HOUSTON - New disclosures show that the failed operation of "Fast and Furious," responsible for shepherding weapons into organized-crime hands in Mexico, may have had predecessors under George Bush.
To unearth the motivations behind the bizarre law enforcement approach requires the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee leadership to look into possible policy approvals by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Up to now, current Attorney General Eric Holder appears to have been the committee's target, along with subpoenaed White House staff who might have had knowledge or participated in approving the operation.
The still unfolding story tells of arms dealings supporting criminal cartels in Mexico and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officers and situations spinning out of control since 2006.
Tim Steller of the Arizona Daily Star reported Oct. 6 that firearms bought from Tucson gun dealer Michael Detty sparked a 2006 federal investigation into the weapons destined for Mexican criminals. In four years, hundreds of sales to gun smugglers were made but did not lead to charges until May and October of 2010 when nine people were "charged quietly," according to Steller.
The gun sales were part of Operation Wide Receiver, begun while Bush was in office and Alberto Gonzales was attorney general. According to the Associated Press, Wide Receiver was the predecessor of Operation Fast and Furious. The AP claims to have obtained e-mails showing ATF agents allowed "gun-walking" across the border in 2007 in an attempt to trace weapons to drug and organized crime networks.
The 2007 probe reportedly involved 200 weapons, of which about a dozen ended up in Mexico. Fast and Furious involved about 2,000, with about 1,400 unrecovered and presumably in organized criminals' hands in Mexico and some staying or returning to the United States.
However, the disclosure of a donor operation, of which Fast and Furious is a clone, opens up the Bush administration's policy and practices as a line of inquiry.
The investigation into Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has, up to now, mainly centered on Holder's defense of ATF, following some departures and changes in its Arizona bureau. ATF is part of the Justice Department, which Holder heads.
In 2006 and until September 2007, Gonzales was attorney general. His resignation came after he was criticized for constructing the legal basis for the war on terrorism and allegations that he misled Congress and gave less than a compelling explanation for the dismissal of seven United States attorneys.
None of the charges stuck. He subsequently became a visiting professor in the Texas Tech University system in Lubbock. Then, on Oct. 3, Belmont College of Law in Nashville, Tenn., announced his appointment as the Doyle Rogers distinguished chair of law.
Paul Charlton, U.S. attorney for Arizona was one of those asked to resign by Gonzales when Operation Wide Receiver started in 2006. Now a Phoenix lawyer, Charlton represents the parents of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was murdered with a gun-walking weapon.
Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News reported Oct. 14 that Jean Baptiste Kingery, a U.S. citizen, smuggled parts for as many as 2,000 grenades into Mexico for drug cartels "under the direct watch of U.S. law enforcement."
The scope of gun walking U.S. weapons into organized crime hands in Mexico was either a lethally mis-coordinated policy that spun out of control, some kind of covert operation or official malfeasance.
Anything less than a Sam Ervin-like scrutiny to get to the bottom of this mess dishonors ethical law enforcement and the dozens, maybe thousands, of victims living and dead. Senator Sam, you'll recall, chaired the Watergate Committee.
He dazzled the televised hearings with his halting common sense. An inquiry begins at the beginning. After that, the question is, who allowed it to evolve? Then, for what purpose?
Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org