What do you think should happen to those responsible for a secret plan to obtain high-powered guns from U.S. firearms dealers and furnish the weapons to Mexican drug cartels for the express purpose of killing or injuring innocent people?

Hideous, right? A horrendous plot by despicable people to violate U.S. laws in a conspiracy that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, right?

Now, what if it already has been conceived and carried out and actually has been linked to the deaths of at least one prominent Mexican lawyer and a U.S. Border Patrol agent?

Even worse, right?

Now, what if you found out it was an agency of the U.S. government that did it?

And, to finish off this list of horrors, what if the agency responsible was the specific one charged with enforcing our firearms laws — the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE)?

Well, it is. And that’s what’s driving Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, aided by Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., and his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to conduct a full-fledged investigation of what our government called “Operation Fast and Furious.”

Also known by the nickname “Project Gunwalker,” the plan ran from 2009 until the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in a shootout last Dec. 15. A gun found at the scene was on the plan’s tracking list.

Gunwalker was designed to identify gun smugglers and link them to illegal gun purchases in the United States.

However, these specific purchases, which involved somewhere between 1,700 and 2,000 semi-automatic rifles and pistols, were directed by the government with the (apparently forced) cooperation of U.S. firearms dealers, whose licenses to do business are controlled by the BATFE.

USAToday reported last week that Agent John Dodson, testifying to the committee, said that in his entire career, he had “never been involved in or even heard of an operation in which law enforcement officers let guns walk.”

He continued: “I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest.”

The paper quoted Agent Pete Forcelli, a supervisor in the Phoenix BATFE office, as saying, “What we have here is a colossal failure of leadership. We weren’t giving guns to people for killing bear, we were giving guns to people to kill other humans. This was a catastrophic disaster.”

The paper also quoted Forcelli, Dodson and BATFE agent Olindo Casa as saying they repeatedly raised concerns to their bosses about the risks associated with Fast and Furious, which was named after a movie in which a civilian drag racer cooperates with the FBI in a sting operation. But, they told Issa’s committee, their warnings were dismissed.

And once the guns crossed over into Mexico, BATFE had no way of tracking them unless and until they were found at a crime scene.

That is, these weapons were apparently furnished to known gun-runners in violation of U.S. law for the explicit purpose of being used in a crime, so that a follow-up investigation could disclose their paths from the dealer to the crime scene.

That’s how the weapon found at the scene of Agent Terry’s murder was identified (the specific weapon that killed him has not been recovered, but it certainly could have been a Gunwalker firearm).

The Justice Department says Attorney General Eric Holder was “unaware” of the plan, which if true makes him totally out of touch, and if false is an indictment of his leadership.

Grassley and Issa said the operation was a failure, netting only 20 low-level suspects.

“Who thought it was a good idea?” Grassley said. “Why did this happen? The president said he didn’t authorize it and that the attorney general didn’t authorize it. They have both admitted that a ‘serious mistake’ may have been made. There are a lot of questions and a lot of investigating to do. But one thing has become clear already — this was no mistake.”

Indeed, Issa said top BATFE officials in Washington were briefed weekly on the program.

Justice says it is conducting its own investigation, but with the department so compromised, a special investigator with no ties to the government should be appointed.

Finally, the conservative blogosphere sees a deeper agenda that is worth mentioning. For some time now, Holder and the Obama administration, right up to the president himself, have been linking U.S. gun dealers to illegal sales to Mexican cartels.

President Obama has claimed that “90 percent” of cartel guns seized by Mexican authorities are linked to U.S. dealers.

However, those assertions have been countered by firearms rights advocates, who point out that percentage only applies to the small minority of guns captured from the cartels that can be traced.

Fully automatic machine guns and antitank rockets (which are illegal to sell in the United States) used by the cartels likely come from international arms dealers, while other weapons, including some U.S. guns, are from Mexican military deserters who have joined the gangs in large numbers.

According to Bill McMahon, a BATFE deputy assistant director cited in Investor’s Business Daily, the quantity of non-military U.S. weapons found in cartel hands is 8 percent, not 90.

Given the obvious distortion, these sources wonder if Gunwalker didn’t also have the goal of driving up the number of weapons traced to U.S. sources to help push the administration’s anti-gun agenda.

It’s hard to believe our law enforcement officials would lie to support a political scheme.

However, it’s also almost impossible to believe they would give guns to drug gangs.

But they did.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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