Fast & Furious Case Study

An analysis of what happened during the Fast and Furious gun running operation.

Fast and Furious: The Perfect Storm of Idiocy
Regina Burgess
Spring Arbor University

Case Study: Fast and Furious: The Perfect Storm of Idiocy
      On December 15, 2010 Brian Terry, a U. S. Border Patrol agent, was killed in the line of duty, and weapons sold to Jamie Avila, Jr. January, 2010 were found at the scene. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials lit the fuse in 2006 to this tragedy when they enacted a tactical operation called Gunrunner to allow arms to be sold to alleged weapons runners and smugglers in Arizona with the purpose of interdiction to halt gunrunning activities. Guns were sold to suspected straw purchasers and allowed to walk across the border so that the gunrunners could be prosecuted. When approached with the plan, one gun dealer expressed concern saying it was “outside of the standard way he did business” (Levine, 2012, para. 6). The case is complicated in so many different facets; I will only discuss the aspect of withholding crucial information from Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials in Mexico.  Ultimately, the gunwalking and the withholding of this vital information from ATF personnel in Mexico jeopardized the safety of the personnel and United States’ relations with Mexico.
      According to findings of the congressional committee investigating Operation Fast and Furious, in the fall of 2009 ATF officials headed by Attaché Darren Gil, noticed a marked increase in guns recovered from crime scenes in Mexico which traced back to the ATF Phoenix field division. Entirely unaware of the operation, Deputy Attaché Carlos Canino was stunned at the number of Phoenix guns appearing at Mexican violent crime scenes. Gil called the Phoenix office numerous times and was never briefed on the operation by ATF in Phoenix nor from ATF headquarters in Washington, D.C.
      The congressional investigation committee found that ATF and Department of Justice (DOJ) senior officials kept not only their own personnel in Mexico, but also Mexican government officials in the dark about the operation. Information from three fronts was deliberately withheld: the tracing process, in the field, and the executive level. ATF has a suspect gun database in which they enter serial numbers of purchased guns to give agents a quick notice of guns in the system. In the tracing process, the Phoenix case agent Hope MacAllister entered more than 1,900 guns into the suspect gun database, and asked the National Tracing Center to delay the traces for guns recovered in Mexico after Gil began notifying the Phoenix office of the spike in recoveries. These holds on traces kept the ATF office and police in Mexico unaware of the origin of recovered guns. 
      ATF's Office of Strategic Information and Intelligence (OSII) in Washington, D.C. attempted to gather the fragments of information and make sense of the abundance of recovered guns in order to report up the chain of command. OSII held the first briefing on Fast and Furious on December 8, 2009 with all senior ATF officials attending. In testimony, ATF Deputy Assistant Director of OSII Steve Martin told the congressional investigation committee he tossed out several ways to track the guns with GPS or surveillance in Mexico with no response from executive staff.
      ATF Mexico Attaché Darren Gil testified he believed after 500 guns seized the field teams should have collected enough information to make some arrests. Testimony revealed DOJ was holding out for more information. Gil was deeply frustrated to be told they were afraid he and his staff would tell government officials of Mexico about the operation and then it would be leaked to the cartels. The more Gil and Dan Kumor, Gil’s boss, complained the more the ATF and DOJ senior executives praised the investigation, and the more Gil and Kumor were assured the operation would be shut down "soon" (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012, p. 32).
      Gil and his staff received complaints from the Mexican government about the Spanish E-Trace returning no information or results delayed responses; Mexico's government officials were not receiving trace information on recovered guns. This put a lot of pressure on the Mexico ATF officials by the Government of Mexico. The tracing procedures were supposed to help the interdiction process, but the Mexican officials were losing faith in the system and ATF was losing credibility. Operation Fast and Furious kept guns flowing into Mexico and arguably, unknown to Gil’s staff, was a contributor to violence in Mexico.
      Gil did not know the operation’s name until January, 2011, and he retired from the ATF never knowing the guns were being walked across the Mexican border. Deputy Attaché Carlos Canino did not find out until April, 2011; he thought the operation was going to result in numerous arrests and would be shut down in the fall of 2010, long before Brian Terry's murder according to testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee  (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012).
