A Philosopher's Blog

Perhaps Too Furious?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 29, 2012
Deutsch: the fast and the furious logo

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The narrative at Fox News is that the Fast & Furious incident is Obama’s Watergate (of course, Obama has had at least three other Watergate events by Fox’s count). One problem with the way Fox describes this event is that classifying it as being on par with Watergate is hyperbole, a standard tactic at Fox (and MSNBC). In addition to the concern about the fact that such rhetoric is misleading, there is also the practical concern: what will Fox use as a point of comparison if Obama does something really bad? However, my main concern here is not to discuss Fox, but to consider whether or not the Fast and Furious scandal has been accurately presented.

In many ways, this sort of consideration is a foolish waste of time. After all, the narrative of this scandal has largely been written and the “facts” are mostly cemented in the public mind. Anything that deviates from the narrative will tend to be rejected by those who embrace the narrative and, in fact, will merely encourage them to cling more strongly to the narrative. Those who are willing to change their views in the face of new information will tend to be cast as merely following their ideology by those who are following their own ideology. As such, it is tempting to despair of ever discussing anything that might deviate from the narrative.

However, part of being a philosopher is considering that the accepted narrative might not be accurate and having a willingness to take into account new information. In the case of Fast and Furious, Fortune conducted an extensive investigation that appears to reveal facts contrary to the current political narrative. I must, of course, admit that I have largely accepted the erroneous narrative-primarily because this additional information was only recently made available.

As per the original narrative, guns purchased under ATF surveillance  ended up in the possession of criminals. However, Fortune’s investigation provides evidence that the ATF did not purposely allow guns to be trafficked illegally. In fact, it is claimed that the ATF attempted to seize weapons but it was, ironically, handicapped in its efforts by prosecutors and the existing laws covering firearms. Fortune’s investigation also reveals that the claims against the ATF include distortions, errors, partial truths and lies.

The Fortune investigation also covers the process of how right-wing bloggers and CBS escalated the story and then how Representative Issa and others used it to score political points. Interestingly, it is claimed that Obama basically yielded on this matter do as to avoid getting into a rhetorical battle about gun control (which is denied by the administration).

If these claims are true, then the accepted narrative being spun out in the media is flawed and does an injustice to the ATF and those involved. Given the general credibility of Fortune, it is worth taking the investigation seriously and this should impact the assessment of the situation. It should also serve as yet another lesson of the importance of being critical of the facts and being willing to consider new information.

If the Fortune investigation is accurate, then this makes Obama’s choice to use executive privilege even more interesting. After all, if the claims made about the ATF are accurate, then the ATF was trying to do as well as it could within the context of the existing laws and practices. That is, the ATF has been wronged by the erroneous judgments against it-including those I myself made. As such, the administration could have responded by asserting the facts and thus countered the scandal without resorting to executive privilege. After all, there would be nothing to hide.

However, the Fortune investigation does suggest why the Obama administration would have something to hide: perhaps there were discussions about how to handle this matter without getting caught up in the said rhetorical battle over gun control. After all, while Obama has only expanded gun rights, some folks have very strong beliefs that Obama is just biding his time and is waiting to attack gun rights (despite a total lack of evidence for these beliefs). As such, Obama probably wants to avoid getting tangled up in this rhetoric. If so, it is ironic that the use of executive privilege is taken as evidence that Obama is trying to hide something, perhaps some sort of conspiracy to infringe on gun rights.

Of course, it is not impossible that the administration did discuss how the existing gun laws would need to be changed to address the easy flow of arms from the US to Mexico. Such talk would, of course, be presented as attempts to infringe on gun rights. This also shows the challenge Obama faces in regards to this flow of guns. One the one horn, attempts to seriously address the problem will be seen as attempts to infringe on gun right and no doubt strongly opposed by the right. On the other horn, using weaker methods will have little or no impact and will result in condemnation from the right for failing to address the problem. In short, Obama (and the next President) would seem to be in a no win situation: anything he does to seriously address the problem would get him bashed as anti-gun and feed the conspiracy theories. Doing nothing serious about the problem gets him bashed as being weak on this matter.  Bush also faced the problem of this easy flow of guns and was not able to solve it. Obviously, whoever gets elected in 2012 will still face this problem and the challenge of solving the problem without being bashed as anti-gun.

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9 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on June 29, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Two questions not answered by the Fortune “investigation.”

    1) Were US taxpayer dollars used to purchase weapons?

    2) Were some or all of the “straw buyers” actually working undercover for the ATF?

    • Anonymous said, on June 29, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Not sure how much those two questions really matter. I’m sure if those two questions were answered you’d complain that two other things weren’t answered.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on June 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

    OK. Here it is:

    On June 1, Dodson used $2,500 in ATF funds to purchase six AK Draco pistols from local gun dealers, and gave these to Fernandez, who reimbursed him and gave him $700 for his efforts. Two days later, according to case records, Dodson—who would later testify that in his previous experience, “if even one [gun] got away from us, nobody went home until we found it”—left on a scheduled vacation without interdicting the guns. That day, Voth wrote to remind him that money collected as evidence needed to be vouchered within five days. Dodson e-mailed back, his sarcasm fully restored: “Do the orders define a ‘day’? Is it; a calendar day? A business day or work day….? An Earth day (because a day on Venus takes 243 Earth days which would mean that I have plenty of time)?”

    The guns were never recovered, the case was later closed, and Fernandez was never charged. By any definition, it was gun walking of the most egregious sort: a government agent using taxpayer money to deliver guns to bad guys and then failing to intercept them.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      This Dodson?

