Fake scandals/Fast and Furious

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"Operation Fast and Furious", or just "Fast & Furious" (F&F), was the name of an investigation run by federal ATF agents and federal prosecutors in Arizona whose purpose was to stop gun traffickers in Arizona.

The operation became low-hanging fruit for opportunistic political attack when agent Brian Terry was killed on 2010-12-14 in an attack by Mexican bandits on an elite US Border Patrol unit, leaving behind two semiautomatic rifles whose serial numbers indicated that they had been purchased 11 months earlier at a Phoenix-area gun store by a F&F suspect. It was subsequently discovered that F&F operations had allowed thousands of guns to be sold to operatives of Mexican drug gangs who then smuggled them across the border for use in the drug war.


The political Right in attempted to turn this into a scandal via the following allegations:

  • gun-walking: that the idea was to deliberately allow guns to fall into the hands of criminals in order to help to track down drug cartel leaders as part of the US government's pointless war on drugs
  • deliberate bungle: that the operation was deliberately mishandled by the administration in order to drum up support for stiffer gun control laws
  • informants: the ATF used informants to trigger strawman purchases
  • dealer coercion: the ATF coerced dealers into facilitating the illegal purchases (with threats of losing their licenses if they balked)
  • guns to criminals: the ATF allowed some 2000 firearms to fall into the hands of the drug cartels.
  • coverup: the administration and/or the ATF tried to cover up the facts


  • "Until someone can tell us otherwise, there is only one explanation for why President Obama’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gave thousands of guns to Mexican drug dealers: It put guns in their hands to strengthen liberals’ argument for gun control… Innocent people dying was the objective of Fast and Furious, not collateral damage." -- Ann Coulter, right-wingnut [1]
  • "Of course, the maneuver that they undertook yesterday just underscores something that some of us have been emphasizing since day one of this scandal over the last year and a half – and that is that Obama is at the center of it." -- Michelle Malkin, right-wingnut [2]
  • "These Democrats don't even know border patrol agent Brian Terry's name. They sit there and accused Republicans of turning this into some sort of election year game –– when it is the DoJ, it's Eric Holder and it is ultimately President Obama who is responsible for dragging this out for so long." -- ibid.


  • Given Arizona's lax gun laws and its proximity to Mexico where gun sales are illegal, it is almost inevitable that Mexican gangs would look to Arizona for guns, and that stopping them would be an almost impossible task -- and that anyone who tried would have powerful forces aligned against them on both sides of the border.
  • The gun walking hypothesis seems unlikely at best; we are not aware of any evidence supporting it, and at least some evidence against it.
    • Gun walking did in fact take place under the Bush administration during operation "Wide Receiver", with no apparent outcry from the Right.
  • It is not clear if the informants accusation suggests that the ATF did anything wrong.
  • We have not yet seen the arguments supporting the dealer coercion hypothesis.
  • The deliberate bungle hypothesis is absurd on the face of it, and also has no supporting evidence.
  • The guns to criminals hypothesis has been stipulated as true by the ATF -- but it should be noted that this is a drop in the bucket: the Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the US into Mexico.
  • F&F was part of the war on drugs, an initiative with far more support among Republicans than Democrats.
  • The coverup allegation seemed at first to have been supported by an off-the-record confidential witness, but nothing beyond hearsay has yet been provided to substantiate this.

If there is a scandal here, it is that Republicans have succeeded in tarring the Obama administration with the disastrous consequences of their own actions and policies.