Gov't's Gun Scheme: ‘Loads of Weapons … for Criminals Was The Plan’

By Susan Jones and Terence P. Jeffrey | June 16, 2011 | 12:53 PM EDT

A fence erected by the federal government to secure the U.S.-Mexico border in San Miguel, Ariz. (AP photo/Ross D. Franklin)

( - John Dodson, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday that he was shocked when he discovered his agency was carrying out a plan specifically designed to deliver “loads of weapons” into the hands of criminals, including operatives purchasing guns for Mexican drug cartels

“This is not a matter of some weapons that had gotten away from us or allowing a few to walk so that we could follow them to a much larger, more significant target,” Dodson told the committee. “Allowing loads of weapons that we knew to be destined for criminals was the plan, this was the mandate.”

Later under questioning from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah), Dodson reiterated that ATF agents were under orders to allow criminal they had under surveillance to purchase guns and to get away with them—something Dodson said the government knew would lead to their use in multiple crimes.

"Yes. We were mandated, ‘Let these guns go,’" Dodson told the committee.

“Make no mistake,” said Dodson. “There was not a time we were out there on surveillance where we didn't have the forethought that these were going to be recovered in crimes. The next time we became aware of these guns would be when they were recovered at their final crime--not whatever crime they might have done. It was the last crime that they commit that--not they commit--but the person that has them commit that they're recovered in.

“There may be nine or 10 that the cartels have perpetrated with those firearms prior to that date, but that recovery date is when we'll learn about it,” said Dodson.

In 2009, the Obama Administration began an operation—dubbed “Fast and Furious”--under the auspices of the ATF that allowed people known to be “straw purchasers” to buy guns at licensed firearms dealers in the United States. These purchasers were not stopped and the guns were never seized from them--unless and until they were actually caught in a crime. The reported purpose of the project was to track the guns back to leaders in the Mexican drug cartels.

“This effort failed,” House Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa (R.-Calif.) said at Wednesday’s hearing.

“Over strong objection of the ATF field agents, the program continued, and approximately 2,000 AK-47s and derivatives and some 50- caliber sniper rifles and others and 10,000 or more rounds of live ammunition went into the arsenals of the Mexican drug lord,” Issa said.

In his testimony before Issa’s committee, Agent Dodson registered the dismay he felt as he was ordered to participate in an operation that he knew, and his superiors knew, was handing over guns to criminals and cartel operatives.

“When I became involved in this operation in late 2009, the ATF agents running it briefed me that the local Phoenix firearms dealers had provided them with a list of more than 40 individuals whom they believed to be purchasing guns for others--straw purchasers,” said Dodson. “Of these individuals, several were members or believed to have connections with Mexican drug cartels.”

“From the earliest days of that operation, after the briefing, I had no question that the individuals we were watching were acting as straw purchasers and that the weapons they purchased would soon be trafficked to Mexico and/or other locales along the southwest border or other places in the United States, and ultimately these firearms would be used in a violent crime,” Dodson told the committee.

“However, we did nothing to intervene,” he said. “Over the course of the next 10 months that I was involved we monitored as they purchased handguns, AK-47 variants and .50-caliber rifles, almost daily at times. Rather than conduct any enforcement actions we took notes, we recorded observations, we tracked moments of these individuals, we were wrote reports, but nothing more, knowing all the while, just days sometimes after these purchases, the guns that we saw these individuals buy would begin turning up at crime scenes in the United States and in Mexico, and yet we still did nothing.”

At one point, Dodson asked his superiors if they “were prepared to attend the funeral of a slain agent,” Dodson’s fellow agent Olindo James Casa told the committee.

“I and other field agents involved in this operation repeatedly raised these concerns with our supervisors,” Dodson testified. “In response we were told that we simply did not understand the plan.”

On December 15, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in Arizona by suspected Mexican drug cartel operatives. Two guns from Fast and Furious were found at the scene.

The committee is investigating the question of who in the administration authorized and approved the Fast and Furious program.

Citing a lecture he said he had heard delivered by Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Agent Dodson told the committee he believed the ATF had abandoned its duty to be a guard dog for Americans.

"ATF is supposed to be the guardians, the sheep dogs that protect against the wolves that prey upon us, especially along our southern border," said Dodson. "But rather than meet the wolf head on, we sharpened his teeth, added number to his claw, all the while we sat idly by watching, tracking and noting as he became a more efficient and effective predator."