After investigators pealed back the layers of lies and misinformation, it was discovered that the failed phoenix-based, gunwalking operation allowed approximately 1,700 illegal firearms to walk across the U.S.-Mexico border, many of which ended up in the hands of known Mexican drug cartels.
Now there’s word of another Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives sting operation, run by the same agents who oversaw Fast and Furious, possibly gone awry: Operation White Gun.
In short, there’s more smoke – but is there fire?
Initial reactions from congressional investigators are telling, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.
“Apparently guns got away again,” one source close to the investigation, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), told the LA Times. “How many got into Mexico, who knows?”
The top brass over at the ATF declined to comment on whether or not guns were lost as part of the White Gun program, but were quick to point out the operations successes, which included three arrests and subsequent convictions.
The three men “were looking to acquire military-grade weapons for a drug cartel,” an anonymous ATF official told the LA Times. “This was a classic example of bad guys showing up at a location to get the weapons they desire but getting arrested by law enforcement instead.”
However, these three men were not the initial targets of Operation White Gun. Like Operation Fast and Furious, the purpose of White Gun was to go after the leaders of major drug cartels, in particular the Sinaloa cartel.
The three men apprehended were lower-level gunrunners, not the nine leaders that White Gun was targeting.
Nevertheless, White Gun was hailed as a success.
The U.S. attorney in Phoenix at the time, Dennis K. Burke, who later resigned over Fast and Furious, called the White Gun convictions “a tremendous team effort that put a stop to a well-financed criminal conspiracy to acquire massive destructive firepower.”
So what caused the ATF to abandon pursuit of those nine leaders?
That’s unclear. In fact, ATF documents show that undercover agents had, indeed, started off by pursuing prime targets.
One of which was Vicente Fernando Guzman Patino, a cartel insider who was identified as one of the Sinaloa’s main weapons purchasers.
Undercover agents met with Patino on several occasions. At one point, he told them that, “if he would bring them a tank, they would buy it.” He boasted he had “$15 million to spend on firearms and not to worry about the money.” He wanted “the biggest and most extravagant firearms available,” according to ATF documents.
But when it came time to nail Patino outside a Phoemix restaurant, the ATF inexplicable backed off. ATF documents did not explain why agents failed to follow through with the sting, and the documents did not indicate whether or not he obtained any weapons.
Did he obtain any weapons? Were weapons given away under White Gun?
Those questions remain unanswered at the moment.
That said, one of the agents in charge of the operation, Hope A. MacAllister, went to Mexico City, in 2010, to check police and military vaults to see if Mexican authorities had recovered any U.S. weapons related to ATF operations.
ATF documents show that while she doesn’t exactly detail what she found in those vaults, she noted that there were “weapons in military custody related to her current investigations.”
Again, more smoke.