March 5, 2011
Gunwalker Goes Primetime
A bureaucratic cover-up of a lethal scandal is coming apart at the seams before our eyes.
On Thursday night CBS ran a second story highlighting Project Gunwalker. Gunwalker is a cynical reference to an operation in which ATF agents allowed assault weapons to be purchased in the United States and "walked" across the southern border and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. This allegation is denied by officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) or ATF. In fact, in a February 4th, 2011 letter from Assistant Attorney General Weich to Senator Charles Grassley, Weich states: "that ATF 'sanctioned' or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico-is false."
ATF Agent John Dodson appeared on the CBS Evening News to refute that denial. Choked with emotion, he told CBS's Sharyl Attkisson, "I'm boots on the ground in Phoenix and it has been going on every day that I've been here." Dodson was obviously moved by the death of Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry, who was murdered with one such weapon on December 14, 2010.
It was shortly after Agents such as Dodson realized that the murder weapon had been involved in what critics call Project Gunwalker that posts began to show up on the ATF watchdog website CleanUpATF.org. In professing his own sense of guilt, Dodson revealed his motivation for coming forward now, without disguise. "Here I am," Dodson said. "Tell me I didn't do the things I did. Tell me you didn't order me to do the things I did." With that he made it clear that the cover up being attempted by the Bureau would not prevail.
Senator Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been deeply involved in seeking information about Gunwalker since contacted by David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh in an effort to break the story. Grassley drafted a letter on January 27, 2011 seeking more information on the ATF's actions.
According to the allegations, one of these individuals purchased three assault rifles with cash in Glendale, Arizona on January 16, 2010. Two of the weapons were then allegedly used in a firefight on December 14, 2010 against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, killing CBP Agent Brian Terry. These extremely serious allegations were accompanied by detailed documentation which appears to lend credibility to the claims and partially corroborates them.
The detailed information Grassley included alerted the Phoenix office of a leak. The response from Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillette was to question and then to threaten the suspected whistleblower. News of this encounter got back to Grassley, who quickly drafted another letter objecting to the fact that the briefing his staff had requested had not yet been scheduled and that the actions of Gillette had been noticed and would not be tolerated.
In the CBS report of March 3, 2011, Grassley characterized his interaction with the ATF as providing "practically zilch" as far as information. In the one briefing Grassley's staff finally arranged with the ATF a former Secret Service agent conducted the briefing despite the fact that he had no personal knowledge of the workings of the Phoenix office, nor had he been present during any of the events in Grassley's complaint.
The tactic so infuriated Grassley that his office quickly sent off a scathing letter addressed to Eric Holder. In this letter issued on or near February 16th, Grassley responded to the so-called briefing:
Specifically, they (those giving the briefing) refused to say whether the approximately 103 weapons seized according to the Jaime Avila indictment were the only seizures related to the nearly 770 weapons mentioned in the indictment. They refused to say whether the third assault rifle purchased by Avila in January 2010-the one not found at the scene of CBP Agent Brian Terry's shooting-has been recovered elsewhere.
Then word began to spread of the shootings of two more federal agents, this time the victims were Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents working in Mexico. The agents were targeted by the Los Zetas drug cartel. To those close to the Project Gunwalker case, there was only one question on their minds: were the guns used to kill Jaime Zapata assault weapons allowed to be walked down south by their brothers in arms, the ATF?
It is troubling that each time a federal agent is killed in the line of duty that the ATF knows exactly where to go to get information about the guns used. In the first case, the Terry case, Jaime Avila was arrested the day after the shooting even though he had been under surveillance for nearly 14 months.
Again, the day after the shooting of Jaime Zapata arrests were made in a suburb of Dallas, Texas and the gun traced back to the suspects.
By far the starkest information to come out of the CBS story dealt with the correlation between the guns being allowed to "walk" across the nation's southern border and the increased violence in Mexico. The story showed that the deadliest month on the border since 2005, March 2010, coincided with a time when 359 weapons had been purchased through the program. With having processed thousands of such sales it only stands to reason that there is a lot more of the story to come.