August 30, 2011
View Edward V. Byrne's profile
Two U.S. officials resigned today over the so-called “Fast and Furious” arms deal which embarrassed Washington and infuriated Mexico City when it first came to light several months ago. Gone are the interim director of the federal DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), Kenneth Melson, and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Denis Burke The Department of Justice announced both resignations. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a public statement praising Burke’s record of public service, without mentioning the arms scandal.
Fast and Furious was the 2009 brainchild of several DEA agents and federal prosecutors in Arizona, who decided to permit the controlled sale of military weapons to Mexican drug dealers or their purchasing agents in the U.S. Virtually all of the sales occurred in areas within a day’s drive of the border, many in or near Phoenix and Tucson. The strategic plan was to track the weapons by serial numbers, so that the ultimate purchasers and/or end users could be identified.
The plan backfired when some of the weapons allowed to be transferred into Mexico were used in various high profile crimes, including kidnapping and murder. Eventually, a DEA agent-turned-whistleblower notified Fox News and other media sources of the program, resulting in its termination in 2010. Both Attorney General Holder and President Obama have said that they were unaware of Fast and Furious. Many members of Congress were outraged when the details became public, and the program is still under investigation by a Senate committee. The whistleblower was fired from DEA earlier this year. He has alleged retaliation by the agency.
It’s estimated that about 2,000-2,500 weapons were sold under the Fast and Furious program to “straw purchasers” who actually were working on behalf of Mexican drug cartels. One purchaser alone bought about 700 military grade firearms. As many as 1,400 of the weapons remain unaccounted for.
Fast and Furious has played heavily in the Mexican press since it first came to light, with many here asking why U.S. officials would permit such a program while at the same time demanding that Mexico do more to combat drug crime. The ill-fated program was indirectly referred to again by President Calderon just last week, after a casino in Monterrey was torched in broad daylight by a hit squad retaliating for the nonpayment of extortion fees. Fifty-two people died in that attack, most of them women and many of them employees. Five people were arrested yesterday (August 29) in connection with the arson and homicides.