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Fast and Furious - Anatomy of a Failed Operation

Fast and Furious - Anatomy of a Failed Operation

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Published by: National Security Internet Archive on Jul 31, 2012
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The resulting cooperation became an important initiative for both ATF and the Criminal
Division. Lanny Breuer wrote a memorandum to Attorney General Holder that discussed this
new initiative, and Breuer prepared notes about this new coordination with ATF in preparation


Id. at 23.


E-mail from Kenneth Melson to Lanny Breuer (Dec. 3, 2009) [HOGR 003403] (Exhibit 259).


Id. (emphasis added).


E-mail from Lanny Breuer to Ken Melson (Dec. 4, 2009) [HOGR 003403] (Exhibit 259).


for a personal meeting with the Attorney General.665

As a result of this initiative, the Criminal
Division assigned one of its lawyers to assist with the Fast and Furious case. This attorney was
briefed on Operation Fast and Furious shortly thereafter. Given the importance of the case, the
attorney was forced to alter his holiday plans just to get up to speed.666

One week after his e-mail exchange with Lanny Breuer, Acting Director Melson learned
of Operation Fast and Furious for the very first time. On December 9, 2009, a meeting took
place in Melson’s office with three top ATF officials: William Hoover, the Deputy Director; Bill
McMahon, the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations; and Steve Martin, the Deputy
Assistant Director for OSII. In the meeting, Melson learned of two large seizures of weapons
purchased by Fast and Furious suspects that had occurred in Mexico. This meeting led to a
detailed briefing with Criminal Division lawyers the following week.667

Over the next several months, Melson received notification of weapons recoveries tying
back to Fast and Furious. For example, in January 2010, Melson was informed about one
particularly large recovery connected to the case. 668

Agents seized forty weapons from a stash
house in El Paso, Texas, on January 13, 2010, that had been purchased by Fast and Furious straw
buyers. This recovery was significant for two reasons. First, it represented a potential shift in
the geographic movement of Fast and Furious weapons from the gun stores in Phoenix to the
Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. Second, it was also connected to a separate case run by ATF’s Dallas
Field Division.

The same week that Melson received information about this El Paso seizure, he was

briefed on a separate seizure of 41 weapons that occurred on the Tohono O’odham Nation, an

Indian reservation that stretches from southern Arizona into Mexico. The seizure resulted from a
GPS tracker which was inserted into one of the 41 weapons—one of only two known instances
in which ATF used such a technique in Fast and Furious. The episode illustrates that ATF could
have used trackers on a larger scale to interdict more suspicious purchases in conjunction with
the contemporaneous knowledge of the purchases that ATF received from cooperating FFLs.
Since this was the first time ATF employed a tracker Melson included the information about the
tracker and the seizure—including the fact that the suspects intended to take the firearms to
Mexico—in his weekly report to Attorney General Holder.669

After ATF senior management had received information about specific seizures and
recoveries, Acting Director Melson participated in a detailed briefing on Fast and Furious on


Memorandum to the Attorney General from Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, “Weekly Report for the
Week of January 4, 2010 – January 10, 2010” [HOGR 003249-003250] (Exhibit 260); Notes from Lanny Breuer,
Assistant Attorney General, DOJ [HOGR 003358-003362] (Exhibit 261).


E-mail from Kevin Carwile to Jason Weinstein (Mar. 16, 2010) [HOGR 002832] (Exhibit 262).


Melson Transcript at 76-77 (Exhibit 52).


Melson Transcript at 194 (Exhibit 52).


Memorandum to the Attorney General from Kenneth Melson, “Weekly Report for Mar. 1-5, 2010” [HOGR

003271] (Exhibit 263).


March 12, 2010.670

This briefing, given by Deputy Director Hoover, also included Gary
Grindler, then the Acting Deputy Attorney General. It was one of the monthly meetings that
ATF had with the Deputy Attorney General. Melson testified as to the purpose of these

[W]e have a monthly meeting with the DAG [Deputy Attorney General],
which is usually a half an hour to 45 minutes, and we brief him on the
issues that are coming to the top at ATF. . . so that they were not caught by
surprise if an issue pops out in the press.671

During the meeting, Hoover informed Melson and Grindler that 1,000 weapons had been sold in
conjunction with Fast and Furious, and that just a handful of straw purchases had bought most of
them. Hoover also showed them maps of Mexico and Arizona, pinpointing all the seizure
locations—some of which occurred through interdiction in the U.S., but others merely through
recovery at crime scenes in Mexico.

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