No, not the guy made famous by movies about street racing who apparently got quick-fried to a crackly crunch while (what else?) street racing. (If he writes anything now, it’s a neat trick). But one of the ATF street agents trapped in the senseless chaos of Phoenix Group VII, which deliberately ran guns to Mexican cartels, with the approval of the highest levels in the Department of Justice.
There are some new revelations in John Dodson’s book, The Unarmed Truth. For example, even the guns that weren’t bought for the cartels by the ATF were apparently bought by the FBI. At the time, Dodson and Olindo “Lee” Casa, among other field agents, had no idea how the investigation could possibly end well. From an excerpt in the New York Post:
‘It’s like the underwear gnomes,” my ATF colleague Lee Casa told me one time as we recounted the latest bizarre goings-on in Phoenix.
“What?” I asked.
“You ever watch ‘South Park’? There’s this episode where all the boys get their underwear stolen by these underwear gnomes. They track them down to get it back and one of them asks why they are stealing everyone’s underwear. The gnomes break out this PowerPoint and reveal their master plan: Phase One: Collect underpants . . . Phase Two: ? . . . Phase Three: Profit.”
“We’re doing the same thing,” he explained. “We know Phase One is ‘Walk guns’ and Phase Three is ‘Take down a big cartel!’ ”
Both of us were laughing now; a more fitting and appropriate allegory could never be found. Casa concluded, “Just nobody can figure out what the fuck Phase Two is!”
The Underpants Gnomes episode was a prescient look at the ill-starred internet bubble that would soon produce such spectacular craters as Pets.com and DrKoop.com. It wasn’t a model for a criminal investigation into gun smuggling.
While many intelligent observers think that the DOJ and ATF mangers’ intent must have been to increase the number of US guns turning up at Mexican murder scenes, in order to justify gun control laws sought by political appointees at DOJ and politicized managers at ATF, there’s no smoking gun (pun bitterly intended) that suggests such a master plan was in effect. It might have been, but reading Dodson’s words, one gets the idea that it just might have been staggering, Underpants Gnome-level incompetence.
Supervisory Special Agent Hope McAllister features as a veritable Beethoven of resonating, symphonic incompetence. (Others, elsewhere, have remarked upon her extremely unpleasant disposition, which earned her the ironic nickname “Sunshine Bear.”) Here’s one example:
If the purpose of the case is to stop firearms trafficking, then you interdict this load and shut the group down. If the purpose was to get evidence on Acosta, DEA had just provided all that was needed to catch him in the act. If the purpose was to do a wire, DEA was already up on one and intercepting Acosta’s calls on the other end. If the purpose was to take down a cartel, DEA had just given us the chance to jump one rung of the ladder higher than Acosta before we ever even got up and running.
However, four days later, on Dec. 19, 2009, when DEA called with more information about the pending weapons transfer, Hope outrageously told them that we were too short on bodies because of Christmas to staff a surveillance team and so we wouldn’t be covering it.
DEA later learned through their case that the delivery had in fact taken place, just as their sources said it would, in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 22. Thirty-two more guns to the cartels.
Later, after reluctantly accepting Dodson’s suggestion to plant a GPS tracker in a cartel-bound AK-47 variant, McAllister and other ATF leaders told the following agents to:
…keep a loose surveillance; no need to risk heating them up — to let the GPS tracker do its job.
“Seventeen South,” Hope said over the radio as she relayed the information she was getting over the phone. “Still southbound— Passing Camelback Road.”
When McAllister lost the GPS tracker, her only hope (no pun intended) was that someone had disobeyed her instructions and followed the suspect vehicle closely. After eleven minutes of no tracker, she had to ask.
Hope’s voice came out over the radio, “Does anyone have eyes on the vehicle?”
Shaking my head, I thought, You told us to stay back so we couldn’t be seen; if it can’t see us — we probably can’t see it.
Someone answered, “Negative.”
After a brief pause, the radio crackled again as Hope’s voice broke the static: “We’ve lost the tracker. It may have went down or gone somewhere where the signal can’t get out.”
Dodson tried to find the suspect vehicle in an area of garages and industrial buildings, but with an eleven-minute lead, he was unsurprisingly unsuccessful. The guns from the shipment have begun turning up, though — mostly at the scenes of law enforcement agents’ murders, here and in Mexico.
While the snippets above are from the New York Post’s excerpt, we have the book and will probably find something of value in it. If so, we’ll share. If you want your own copy, Amazon can get it to you fast (instantly, if you’ll take a Kindle copy).
Previous research in the case tells us that the cartels are remarkably ill-informed gun buyers: they seem to favor AKs, and in particular AK pistols, weapons that are strongly biased towards firepower versus accuracy. Indeed, they seem to like the very cheapest and cheesiest AK clones, the ones made by Century International in Georgia, Vermont, from clapped-out European satellite parts kits and crudely-formed receivers.
As an American, you’d like to think that heads rolled when this investigation was exposed, regardless of whether it was criminal in nature or just criminally stupid. But instead, the case became a partisan political football, with Republicans grandstanding against the ATF, and Democrats suggesting that the tree of liberty needs to be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Border Patrol Agents. Ultimately, no one at ATF was held responsible. The US Attorney involved, Dennis K. Burke, who came from a gun control lobbying organization (and has since returned to another), resigned after one of the guns he sent to the cartels was used to murder Border Partrol agent Brian Terry; the acting head of the ATF returned to his former job, and retired, as he had long planned to do; and various whistleblowers who spoke to the press or Congressional investigators, including Dodson and Casa, were punished.
The ATF managers who planned and carried out the cartel-arming project were all promoted. One was allowed to draw his ATF pay for over six months while working full time for an administration-connected bank in a foreign country — a dispensation not normally allowed disgraced Feds.
But there’s no smoking gun, in paperwork terms.
Someone, maybe a cop or prosecutor, will get killed this weekend in Mexico with a Fast & Furious gun — supplied with ATF approval, and paid for with FBI money. And every weekend for years to come. That’s the other kind of smoking gun, and it’s how you climb the career ladder at ATF.