      Gil told congressional investigators he could not believe the ATF would let guns walk, “it was inconceivable. I didn’t want to believe it. It just – it would never happen. Everybody knows the consequences on the other end….The term ‘guns walking’ didn't exist in my vocabulary” (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012, p. 50). Deputy Attaché Carlos Canino had the same feelings. When asked if this was a normal way to conduct an investigation he said, “No. That was… in 21 years as an ATF agent… teach[ing] surveillance techniques…teach[ing] agents how to conduct field operations, never in my wildest dreams ever would I have thought that this was a technique…. It just, it is inconceivable to me…what these guys did was basically grab the ATF rule book on trafficking and threw it out the window. This is indefensible…. The ATF does not do this….it is just the perfect storm of idiocy” (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012, p. 49-50).
    This analysis is from the aspect of withholding vital information. Senior leadership believed allowing guns into Mexico’s drug cartels would facilitate proof of illegal activity and result in numerous arrests and convictions. Their values in this belief set aside the values of human life and society’s safety. The two departments’ senior leadership vacillated between interdiction of gunrunning at all costs and fear of the cartel learning of the operation Fast and Furious. Value of human life, after examining testimony, seemed inconsequential. Moral duty of never allowing a gun of any caliber out of sight or out of tracking distance was ingrained in all ATF agents through training, but senior leadership set this obligation aside in favor of catching gunrunners through straw purchases of guns which walked into Mexico fueling drug trafficking violence in cartel wars, and at least one assassination of a Mexican attorney, the brother of Mexico’s attorney general (Murphy, 2011)
      All ATF officials from the case agent including the acting director along with DOJ officials chose to set aside their duty to fellow ATF agents and officials, to the Government of Mexico and Mexican society in general by allowing the operation to continue long after more than 500 guns were recovered in Mexico.
    The guiding principle of these officials was a white-knuckled grip on their success of secrets without any regard toward fellow agents’ safety, therefore Aristotle would cry foul because there was no golden mean considered between catching bad guys and what those bad guys were doing with the guns. Kant would pound his gavel at the injustice of disloyalty to fellow ATF personnel and using them as means to an end (keeping secrets) rather than considering them as fragile lives within the crosshairs of cartel guns (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012). This was ultimately a violation of other care in the Agape model. Only after Border Patrol Brian Terry was murdered did Attorney General Eric Holder order a halt to the operation admitting it was a mistake.
     The congressional committee who investigated this case was stonewalled by not receiving all the information requested from the DOJ, namely Eric Holder the attorney general, and he was held in contempt on June 20, 2012 for failing to cooperate with the congressional investigation citing executive privilege as reason not to release the requested papers (Horowitz & O’Keefe, 2012). Therefore, loyalties lay with protecting senior leadership of both the ATF and the DOJ decisions. This is a conflict in duties. Self-interest overrode duty to the well being of professional colleagues and human life.
Judgment and Ramifications
    The decision to allow the operation to continue past the initial spike in numbers of recovered guns, and the selling of AK47s and Barrett 50 caliber guns to known straw purchasers without tracing or GPS devices led to the murder of Mexico’s attorney general’s brother (Murphy, 2011) and border patrolman Brian Terry. ATF whistleblowers have been shunned by their agency and their bosses (La Jeunesse, 2012). The total number of deaths and injuries may never be known (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012). The congressional committee found ATF allowed guns to walk. By withholding this critical information from its own personnel in Mexico, ATF jeopardized the lives of its agents, and relations between the U.S. and Mexico.
      There is no best solution to buffer the effects of this travesty. Total transparency concerning interdiction operations would not earn trust back. Not only did this decision result in an unchecked “river of iron” (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012, p. 28) across the border, but a flood of tears in both countries. Loss of life directly attributed to Fast and Furious leaves executive privilege a limp excuse to save senior leadership jobs. The ramifications of harm to relations with our neighbor, Mexico, are still unknown. As Carlos Canino stated in his testimony, “That is, I mean, this is the perfect storm of idiocy. That is the only way I could put it. This is, I mean, this is inconceivable to me. This is group think gone awry” (The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence, 2012, p. 51). The loyalty and moral duty foundation violations toward fellow ATF agents who were unknowingly at great risk of being killed by cartel agents as well as the Mexican media reports that ATF officials were corrupt, exhibit a thought process of ethical violations which deeply stained the integrity of ATF. These violations inhibit trust for ATF leadership, and have spoiled the Mexican government’s trust for the workings of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.


