Project Bombwalker? Were grenade/IED components allowed to ‘walk’ to cartels?
Senator Charles Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa were sent a letter last Wednesday by Luciano Cerasi, Associate General Counsel, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, detailing allegations of whistleblower retaliations against Peter J. Forcelli, Group Supervisor, ATF, by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona and the Department of Justice Office of Deputy Attorney General as a result of testimony he gave on June 15. Forcelli was one of the individuals who appeared before the second House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing into “Project Gunwalker,” where he testified “I believe that these firearms will continue to turn up at crime scenes, on both sides of the border, for years to come.”
This fear was corroborated in another letter sent Wednesday from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he acknowledged “ATF advises that, as of August 16, 2011, it has identified twenty-one additional firearms associated with Operation Fast and Furious that were recovered in Mexico and reportedly were associated with violent crimes.”
Included in Forcelli’s June testimony were several serious allegations regarding the conduct and decisions of Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, author of a memo reported last Thursday in this column advising then-U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis Burke, of the link between alleged straw purchaser Jaime Avila and guns found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. These departures from “the most basic law enforcement techniques” by AUSA Hurley were referenced in a joint letter issued last Thursday by Sen. Grassley and Rep. Issa.
Citing prior good professional relations with AUSA Hurley and others, including former Phoenix Special Agent in Charge William Newell and former Supervisor David Voth, Forcelli saw things change during his testimony when Patrick Cunningham of the USAO Arizona accused him of being untruthful in regards to AUSA Hurley.
“It now appears…that an [sic] pattern of conduct has emerged to attack GS Forcelli’s credibility,” Cerasi continued in his letter, narrating details of a case involving grenade components, portions of which have been classified “secret.” As per the letter, “…Forcelli was against the ‘secret’ classification of portions of the case because he believed that it would appear that it was being so classified to prevent oversight as part of the “Fast and Furious” inquiry.
Here was the set-up:
“[I]nvestigators focused on a delivery of inert grenade hulls which occurred in November 2009. These hulls were intercepted and marked by ATF, for the purpose of identifying whether or not the suspect was, in fact, making IEDs. In this instance, the USAO had indicated that ATF should not allow the suspect to export the items even though the USAO would not prosecute the suspect if he was caught exporting them [emphasis in original]…The USAO had made it clear that it would not prosecute the case as an export violation.”
True, inert grenade hulls are not prohibited by federal law (state laws vary), oftentimes being used to make novelty items. Curiously, doing just that was one of the factors ATF used to justify its raid on the Branch Davidians at Waco. Still, the use of improvised grenades in Mexican cartel violence is widely known by law enforcement, and exporting hulls without approvals is illegal ( See: International Traffic in Arms Regulations,22 C.F.R. Chapter I, Subchapter M, Parts 120-130, “Category IV … *(a) … grenades … .(h) All specifically designed or modified components, parts, accessories, attachments, and associated equipment for the articles in this category.”)
And here was the delivery:
“In January of 2010, a controlled delivery was conducted. The delivery consisted of other components, which were marked in the event they were able to be interdicted at the border. By this time, ATF had developed information that indicated that the subject was, in fact, transporting the items to Mexico, and ATF believed that he was using the items in the manufacture if IEDs. Since the USAO had indicated that they would not prosecute the subject for an export violation, a plan was enacted which would allow assets from the Government of Mexico to conduct an interdiction and prosecute the case. This plan was discussed and given approval from the U.S. Attorney himself. However, after GS Forcelli’s testimony before Congress, he received a phone call from Michael Morrisey who advised him that his office’s position was that the USAO never authorized ATF to conduct a cross-border operation where grenade components crossed into Mexico. GS Forcelli, in turn, advised Mr. Morrissey of U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke’s e-mail authorizing said operation. Mr. Morrisey seemed surprised. It troubles GS Forcelli that a package was forwarded to the DAG’s Office summarizing this case which included a copy of a related e-mail but which left Mr. Burke’s authorizing e-mail out [emphasis added].”
With recent headlines like “At least 53 killed in Mexico grenade attack,” and noting allegations of U.S. government involvement with cartels and gunwalking leading to speculation about how clandestine U.S. Mexican policy relates to the casino attack, operations involving the illegal export of grenade components with DOJ cognizance demands the highest level of scrutiny, including determining who knew, including other departments and agencies, officials in the administration and the Mexican government, and even internally to ATF, such as the attaché to Mexico.
Still, if one wishes to make an omelet, IEDs certainly will scramble those huevos.
- Grenades Case Hits Justice (Wall Street Journal)
- Phoenix Fast and Furious Improvised Mexican Grenade Case Blows Up in DOJ’s Face. Trying to deflect blame, DOJ blames agents. (Sipsey Street Irregulars)
- Cerasi letter (pdf file)
- A Journalist’s Guide to ‘Project Gunwalker’ Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five for a complete list with links of independent investigative reporting and commentary done to date by Sipsey Street Irregulars and Gun Rights Examiner.
Note to newcomers to this story: “Project Gunrunner” is the name ATF assigned to its Southwest Border Initiative to interdict gun smuggling to Mexico. “Project Gunwalker” is the name I assigned to the scandal after allegations by agents that monitored guns were allowed to fall into criminal hands on both sides of the border through a surveillance process termed “walking” surfaced.
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