage at the mounting deaths.
U.S. citizens also have been killed. For example, on Dec. 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered 18 miles north of the Arizona-Mexico Border. Two Fast and Furious weapons were found at the site.
His killers were Mexican nationals, and upon their arrest, a cover-up of Fast and Furious was begun by the DOJ/ATF. Political appointees were in a “panic mode”, and the DOJ allegedly closed down the Operation.
On Feb. 15, 2011, the Obama administration deported three of the Terry assailants, saying they did not actually pull the trigger.
On that same day, in Mexico, Fast and Furious weapons were used in the set-up killing of Jaime Zapata, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. ICE agent Victor Avila was wounded.
After Zapata’s death, the blame game began with the Washington two-step: I know nothing, I see nothing.
Thanks to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the truth about operation Fast and Furious is coming out.
Issa is leading a bipartisan fact-finding mission to Mexico. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and some Democrats on the House Oversight Committee continue to stonewall investigation of possible misfeasance or malfeasance by the Obama administration and its political appointees.
Voters are asking who knew what and when they knew it.
Around the country, former DOJ lawyers know that Fast and Furious had to be approved at the highest levels. Involving illegal purchases of firearms, border security, national security, and international relations, it required approval of the Attorney General’s office, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and perhaps the White House. Any such operation would be too sensitive and risky for a street agent or field supervisor to approve.
The Fast and Furious electronic surveillances came under the Wire and Electronic Communications Interception and Interception of Oral Communications Act (18 U.S. Code sections 2510-2520). This law sets out the requirements for a court-authorized wire intercept.
The U.S. attorney general or a specifically designated assistant must authorize in writing approval for an intercept. The attorney general may designate wiretap approval to the deputy attorney general, or others.
An intercept begins with an affidavit by a federal agent setting out the facts establishing some illegal or national security behavior (probable cause) that warrants an authorized intercept.
The paperwork demonstrating need is prepared by a DOJ attorney. The authorization is signed, however, by the DOJ Criminal Division’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco. If the attorney general deems that an intercept involves political factors, then the request may be passed to the White House for review.
If approved, then the matter is placed before a federal judge for authorization. The federal judge inspects the paperwork and signature of the Attorney General or his designee in accordance with federal law before authorizing an intercept.
Denials of knowledge regarding Fast and Furious are running top down from the president through the Department of Justice to the Arizona U.S. attorney and his Assistant U.S. attorneys, one of whom is a main “orchestrator” of the operation. These denials fail the evidence test, let alone the smell test. A federal grand jury investigation of those responsible for operation Fast and Furious is in order but unlikely with the Obama administration in denial mode.
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