Congress Told of Strategy Behind Fast and Furious Months Before Its Launch

Former Deputy Attorney General Laid Out Game Plan in Testimony Delivered in March 2009

The Republican-led Congressional witch-hunt to pin blame for ATF’s failed Fast and Furious operation on high-level Obama administration officials may well come full circle back to Congress itself.

Documents released by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, as part of his probe into Fast and Furious, as well as testimony provided to Congress prior to the launch of the flawed operation, all seem to indicate that the weapons-trafficking investigation was set up under a strategy pushed by former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden — who stepped down from his post in early 2010 after less than a year on the job.

In addition, Ogden actually publicly outlined the strategy that prompted Fast and Furious as part of testimony he provided to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in March 2009 — some six months prior to the launch of Fast and Furious in the fall of that year.

Fast and Furious was, according to a July 11 letter penned by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, “an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force [OCDETF] prosecutor-led strike force case” operated out of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix.

Fast and Furious has come under fire because, as part of a strategy aimed at targeting higher-ups in the weapons- and narco-trafficking business, it allegedly allowed some 2,000 or more firearms illegally purchased in the U.S. to “walk” (or be smuggled under ATF’s watch) across the border, where they helped to fuel the murder rate in Mexico, ATF whistleblowers contend.

Two of the guns linked to the Fast and Furious operation also allegedly were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot to death by Mexican border marauders in Arizona late last year. The whistleblower revelations about Fast and Furious have since sparked Congressional inquiries spearheaded by Grassley and Issa.

However, the strategy of using multi-agency OCDETF strike forces to target Mexican narco-kingpins, a plan that encompassed ATF operations like Fast and Furious as well, should have come as no surprise to Congressional leaders such as Grassley and Issa.

The Strategy Revealed

The OCDETF program is designed to target “major trafficking organizations” and is overseen by the Deputy Attorney General, according to the Department of Justice’s Web site. When Fast and Furious was launched in the fall of 2009, the Deputy Attorney General was Ogden.

Following is what Ogden told the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in testimony he provided in March 2009:

OCDETF is adding to its Strike Force capacity along the Southwest border: OCDETF is expanding the staffing of its joint interagency [including ATF] Strike Forces along the Southwest Border (in San Diego and Houston); within the last year, OCDETF has also established two new Strike Forces, one in Phoenix and one in El Paso.

… Given its statutory mission and authority, ATF is principally responsible for stopping the flow of weapons from the United States south to the cartels. Merely seizing firearms through interdiction will not, by itself, stop firearms trafficking to Mexico. ATF, in collaboration with other law enforcement entities, seeks to identify, investigate, and eliminate the sources [higher-ups] of illegally trafficked firearms and the networks for transporting them. [Emphasis added.]

The strategy outlined by Ogden in his Congressional testimony is nearly identical to the strategy outlined in an e-mail sent in October 2009  “on behalf of” Ogden to a host of DOJ officials, including the heads of the FBI, DEA and ATF (Kenneth Melson) and the U.S. Attorney in Phoenix (Dennis Burke). The subject of that e-mail was the “Southwest Border Strategy Group Meeting,” and it surfaced as part of Sen. Grassley’s investigation into Fast and Furious.

From a document attached to that e-mail, also obtained via Grassley’s investigative efforts:

The Department [of Justice] will implement its Strategy for Combating the Mexican Cartels under the supervision of the newly created Southwest Border Strategy Group.

Operationally, the strategy will be executed through the proven mechanism of prosecutor-led, multi-agency task forces, using the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) program as the primary coordinating platform.

The Department will use the [multi-agency] OCDETF Strike Force concept to target all the organized crime activities of the drug cartels — not just those crimes directly related to the drug trade. …

... Addressing the flow of weapons into Mexico from the United Sates is also a primary focus of our efforts. … Given the national scope of this issue, merely seizing firearms through interdiction [such as arresting straw buyers] will not stop firearms trafficking to Mexico. We must identify, investigate and eliminate the sources [the higher-ups] of illegally trafficked firearms and the networks that transport them. [Emphasis added.]

The strategy outlined in the document attached to the e-mail from Ogden’s office dovetails with a briefing paper prepared by the ATF Phoenix Field Division in January 2009 that discusses the tactics being used to implement the strategy. Fast and Furious was directed out of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division headquarters.

The briefing paper references an unnamed investigation already underway in which a decision is made to allow the targets to continue purchasing and trafficking weapons. Both an Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case as well as U.S. Attorney Burke in Phoenix approved that decision, according to the briefing paper:

The investigation has currently identified more than 20 individual connected straw purchasers. More suspects are being identified as the scope of he investigation expands. … To date (September 2009 – present) this group has purchased in excess of 650 firearms (mainly AK-47 variants) for which thy have paid cash totaling more than $350,000.00.

… On January 5, 2010, … GS Voth, and case agent …. met with AUSA Emory Hurley, who is the lead, federal prosecutor on this matter. Investigative and prosecution strategies were discussed and a determination was made that there was minimal evidence at this time to support any type of prosecution; therefore, additional firearms purchases should be monitored and additional evidence continued to be gathered. This investigation was briefed to United States Attorney Dennis Burke, who concurs with the assessment of his line prosecutors and fully supports the continuation of this investigation.

