According to a recently released federal audit, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed a known smuggler to bring thousands of grenade parts from the U.S. into Mexico as part of a weapons smuggling operation similar to the failed Operations Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver.
The report comes from the Office of the Inspector General with the Department of Justice. Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch first reported on the audit. In September 2012 the OIG issued its report on Operations Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver. That report found those operations to be seriously flawed in several aspects, including a failure to adequately consider the risk to public safety in the U.S. and Mexico. The report stated that the failures stemmed “from a strategy of not taking overt enforcement action against individuals making unlawful firearm purchases.”
This latest report examines the ATF, the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and their failure to apprehend weapons smuggler Jean Baptiste Kingery. Agents with the ATF were monitoring Kingery since at least November 2008 all the way until his arrest by Mexican authorities in August 2011. He first came to the attention of two special agents with ATF after he was suspected of making illegal purchases of AK-47s. In December 2008 the two agents interviewed Kingery at his mother’s house in Arizona.
The ATF continued monitoring Kingery for the next year until October 2009 when they learned he was ordering components to build grenades via an online military surplus dealer. The agency allowed Kingery to place the order in the hopes that they could track the shipments to drug cartels and other criminals. Between January 26, 2010 and February 1, 2010 the ATF intercepted 100 hand grenade fuse assembles, 4000 spring kits, and 4000 safety clips. According to the audit, the ATF agents “marked” the intercepted grenade components in a manner that would allow them to be identified later. Just how exactly the agents marked the components is unknown. The document contains redacted text related to the technology that is used to track the weapons.
Undercover agents with the ATF delivered the marked grenade components to the address Kingery had specified and began 24-hour surveillance. The report notes that agents were worried that Kingery had become aware of the surveillance. At one point ” Kingery approached an ATF agent’s vehicle and knocked on its window.” Kingery apparently was so upset by the monitoring that he ” smashed all of the GPS sensors that agents had placed on his vehicle.” After six days the agents ended their surveillance, failing to catch Kingery take the grenades into Mexico.
Shortly after Kingery is stopped by the Customs and Border Patrol while attempting to enter Mexico. CBP agents find over a hundred grenade hulls and fuses, and more than 2000 rounds of ammunition hidden in a spare tire. ICE Agents and an ATF agent interview Kingery, asking him to return the following morning for an interview. The Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) Emory Hurley decides against taking action against Kingery. Eventually he is released under the auspices that he is agreeing to work with law enforcement. There does seem to be a difference of opinion on whether or not he was in fact working with the authorities. AUSA Hurley claimed Kingery was an informant yet the agents said he was not an informant but only allowed to leave because AUSA refused to file charges. Hurley is the same prosecutor who did not bring charges against suspects in the Fast and Furious scandal.
In June 2010 Kingery is stopped crossing back into the United States. Once again AUSA Hurley does not agree to charges and states that Kingery will be indicted at a later date. Kingery is released once again. It is at this point that the ATF loses track of Kingery and the grenades. Nearly two months later soldiers in Mexico detain six men with live grenades, two of which were marked in a similar fashion as the grenade components that were intercepted by the ATF in November 2009. In March 2011 Mexican soldiers recover 15 live grenades following a firefight with drug cartel members. Four of the grenades are marked in the same way.
In August 2011 Kingery was arrested by Mexican authorities for violating organized crime laws. The case was reassigned to the AUSA for the central district of California following Hurley’s failure to prosecute. The report concludes that ” Kingery was a dangerous individual” and the ATF’s failure to charge him “demonstrated an inadequate consideration of public safety.” The OIG also states that one ICE agent described the relationship between the various agencies as “horrible.” They claim that “lack of coordination” and “friction” between the agencies hindered ICE and the ATF’s investigations into Kingerey, and Operations Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver. In the end it was the ATF and ICE agents in Yuma and Phoenix themselves who “undercut and withheld information from each other”.
The failures (and possible crimes) of the ATF and this grenade-running operation has been described as a prequel to Operation Fast and Furious. In the Fast and Furious the Obama administration reportedly allowed guns to go to Mexican drug cartels in hopes of tracking them. Once again the agents lost track of the weapons until some of them began appearing at crime scenes, including the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of other innocents in Mexico.
In Summer 2012 the blame went up the chain of command as high as Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder was held in contempt by the House of Representatives after refusing to turn over records related to the Obama administration’s refusal to cooperate with Congress and false statements regarding who had knowledge of the operation. This was the first time in U.S. history a sitting Attorney General was held in contempt of Congress.
Shortly after President Obama asserted executive privilege over the records the House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed. After failed efforts through open records requests, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice on September 12, 2012. Since that time a number of documents have been released which highlight previously unknown aspects of the Fast and Furious debacle.
Most recently Sheryl Attkisson (formerly of CBS news) released documents proving that Holder had lied to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee while testifying on May 3, 2011. The documents show that Holder had received a briefing paper on Fast and Furious on June 5, 2010. Despite this, Holder testified that he, “probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”
As of this publication no government official has been charged for the failures of these operations.
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