      Ten weeks later, an ATF agent named John Dodson, whom Voth had supervised, made startling allegations on the CBS Evening News. He charged that his supervisors had intentionally allowed American firearms to be trafficked—a tactic known as “walking guns”—to Mexican drug cartels. Dodson claimed that supervisors repeatedly ordered him not to seize weapons because they wanted to track the guns into the hands of criminal ringleaders. The program showed internal e-mails from Voth, which purportedly revealed agents locked in a dispute over the deadly strategy. The guns permitted to flow to criminals, the program charged, played a role in Terry’s death.

      Voth remained even-tempered but did take a stand after one incident. Alt taped to Voth’s door an eight-point takedown of agent MacAllister, sarcastically stating that she was in charge of everything. Voth reported the note to an ATF attorney, and Alt apologized. It’s unclear what drove the men’s anger, but it seems unlikely that it was caused by disagreements over alleged gun walking.

      How is it possible to deduce that? Because Dodson then proceeded to walk guns intentionally, with Casa and Alt’s help. On April 13, 2010, one month after Voth wrote his schism e-mail, Dodson opened a case into a suspected gun trafficker named Isaiah Fernandez. He had gotten Casa to approve the case when Voth was on leave. Dodson had directed a cooperating straw purchaser to give three guns to Fernandez and had taped their conversations without a prosecutor’s approval.

      Voth first learned these details a month into the case. He demanded that Dodson meet with him and get approval from prosecutors to tape conversations. Five days later, Dodson sent an uncharacteristically diplomatic response. (He and Alt had revised repeated drafts in that time, with Alt pushing to make the reply “less abrasive.” Dodson e-mailed back: “Less abrasive? I felt sick from kissing all that ass as it was.”) Dodson wrote that he succeeded in posing undercover as a straw purchaser and claimed that prosecutor Hurley—who he had just belatedly contacted—had raised “new concerns.” The prosecutor had told Dodson that an assistant U.S. Attorney “won’t be able to approve of letting firearms ‘walk’ in furtherance of your investigation without first briefing the U.S. Attorney and Criminal Chief.”

      It was the first time Voth learned that Dodson intended to walk guns. Voth says he refused to approve the plan and instead consulted his supervisor, who asked for a proposal from Dodson in writing. Dodson then drafted one, which Voth forwarded to his supervisor, who approved it on May 28.


      • T. J. Babson said, on June 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm

        The Fortune article tends to clear Voth, but I don’t see how it changes the narrative regarding the ATF. After all, Voth’s supervisor approved the plan:

        Voth says he refused to approve the plan and instead consulted his supervisor, who asked for a proposal from Dodson in writing. Dodson then drafted one, which Voth forwarded to his supervisor, who approved it on May 28.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm

          If the details are accurate, then the narrative does change in some important ways, such as the nature of the gun walking and how it came about. After all, the old narrative seemed to be that the ATF was suffering from widespread problems and policy defects. Fortune’s narrative seems to be that Dodson was the primary cause of the problems. As such, the story morphs from a defective agency to a problem agent. This is still a problem, but a different one.

          But, of course, we must still wonder what is being hidden by EP. Is it merely a case of the president using it legitimately or is there something rather bad hiding behind that shield?

  3. magus71 said, on June 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm


    Wouldn’t many of these questions have been answered had Holder cooperated with Congress? isn’t this why Congress wanted the stacks of papers, so they had more than bloggers on which to lean for facts? But the story was blown out of the water by bloggers? You’ll believe anything Mike. Especially when “right-wing” bloggers are to blame.

    I can’t help but notice how quickly you accepted another narrative when it seems to suit your politics, but are incredibly stubborn when it does not. In fact, when it suits your politics, you’re quite credulous.

    Here’s Becca Watkins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform spokeswoman,speaking about the Fortune article:

    “Fortune’s story is a fantasy made up almost entirely from the accounts of individuals involved in the reckless tactics that took place in Operation Fast and Furious. It contains factual errors – including the false statement that Chairman Issa has called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation – and multiple distortions. It also hides critical information from readers – including a report in the Wall Street Journal – indicating that its primary sources may be facing criminal charges. Congressional staff gave Fortune Magazine numerous examples of false statements made by the story’s primary source and the magazine did not dispute this information. It did not, however, explain this material to its readers. The one point of agreement the Committee has with this story is its emphasis on the role Justice Department prosecutors, not just ATF agents, played in guns being transferred to drug cartels in Mexico. The allegations made in the story have been examined and rejected by congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the Justice Department.”

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 30, 2012 at 11:42 am

      I did argue that Holder should have cooperated with Congress. I’ve never been a fan of executive privilege and worry that it gets used to hide inconvenient or harmful truths.

      The Fortune investigation does give us more information, which can be useful in sorting things out. Unfortunately, we do not have all the relevant facts. As you note, there seem to be documents that will be kept secret and since we do not know what is in them, we can only speculate.

      How do we know that Becca Watkins is right in those claims? After all, if we reject the Fortune claims in favor of Watkins’ claims, we need to have some good reasons to think that Watkins has it right and Fortune has it wrong.

      I do agree that there is something serious going on here and that it is bad for the administration. However, some key facts seems to be in contention and there are, as has been noted, interested parties making conflicting claims.

      Obviously I won’t believe anything. My point was that there seems to be a narrative that is different from the one being presented by the folks going after the administration. Now there seem to be a few narratives, with people apparently lining up along party lines.

      My main concern is with what is actually true: what really happened?

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on July 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    The US Gov’t has had a deal with the Sinaloa cartel since the Bush II days. This has nothing to do with Holder or Obama. Google the Zambada case. Fast and furious was business as usual (weapons out, drug in) since long before Holder.

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