The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and specific departments within the Justice Department finally figured out (or accepted the fact) that a majority of the guns used by Mexican drug cartels come from their side of the border (took them long enough). Hence, an operation to flush out both the smugglers as well as the buyers was given the green light. The game plan was simple, undertake a sting operation to determine the buyers and then spearhead or aid local authorities in surveillance, arrest, and prosecution. Of course, some commentators argue that this operation, if successful will bolster the case of additional gun control in Congress.
Operation Fast and Furious formally started October 2009 and ended 2011. The operation was named in reference to the Hollywood movie involving fast cars and illegal activities operated within auto repair shops which was the case in this operation. The operation started off using evidence, assets, and suspects from previous failed attempts at prosecution based on lack of evidence.
A strategic decision to identify, arrest, and prosecute the big boys of arms trafficking was discussed. There was no suggestion of “gunwalking” at this point but the same was already a fait accompli especially given the earlier operation wide receiver. Gunwalking means selling “marked guns” and then following the buyer to identify the network of the same rather than arresting the buyer immediately.
Phoenix office’s Group VII took the lead. They specifically targeted one buyer who initially bought around 34 firearms within 24 days. This number grew to 600 firearms within the span of a few months. The strategy was simple, let the buyer walk out with the merchandise and then tail the same to determine the entirety of the network.
Purchases amounted to more or less $1 million dollars. Around 179 weapons purchased via several transactions were found or connected to specific crime scenes. There are varying accounts as to why no arrests were made as of yet but the bottom line was that more than one agency did not want to make the arrest because of lack of evidence or because they wanted to get more data to catch bigger fish.
U.S. Border Patrol Brian Terry was killed in a firefight against 5 illegal immigrants in Peck Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona. The rifles used in the firefight were immediately tied to operation Fast and Furious. A few days after information regarding the operation in relation to the death of Agent Brian Terry were leaked and began circulating on the internet via social networking sites.
The leak forced officers to announce a few details about the case. Damage control was underway hence positive news relevant to operation Fast and Furious were being announced. This includes:
- 53-count indictment
- 20 suspects
- hundreds of guns confiscated
In total around 2,020 firearms of various calibers (i.e. Barrett, sniper rifles, AK-47s, FN Five-sevens, etc.) were bought via operation Fast and Furious. However, only 389 were recovered in the US and 276 recovered in Mexico. Around 1355 guns still remain unaccounted for.
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