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Botched federal gun scheme hits Michigan

by Candice Miller on July 26, 2011

Op-Ed: July 26, 2011
Detroit News/Michigan View
A botched federal gun-running sting operation has tragically ricocheted into Metro Detroit.
A congressional report contends that two automatic weapons that federal agents in Arizona tracked and then deliberately let out of their sight were found at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol officer with Michigan roots. He was killed last December in an Arizona gun battle with a bandit gang.
Now a Michigan Congresswoman, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, wants to find out if a similar Florida-based scheme was may have let illegal weapons flow into Honduras.
The slain Border Patrol officer, Brian Terry, was a graduate of Flat Rock High and a former police officer on the Ecorse and Lincoln Park police departments. The congressional”>report – issued by the joint staffs, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Darryl Issa, R-Calif. – reported that the two AK-47-style rifles were found at the gun battle scene.
“The death of Border Agent Brian Terry likely was a preventable tragedy,” the report concludes.
Knowing that Mexican drug gangs were seeking weapons in the United States, the Justice Department and the Phoenix office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) set up a sting in which they would record serial numbers of weapons purchased by legal buyers – then track the buyers and see if they were acting as “straw purchasers” who would then deliver the weapons to illegal gun runners or the Mexican drug gangs themselves.
The report says the “laudable goal” of operation “Fast and Furious” (set up as an inter-agency task force including the FBI, DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies) was to try and create a large-scale illegal gun-running conspiracy case. But it got out of hand and agents lost track of the weapons.
A number of ATF agents early on saw the risks and tried to get the operation curtailed. They were told to shut up. When members of Congress began investigating, according to the Grassley-Issa report, Justice Department officials stonewalled.
Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, in closed-door testimony before investigators for the Grassley-Issa probe, said it appeared to him that higher-ups in the Justice Department were doing “damage control” and limit the exposure of political appointees in the department, according to a letter from Grassley and Issa to Atty. Gen Eric Holder. The content of the letter to Holder was”>reported by Fox News.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is reportedly investigating whether “whistleblower” agents have been improperly punished.
Meanwhile, Rep. Miller and two of her House colleagues are seeking answers from John Morton, Director of ICE, about whether his agency played a role in Florida’s “Operation Castaway,” which may have been similar to the “Fast and Furious” program in Arizona. Miller’s July 12 letter wants information about whether Operation Castaway weapons may have found their way to a criminal gang in Honduras called MS-13.
“To date, we have not received a response from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton,” Rep. Miller said in a statement to The Michigan View, “and I continue to await a response to Congress regarding the events that led to firearms being sold to individuals knowing that their intended destination were the hands of drug cartels”
“Last year,” she continued, “Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry from Michigan was gunned down using weapons linked to the ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ – a similar operation to ‘Operation Castaway.’ ICE along with the Department of Justice and ATF must answer for their irresponsible actions and need to respond directly to Congress shortly on this troubling matter. As a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, I will continue to closely monitor this case to ensure that neither ICE, nor ATF undertake a similar operation in the future.”
Miller’s vigilance is welcome. Issa and Grassley in their report vow to continue seeking information from Atty. Gen. Holder and other higher ups at Justice. What’s been revealed so far is bad enough.
But as usual, the cover-up may be worse.
Jeffrey Hadden is deputy editor of The Detroit News editorial page and a columnist for the View

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