Almost everyone is now critical of the bait-gun programs conducted to stop smuggling of US guns to Mexico. The most well-known of these is Fast and Furious, an unfortunate and self-important name of the kind favored by “the Feds.”
But is the idea of using bait guns a good one or a bad one? And is using bait to catch criminals unusual? No matter what you think about the rightness of the tactic, using various kinds of bait in organized crime, drug, and conspiracy investigations is a common -- and proven -- method. Use of bait guns is more unusual than using money or drugs as bait, but it is hardly unheard of.
Bait is an important part of the investigator’s toolbox
Bait guns are primarily sold by informants as a way of making a straw-purchase case (where someone buys guns intending the transfer them to someone who can’t legally own them.)
The fact that about 2,000 bait guns were part of Fast and Furious and about 300 were lost (more hyperbolically described as “gun-walking”) is not particularly competent but also not particularly notable either. Generally, when bait is lost, all of it is gone. Three hundred represents 15% of the bait guns from this investigation.
When criminal bait is lost, some guns end up in gun crimes; some money is used to fund fraud; and some drugs winds up overdosing junkies. Still most of it serves the important function of catching bad guys. Lost bait doesn’t cause these bad things to happen. It simply supplants the other ready supply.
Smuggling US guns to Mexico is widespread
Without Fast and Furious, Mexican drug cartels would not be unarmed. Not hardly. According to the 2010 report by the US group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 75% of the guns used in crimes in Mexico were originally purchased in the United States. They also cited an ATF statistic: 19,000 guns bought at US dealers were directly tied to crimes in Mexico. Forty percent of these were bought in Texas alone, where it is dead easy to buy guns for “export.”
Perhaps hundreds of thousands of guns may have been purchased in the United States and smuggled into Mexico. The Mayors identified 19,000 from three years of records. In the years prior to that, ATF was prevented by Congress from revealing the numbers. In 2011, US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer told Congress that of 94,000 guns recovered from Mexican cartels, 70% – some 64,000 – came from the US.
The problem is so bad that Congress budgets the ATF $37.5 million annually to stop it. The other option, of course would be to say “guns don’t kill people” and do nothing.
Fast and Furious didn’t kill Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry
There is no evidence that a bait gun was used to kill Agent Brian Terry. Guns from the bait gun program were found at the scene and could have been used. But anyone who says bait guns were used to kill the agent is lying. If we’re speculating, one could just as easily speculate that these guns were on their way to Mexico. As planned.
Even if one of these guns was used in the shootout, the importance of that is largely symbolic. Darrell Issa has made the claim that without bait guns drug dealers would not have had access to this sort of “high quality” weapon. But drug dealers have unlimited money and unlimited access to any weapon for sale to American straw buyers, including every kind of military-style weapon. The most popular guns are new AR-15 and AK-47 spec. weapons. You can find either one in any gun store in any of the Border States.
The House Oversight Committee isn’t investigating Agent Brian Terry’s death
Despite frequently invoking the slain agent’s name when the cameras are rolling, Issa and the House Republicans are not investigating the death of Brian Terry. No recent activities of the committee have focused on this event.
Instead Issa’s current effort is attempting to draw a conspiracy from a letter that the Department of Justice sent that contained incorrect information about guns lost in the program. The misinformation was provided by an ATF field office director who has testified under oath that he relied on misinformation from field agents. Chairman Issa has repeatedly refused to allow that field office director to appear before the committee and be questioned by its members.
And then there is Issa himself
Darrell Issa is the Congressman who famously earmarked highway dollars to a road where it only “coincidentally” increased the value of property he owned. In 2010, when Issa was appointed Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he said, “I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks [a year.]” He said he planned to investigate the Obama Administration’s role in economic stimulus, bank bailouts and the collapse of housing prices. He promised to investigate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Countrywide Mortgage, Toyota, and steroids in baseball. He said he would look into “presidential earmarks” (there is no such thing) and presidential grants (there aren’t many.)
Two years later (at election time) It looks like Chairman Issa is staring “Epic Fail!” straight in the eye. His political job -- to paint the Obama Administration as a criminal and hypocritical enterprise -- is left with this: A botched ATF initiative that relied on proven investigative techniques. A single “scandal” that was in response to a real and widespread crime involving international drug cartels. And just one “investigation” of a program that began during the Bush Administration.
For Darrell Issa, what a letdown it must be.
First published on Technorati.