Horowitz, S., & O’Keefe, E. (2012, June 20). Fast and Furious: Eric Holder held in contempt. Washington Post. Retrieved from
Issa, D. E., & Grassley, C. E. (2012, July 26). The Department of Justice’s operation fast and furious: Fueling cartel violence. Joint staff report, 112th Congress. Retrieved from
La Jeunesse, W. (2012). Fast and furious whistleblower says he’s disappointed one year later. Retrieved from
Levine, M. (2012, June 25). Fast and furious documents: What do they show? Fox Retrieved from
Murphy, K. (2011, June 23). U.S. AK-47s Linked to Mexican attorney’s slaying. L.A. Times.  Retrieved from


The Shofar blast...last trump

Are you ready Church? The study in Amos this Sunday reminded me of my post on the Shofar which is the most viewed of any column I have written on I decided to research what is available now and found such a wealth of examples of the Shofar. I found this one most intriguing so I had to share!

Travel with God

In my LinkedIn group for Christian authors, a young man was asking about a how to make a living by blogging because he is so passionate about God and His creation. I find that so admirable because I prayed and prayed for God to make it possible for me to make a living by studying His word and sharing the insights that He gave me.

Well, this blog where I am typing words at least once a week is the result of that stack of prayers, but no money has come in from my unflagging, faithful writing. I even have a book that Westbow Press considered worthy to publish, but still no real income. But, there is the caveat. Income does not equal a living in God's eyes. He provides for us, but we live abundantly because of what Jesus has done and is doing even now. Needs are met. What more did God promise?

To live life abundantly means different things to different people. That is a sermon unto itself.

I wanted to share what I told this young man in part...

I completely understand. I've been praying about making a living doing what I'm so very passionate about for about 20 years now. God has slowly opened up things for me, and has made me understand that His way and His timing is best.

Probably the best thing to do would be to put on your wide-angle lens and take stock of all your skills. Just remember that Jesus adjured His disciples "as you go, make disciples...teaching them My commands..." That "as you go" means in your daily routine, as you make a living, as you meet people in your daily life.

It is crucial that you don't step out in faith without knowing which direction God would have you step out :)

Viya con Dios, my friend. Travel with God rather than asking God to travel with you! A man I admire very much said he always wanted to find out where God was working and then jump in that pool. I think I want to jump in that pool, but I also want to be sure I'm in the pool where all my gifts and talents that God has given me will be utilized, too. If not, it is a wasted effort.

It's a God thing

I pulled this from my archives because I needed this reminder that God is in complete control. I needed reminding that God intensely cares about our most mundane problems and that He will go out of His way to reassure His child that He does care.

Numerous times God has spoken to me or given me a delight for encouragement. Oh, not out loud, but in such a way I knew it was Him talking to me.