A joint strategy/de-confliction meeting is planned for Friday, January 15, 2010, with representatives from ICE, DEA and ATF. This investigation, as well as other ongoing investigations, will be briefed to all present.

The ATF briefing paper also makes clear that the ATF’s Phoenix field office had presented its Fast and Furious investigation game plan to OCDETF for “regional committee” approval.

“A formal OCDETF proposal is completed … in furtherance of this investigation,” the briefing paper states. “It is unknown at this time what connection exists between these [more than 20] straw-purchasers and the drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) of Mexico.

“Currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to continue to take place in order to further the investigation and allow for the identification of additional co-conspirators who would continue to operate and illegally traffic firearms to Mexican DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] which are perpetrating armed violence along the Southwest Border. ….” [Emphasis added.]

Drug War Insanity

Given Ogden, as Deputy Attorney General at the time, was charged with overseeing the OCDETF program, it is possible that he might well have been briefed by U.S. Attorney Burke, or someone else in the OCDETF line of command, concerning Fast and Furious investigative strategy.

At a minimum, it seems clear that the Fast and Furious tactic of allowing guns to be purchased and smuggled into Mexico was designed, even if seriously flawed, to snare higher-ups in the Mexican narco-trafficking organizations, which is in line with the larger DOJ Southwest Border Strategy advanced by Ogden — and which he presented to Congress in his March 2009 testimony. It would seem Congressional leaders, as part of their oversight responsibilities, had a duty at that time to question Ogden about the tactics that would be used to implement the border strategy.

Narco News contacted Ogden for comment for this story. Specifically, Ogden was asked if he was briefed about Fast and Furious prior to and during its implementation, and if he has been contacted by Congressional or DOJ investigators concerning his knowledge of the ATF program.

“I’m not gong to comment, given all the investigations going on,” Ogden said. “I’m not in a position to discuss it right now.”

Ogden became Deputy Attorney General (and the top gun of OCDETF program] on March 12, 2009. He stepped down from the post to re-enter private law practice at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., effective Feb. 4, 2010.

At the time Ogden announced his decision to leave DOJ, the Washington Post reported that a number of DOJ insiders and former officials said “the major reason for Ogden’s departure was a lack of chemistry with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and senior staff members, as well as a division of labor between the men that generally left Ogden with the nuts and bolts of the department operations.”

From the December 2009 Washington Post story:

Ogden sometimes butted heads with career lawyers and political appointees at Justice, according to the current and former department lawyers, who said no specific incident prompted his departure. While considered a brilliant lawyer, Ogden was sometimes criticized by White House officials who demanded quicker action on a financial crimes task force and other priorities, several of the sources said.

Holder and Ogden attended meetings together but had little other contact and did not socialize, the sources added. In September, Holder paused and momentarily forgot his deputy's name at a department-wide ceremony.

So it seems possible that if Ogden was in the loop about the specific tactics being employed in Fast and Furious, that he may not have shared that specific information with either Holder or the White House, which would explain why Holder has insisted he was not aware of the details of Fast and Furious until ATF whistleblowers came forward earlier this year.

Tracy Schmaler, deputy director of public affairs at DOJ, told Narco News that Attorney General Holder “referred the matter to IG [the DOJ Office of Inspector General] when he learned of ATF agents concerns” with Fast and Furious.

At a minimum, it seems Ogden, the second-highest-ranking official at DOJ when ATF’s Fast and Furious kicked off, should be a person of interest within the sweep of any investigation into the operation, yet his name has not surfaced in that light, to date, in the mainstream media coverage of the scandal.

Former DEA agent Mike Levine, who has past experience working OCDETF cases and also as a Office of Professional Responsibility (internal affairs) inspector, makes it clear, though, that affixing accountability for the failures of Fast and Furious will likely involve a wide sweep across both the executive and congressional branches of the U.S. government.

Levine writes in an e-mail to Narco News:

Please remember that ANYONE who would approve of F&F as we now know it is UNFIT to be serving in law enforcement and/or in any oversight capacity to law enforcement whatsoever.... There is no end game plan [to allowing guns to be smuggled into Mexico] because there cannot be one... The idiocy of whoever is responsible for this numb skull "plan" cannot be over or understated.

… Maybe it's my training that has put me over the top, but the fact is that if any one of the approximately 1,000 men and women who served under my command and/or whose work I inspected as an OPR inspector had even suggested such a bizarre idea [such as the gun-walking strategy employed by Fast and Furious], I would have immediately taken him off the street and put him in for a fitness for duty exam....  I just cannot believe that Congress is giving this keystone kop agency a [pass] on this without firing EVERYONE who rubber stamped it; must be that Congress too is hiding their hand in this.... The American people need someone to explain how unbelievably insane the very notion of Fast and Furious is....

It remains unclear how all of this will ultimately shake out, given all the clamor about Fast and Furious seems to be focused on scoring political points rather than fixing the problem, but regardless, expect former Deputy Attorney General Ogden’s name to surface soon in the eye of the Fast and Furious storm.

And remember, kind readers, that that the root of the problem here can be found in the prohibitionist strategy that propels and encourages the continued insanity of the drug war — a pretense in which law enforcers and official brass are rewarded with larger budgets and promotions for making headline-grabbing “kingpin” cases — even at the expense of lives, as Fast and Furious seems to bear out.

Stay tuned …

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