"I believe that these firearms will continue to turn up at crimes scenes on both sides of the border for years to come."
-ATF agent Peter Forcelli
Today, 3 federal agents testified before Congress that they were repeatedly ordered to stand down while high-powered assault rifles and other firearms were being purchased in the US by Mexican drug cartels.
Under Operation "Fast and Furious," the 3 ATF agents were supposed to surveil small time gun buyers in Arizona who served as straw men for other major weapons traffickers on both sides of the border.
At a hearing before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which (California Rep. Darrell) Issa chairs, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said hundreds of weapons destined for cartels in Mexico were bought in Arizona gun shops. One agent, John Dodson, who took his complaints to Grassley's office, estimated that 1,800 guns in Fast and Furious were unaccounted for, and about two-thirds are probably in Mexico.
Another of the three investigators, Peter Forcelli, said that "based upon my conversations with agents who assisted in this case, surveillance on individuals who had acquired weapons was often terminated far from the Mexican border." Forcelli said that while case agents believed that weapons were destined for Mexico, "the potential exists that many were sent with cartel drugs to other points within the United States."
"I can't tell you the why" the surveillances were called off, Dodson testified. "Hopefully ... this committee can find out." But the committee did not ask that question of any of the nonagent witnesses Wednesday.
Of course they didn't.
It is already known that the founders of the Zetas, the most brutal cartel, were trained by the US Military at Fort Bragg. Now, here is news that "someone" is protecting the supply lines for high powered weaponry to fuel the bloody drug war. And Congress isn't interested in who called off the the ATF agents.
Agent Dodson testified that "although my instincts made me want to intervene and interdict these weapons, my supervisors directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest, but rather, to keep the straw purchaser under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk."
"Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals — this was the plan," said Dodson. "It was so mandated."
In one case, Dodson said, he watched a suspect receive a bag filled with cash from a third party, then proceed to a gun dealer and buy weapons with that cash and deliver them to the same unidentified third party. In that and other circumstances, his instructions were to do nothing.
"Surveillance operations like this were the rule, not the exception," said Dodson. "This was not a matter of weapons getting away from us, or allowing a few to walk so as to follow them to a much larger or more significant target."
The third ATF agent, Olindo James Casa, said that "on several occasions I personally requested to interdict or seize firearms, but I was always ordered to stand down and not to seize the firearms."
Casa said that "the surveillance team followed straw purchasers to Phoenix area firearms dealers and would observe the straw purchasers buy and then depart with numerous firearms in hand. On many of those occasions, the surveillance team would then follow the straw purchasers either to a residence, a public location or until the surveillance team was spotted by the straw purchasers.
But the end result was always the same: the surveillance was terminated" by others up the chain of command.