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Eric Holder Scandal: Fast and Furious Gun-Walking Myths Get in Way of Truth About Operation

As Christmas was inching ever closer, Brian Terry was getting ready to return to his hometown so that he could spend that special holiday with his family. After being away for three long years, Terry was ecstatic because he would get to spend Christmas with his nieces and nephews for whom he had bought many gifts.  On December, 14, 2010, Terry’s life was cut short by an AK-47 bullet.  He lost his life two days before he was supposed to go home. There is nothing that could be more devastating to any parent than the loss of a son or a daughter. Instead of celebrating the holidays with him, his parents and siblings ended up having a burial ceremony for their beloved son and brother.

Brian Terry was a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) for only a few years before he got killed. His death had been linked to an operation that was dubbed Fast and Furious. According to Congressional Republicans and many news reports, the ATF had been running this operation, which allowed guns to flow to the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel.  In so doing, the ATF would be in a position to trace those guns thereby the agents would be better able to track down members of this dangerous cartel.  However, this version of events has been severely undermined by a story that was published recently by Fortune magazine.

On March 3, 2010, ATM agent John Dodson had an interview with Sharyl Attkisson on CBS news.  He said that he was asked by his superiors to let gun flow from Arizona to Mexico. Worse yet, he went on to say that those guns have been used by a Mexican drug cartel to kill a number of people including Brian Terry. One of the main tasks of the ATF is to stop the flow of illegal guns. Thus, the charges that Dobson has leveled at the ATF are very serious since the agency not only would fail to do its job but would be responsible for the deaths of many Mexicans including a border agent.

As an insider, John Dobson has become an important witness for Darrell Issa (R - CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R - IA) started to investigate the case. After the Department of Justice was asked whether there was a program in Arizona that allowed guns to go to Mexico, the department sent a letter to Congress that stated that such program did not exist. However, Grassley appeared to have in his possession damning evidence, which showed that Dobson participated in a gun running operation. Faced with this evidence, the Justice Department retracted its letter.  This retraction seemed to confirm that “gun-walking” had indeed taken place.

An exhaustive six-month investigation by Fortune magazine's Katherine Eban into the Fast and Furious case had undercut the “gun-walking” story that has been considered as a fait accompli by the media and many in the political establishment. According to Eban, Dave Voth, who was in charge of the Phoenix Group VII, never had a gun-walking policy.  \In fact, whenever the group could, they seized illegal guns.  But they were constrained by very lax gun laws.

Group VII as the name indicates is one of seven of such groups that have been tasked to stop the flow of illegal guns going to Mexico. The Group VII, though, had an arduous task. Phoenix has more than 800 gun stores. This high concentration of gun stores coupled with lax gun laws make it very difficult to stop illegal gun activities. In Phoenix, an 18 year-old could purchase many AK-47s as long as he or she has a clean criminal record. After buying those guns, this 18 year-old is also allowed to sell them to someone else shortly thereafter. During the Fast and Furious operation, the agents compiled information on twenty people whom they suspected were buying guns for the cartels. Group VII sent their collected information to prosecutors in the hopes that they would be indicted. The prosecutors decided not to do so because there was no probable cause because their buying and reselling guns were legal under the law. Hence, the notion that Group VII had been intentionally letting guns flow to Mexico as a matter of policy is completely wrong according to the Fortune piece.

Ironically, in a case unrelated to Fast and Furious, John Dobson, the whistleblower, took the initiative with the assistance of two of his colleagues to furnish guns to a suspect by using tax payer money and let those guns flow to Mexico without intercepting them.  Thus, the very person who started portraying Fast and Furious as a gun-walking operation was the only one who had purposely engaged in such act.

Since Eban's thoroughgoing analysis tied John Dobson with the only instance in which gun walking actually occurred, it begs the question: Are Issa and Grassley aware of that salient fact? If they are aware of it, why would they still choose to believe him? Or do they have other more compelling reasons that make them do so? Better yet, have they decided to disregard the evidence that questioned the credibility of Dobson because he allows them to use Fast and Furious as a cudgel against the administration?

Because its news report was the catalyst for this scandal, CBS has an obligation to revisit this story. During its report, CBS highlighted an email that was sent to members of the Group VII as an important piece of evidence in order to show that there was a rift that was developing within the team over the gun-walking policy. However, in her article, Eban pointed out that this particular email was trying to squelch a conflict that erupted among some members of the group about work schedule.  More importantly, Eban further indicated that there is no evidence of Dobson complaining to his superiors about his skepticism regarding gun walking. Furthermore, there is also no evidence that supports his claims that he was the victim of retaliation.

The question that arises is the following: Is John Dobson a courageous whistleblower who revealed a wrongheaded operation or is he a faux hero, who is trying to protect his career at the expense of his colleagues by spreading falsehoods? He is either one or the other, but he cannot be both. Issa and Grassley believe that he is the former whereas Eban shows in her article that he is the latter. Congressman John Mica (R - Fla.) dismissed her investigative piece as fiction during an interview with Soledad O'Brien on CNN although he said that he did not read it. Based on this statement , it seems that Issa also believes that it is a piece of fiction. Do they have documents in their possessions that counter the evidence that Eban presented in her piece? It is, therefore, incumbent upon the press to ask for such evidence.

The media have played an important role in shaping public opinion with regards to this case.  The parents of Brian Terry would want to know what really happened.  In light of Eban's article, the press should focus more about what actually happened and the constraints that ATF agents face due to lax gun laws as they try to do their job. Many in the press continue to cover Fast and Furious without making any reference to the new information presented by Eban in her article. This type of coverage obfuscates rather than illuminating the facts of the story. Eban’s article shows that the press has been getting the story wrong. It is, therefore, time for the media to start getting the story right.

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