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Operation Fast and Furious: Let's Focus on the Real Issue

As a former federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia, it is interesting to watch the Operation Fast and Furious controversy unfold on Capitol Hill.  Congressional oversight rarely means a search for the truth – it is usually motivated to score political points.  When it comes to Operation Fast and Furious, there is a little bit of both – fact-finding and political point making.

On the facts, it is a basic rule for every undercover operation – you never, ever let guns walk.  Every prosecutor knows this rule.  The reason is very simple – law enforcement can never be responsible for supplying guns to criminals.  The danger is obvious and the policy makes total sense.  If an operation involved putting guns in the hands of targets, the rule required law enforcement to arrest the targets once they came into possession of the guns.

Whether the Obama Administration changed this practice or it started in the Bush Administration, it was plain wrong.  The facts which have come out underscore the importance of this policy – it is the utmost tragedy to know that a law enforcement officer and other civilians were killed with firearms that ATF allowed to “walk” into Mexico.  There is no possible justification for such an operation and whoever was responsible should be held accountable.  According to press reports, over 1000 firearms were allowed to “walk” or were lost and ended up in the hands of Mexican cartels.

Based on my experience in the federal law enforcement arena, ATF and whoever at the US Attorney’s Office in Arizona and at the Justice Department were responsible for this mess should be held accountable.  It is no surprise that ATF is at the heart of this controversy.   ATF has a history of attempting dangerous and ill-conceived operations.  Frankly, you would never see DEA or the FBI ever come up with something so dangerous and foolish.

The oversight effort should focus on ATF, the US Attorney’s Office, and responsible officials at the Justice Department.  Whether Attorney General Holder was briefed on the issue or not, is a sideshow – the real issue is how did ATF come up with this idea?  Who approved it?  Why didn’t the US Attorney’s Office or the Justice Department adequately supervise and alter the operation to conform with long-standing practices?  Unfortunately, the focus on Attorney General Holder is occurring at the expense of more legitimate areas of inquiry.

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