I was on my teeth-grinding drive home from Arizona after my second husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore. I was devastated and I kept wanting to turn back. God kept nudging me forward. Finally, the whole western sky was a brilliant orange and I heard plain as day, "I've got your back." That night as I lay in a hard, motel bed, I was sobbing my eyes out and crying out to God, "Why?" "What is so terribly wrong with me?" I felt Him press me into the matress, covering me with His hands, and I heard, "You are acceptable to me, beloved. You need only worry about what I say." The next day, my heart was lighter but I was still angry.

Along about Albuquerque, I was enjoying the sun on the snow. I'm a Southern Magnolia and we don't see snow much. Only often enough to know what it is when we see it. For miles and miles the pristine snow stretched out on both sides of the interstate highway. So I got a thought in my head about bringing some of that snow back to sweltering Louisiana. I didn't have a thing to put it in except a plastic bag. But, I decided to stop.

Photobucket I had no idea how rare rabbit and deer tracks on top of each other are until I started looking for an example. I found zero examples!
At the next exit, I drove down the ramp and pulled to the side of the road. Right where I stopped, there were some deer tracks angling from the north, across the road through the ditch and around the maintenance building then off into the distance. A jack rabbit had hopped directly from the east right over those tracks. What a find! I scooped up those deer tracks and rabbit tracks, putting them in the bag and tossed it into the seat next to me. Back on the road, I chuckled and then laughed out loud. God is so funny. Only God could have directed the timing of those animals and the timing of my arrival to the exact point of intersection on that day at that hour. All I had to do was glance in the seat beside me at that melted snow and I would grin. The lighter mood lasted the rest of the way home.

I stopped in Amarillo for the night. It was freezing cold and it must have snowed after I laid my head down because I had to scrape a goodly portion of ice and snow from the windshield. There's wasn't a cloud in the sky when I set out. The first flush of dawn was just a thought in the back of God's mind. 
He had done a spectacular job on the stars.

When I hit Wichita Falls and turned south, the sky was crystal and I remembered something about a green flash that happened right at the second the sun touched the horizon; the atmosphere acts like a prism for about a half-second. You can read about it here. Not many people get to see this because conditions must be exactly right so I decided to watch for it.

I saw the first rays streak across that crystal sky and it was so beautiful it took my breath away. Amazingly, there were no contrails of airplanes, just the wide sky with all kinds of blues stretching across the expanse. In the space of about a second, I glanced back at the road with a sigh because the green flash had not happened for me that morning, sipped my coffee and thanked God for the morning.

Then right at the horizon, the sky turned this brilliant emerald green, and the color flashed across the sky from east to west. I was stunned. It was one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen and it happened so quickly I could have missed it with the blink of my eyes. The sky was just like an emerald winking in bright light.

I pondered the wonder of that through Dallas and then home. God reaching down to me to give me a delight to lift my sore heart. That road trip was best thing I could have done to start the painful process of healing. It was just me and God on the road. I learned a lot about myself and about God. He absolutely does care deeply about each of us and what happens to us. He's right there every second, in total control.. like with the deer and rabbit tracks.

There in the seat was that bag of melted snow. I brought those deer tracks home to my Daddy. What a hoot that was!

"What's this?" Dad cleared his throat as he peered through the water in the bag.

"Deer tracks and rabbit tracks," I tossed at him dragging my suitcase from the back seat.

"Whaaaa--deer tracks!"

I told him what I'd done and where I'd scooped up the snow. He started laughing then and chuckled every little while then he told Mom, "I'm bringing that to church tomorrow." She just laughed, fully aware of the "Top this!" game that he and someone at church were constantly playing. They would each bring something back from a trip... some gag gift or novelty toy and give it to the other just to watch the grins and hear the chuckles from everyone. Whatever it was, it would cause a stir in folks as they tried to figure out what it was or would laugh over the saying on the thing.

On Sunday, after I got my coffee at church, I passed a clump of people peering into that bag of water and one fellow was saying, "Yeah... I think I see it. What was it again?"

It's a God thing.

Blessed are ye who weep now, for ye shall laugh Luke 6:21b