Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious.

I was in and around law enforcement for over thirty years during my working career.  Almost twenty five of those years were spent with  the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).  I have hesitated to write this piece because I know that, regardless of how well I am able to explain things, some people will not have the proper frame of reference to understand it.

I will make some disclaimers early in an attempt to decrease the size of the brush I use to paint this picture.

In every federal law enforcement entity, the working agents are as diverse as the areas of the country where they were raised, and the values taught to them by their families.  They are also varied in both the experience and basic intellect they bring to the job.

These variations are also present in the various other levels of federal law enforcement management.

Elected representatives do not necessarily possess skills in investigation or tactical police operations.

We used to put it this way, "Big cases, big problems - Little cases, little problems - No cases - no problems."

The thought process behind the statement has nothing to do with a willingness to tackle the big stuff, but has everything to do with the various levels of management that get involved as the cases get bigger.  When people who sit in offices, far removed from the actual work environment, are involved in making critical decisions, the case loses a significant essential factor.  This factor is the "window of opportunity" that presents itself in every case to obtain and act on time sensitive information.  At every juncture in the process, management insulates itself with some form of "plausible deniability".  In other words, if things go to hell in a hand basket because of their (upper level management's) failure to act in a timely manner, or their incompetence, the blame will then fall directly on the field agent.

I have been out of the field for nearly ten years now and do not possess any knowledge of the case beyond what I read, hear, or see in the media.  Therefore I am totally unqualified to make comment on the operation in Arizona.  I can however give you some guidance in making up your own mind about what might have happened.

Pay no attention to what you read, hear, or see in the media.
Pay no attention to what you read, hear, or see from the NRA.
Pay no attention to what you read, hear, or see from the U. S. Congress.
Pay no attention to what you read, hear, or see from those in the Justice Department.
Pay no attention to what you read, hear, or see from the State of Arizona.
Pay no attention to what you read, hear, or see from the Country of Mexico.

This operation is being called a "Sting Operation."  Based on my experience I cannot envision this being a sting operation.  I believe it was an "Intelligence Gathering Operation."  I believe the guns would have been sold and moved to Mexico regardless of what ATF did or didn't do.  I believe that because they had to depend on a foreign entity (a corrupt and unreliable foreign entity) for a critical half of the information hoped for, they couldn't maintain control or depend on getting trustworthy final destination information. However, because ATF did know the sources of the guns, and some of the mules who got them to and across the border, they were put in the unenviable position of being blamed if bad things happened with those guns.  I understand the frustration expressed by the field agents who report they were not allowed to act as their experience would have them act.  Delays in critical field operations almost always occur when everything has to be filtered through the endless levels of management that are present in our current day bureaucracies.

Any time you engage in an operation where you do not have complete control, you run the risk of being embarrassed by the outcome.  However, these operations are a necessary part of the enforcement picture if you ever hope to go beyond the street level bust.  In drug cases, the "Controlled Delivery" is commonplace.  The only word in the name that can be depended on is the "Delivery."  When the product is out of your custody and control, the unforeseen circumstances ratio increases exponentially.   If you are successful, you become a hero and your bosses get a lot of credit.  If bad things happen, the blame rolls downhill and lands squarely on the heads of the street agents.  The bosses above the field office level can deny any knowledge.

So, in summation, if you weren't there don't judge those who were.  Like me, you don't know what happened.  I am almost certain it didn't happen as reported.  I am certain that a huge investigation at the highest levels (Congressional) will result in nothing worthwhile.