Phoenix ATF Special Agent John Dodson’s Congressional testimony on Operation Fast & Furious
ATF Special Agent John Dodson testified at the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform on how Phoenix Group 7’s policy had allowed gun trafficking to thrive near the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Cummings, other honorable members of this committee, I thank you.
“Beginning with my military service and continuing through to this day, I’m proud to have spent nearly my entire adult life in service of this country under sworn oath to defend its constitution with my allegiance always pledged to this republic.
“I’ve spent the vast majority of my law enforcement career conducting criminal investigations, with a particular focus on those involving the trafficking of narcotics and firearms. I have been involved in countless investigations and arrests -from basic misdemeanors to complex conspiracies of international drug trafficking organizations many times as an undercover. I have made thousands of investigative stops and scores of arrests, and have testified many times in federal and state courts across this country often as a qualified expert.
“I do not appear before you as some remote observer of these events, casting a judgmental finger at the actions of others. I come, as I’ve been asked to do, bearing only my first hand account. I have not the burden of rendering judgment, determining responsibility, or holding others accountable; I yield those to this committee. The only message I hope to convey is that through this process some resolve may finally be brought to the families of Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata; that we may truly honor their service and mourn in their sacrifice.
“I hope your inquiry, and those of Sen. Grassley’s office and the Inspector General, will yield the true account for the many others on both sides of our border who have already been or will be affected by this operation.
“Furthermore, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to appear here today alongside the Terry family so that I may personally express to them my sorrow and my regret.
“Simply put, during this operation referred to as “Fast and Furious,” we – the ATF – failed to fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations: to caretake the public trust, in part to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
“When I became involved in this operation in late 2009, the ATF agents running it briefed me that the local Phoenix firearms dealers had provided them with a list of more than 40 individuals whom they believe to be purchasing guns for others – straw purchasers. Of these individuals, several were members or believed to have connections with Mexican drug cartels. Those identified straw purchasers were the initial suspects of this investigation. From the earliest days of the operation after the briefing, I had no question that the individuals we were watching were acting as straw purchasers and that the weapons they purchased would soon be trafficked to Mexico and/or other locales along the southwest border or elsewhere in the United States, and ultimately these firearms would be used in a violent crime. However, we did nothing to intervene.
“Over the course of the next 10 months that I was involved, we monitored as they purchased handguns, AK-47 variants, .50 caliber rifles almost daily at times. Rather than conduct any enforcement actions, we took notes, we recorded observations, we tracked movements of these individuals, we wrote reports but nothing more. Knowing all the while just days sometimes after these purchases the guns that we saw these individuals buy would be turning up at crime scenes in the United States or Mexico. Yet we still did nothing.
“I recall, for example, one suspect as he met with another receive a bag full of cash. That cash then proceeded to a local FFL, who conducted a transaction of firearms that we had authorized him to do. The straw purchaser then left the federal firearms dealer and met again with that third party and delivered the firearms to him. And still we did nothing.
“Although my instincts made me want to intervene and interdict those weapons, my supervisor directed me and my colleagues not to make any stop or arrest but rather to keep him under surveillance while allowing the guns to walk. Surveillance operations like these were the rules; they’re not the exceptions. This is not a matter of some weapons that had gotten away from us or allowing a few to walk so that we could follow them to a much larger or more significant target. Allowing loads of weapons that we knew would be destined for criminals was the plan. This was the mandate.
“I remember a lecture by Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, and I borrow from it now: ATF is supposed to be the guardians, the sheep dogs, that protect against the wolves that prey upon us especially along our southern border. But rather than meet the wolf head-on, we sharpened his teeth, added numbers to his claw, all the while we sat idly by watching, tracking, and noting as he became a more efficient and effective predator.
“Prior to my coming to Phoenix, I’d never been involved in or ever heard of an operation in which law enforcement officers would let guns walk. The very idea of doing so is unthinkable to most law enforcement. I and other field agents involved in this operation repeatedly raised these concerns with our supervisors. In response, we were told that we simply did not understand the plan.
“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. I hope the committee will receive a better explanation than I.
“Thank you again for the opportunity to appear here today before you, and I look forward to answering any questions that any of you may have.”
- Committee on Government Oversight & Reform: Written testimony submitted by ATF Special Agent John Dodson (PDF)
- Committee on Oversight & Government Reform: The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast & Furious: Accounts of ATF Agents joint staff report released June 14, 2011 (PDF)
- Customs & Border Patrol: In remembrance of Brian A. Terry, Border Patrol Agent
- WhatTheFolly.com: Congressional testimony of Robert Heyer on the ATF’s Operation Fast & Furious