MEXICO CITY -The inquiry into "Fast and Furious," the horrendously terrible U.S.-sponsored, anti-drug operation that spun out of control, could become all about political spin if the inquiry stays on the partisan track.
"Fast and Furious" was the name given to an ill-conceived operation by Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operatives to make guns available to Mexican organized crime. That way, the feds thought, they could find out who was using stooges to do their gun-running. But the agency allegedly let questionable buys from legitimate gun dealers slip by and then lost control of the weapons identification and tracking.
The operation is believed to have allowed Sinaloa Cartel members to buy more than 1,900 weapons with about $1.25 million over about 15 months until January 2011. ATF is said to have recovered only 10 percent of the weapons.
Mexican authorities have reacted in furious disbelief. "To date, United States authorities has not informed us about the failed operation, nor apologized for it," Marisela Morales, who heads the Mexican federal prosecutors' agency, told the Los Angeles Times. Mexico is owed an explanation, she said.
"In no way have we permitted it," she added, "because that would be an attack on the security of Mexicans."
The head of ATF operations in Mexico, Carlos Canino, testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in July that "at no time ever did I know that ATF agents were following known (or) suspected gun traffickers." So it seems ATF wasn't even telling its own agents.
A further tragedy could be in the making if the on-going inquiry fails to ask hard questions. One of them is how many people in both the United States and Mexico have been killed, injured and in other ways harmed as a consequence of "Fast and Furious.'' This is a very delicate matter because of consequent criminal and civil liabilities on both sides of the border.
There is no place for glee, making special-interest points, or hyperbole in something this serious. It started looking like that when National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, accused U.S. Attorney Eric Holder of stonewalling. "This is the biggest cover-up since Watergate." LaPierre has called for an independent prosecutor.
The inquiry could take a greater partisan cast now that the investigating House committee has requested documents and notes from White House staffers Kevin Reilly, Dan Restrepo, and Greg Gatjanis.
On Sept. 23, House Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, called for a new inquiry into any knowledge Attorney General Eric Holder might have had of the ill-conceived plan. A resignation at ATF and recent personnel changes, Smith told Holder in a letter, looks like trying to "pin this scandal on a few individuals and expect it to be forgotten."
But Smith appears to be stepping forward now that Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the investigating committee, is facing an ethics complaint. The California Republican is accused by American Family Voices of using his position as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for personal gain. He is alleged to have pressured the SEC to halt a Goldman Sachs investigation after he bought a huge stake in one of Goldman's high-yield mutual funds, according to The Hill.
A spokesman for Issa claimed the complaint is an effort orchestrated by the White House.
An in-depth, connect-the-dots inquiry into "Fast and Furious'' is needed, asking not only embarrassing bureaucratic questions but the transnational ones about how much mayhem, injury and death has taken place because of the operation. Maybe a U.S.-Mexico inter-parliamentary inquest (televised live, like Watergate) might be the answer.
It would help LaPierre to remember, if he has forgotten, that Watergate started as a simple break-in investigation. The cover-up was what sent a president packing.
Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org