ATF Talking Point: Terry’s Death ‘Exact Reason Why We Must Continue’
The ATF's public relations hoped to use Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's death in Operation Fast and Furious to promote the bureau's work, a newly released document shows.
Senator Chuck Grassley and House oversight chairman Rep. Darrell Issa sent a letter Friday to the Inspector General at the Department of Justice. The focus of the letter is the potential for retaliation toward two Fast and Furious whistleblowers, but in the course of expressing their concerns, Grassley and Issa reference ATF talking points about the death of Agent Brian Terry. At least one of the talking points seems designed to capitalize on Terry's death as a reason to further the very investigation which put a weapon in the hands of his murderer.
The document, which is added as an attachment to the Grassley/Issa letter, is dated 1/12/11. It is stamped with the ATF official seal and contains a warning in the header "Not for Public Dissemination/For Internal Use Only." It shows that the ATF was concerned about the appearance of the gun walking operation and especially its connection to Agent Terry's murder. The memo offers sample questions which reporters might ask, including:
Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was shot and killed after he and his team encountered several suspects near Rio Rico, Ariz. At least four suspects are in custody while one is still being pursued. Was a gun trafficked in this case used in the murder?
We understand that a firearm bought in connection with this ATF investigation was used to murder Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. Can you please comment on this information?
To these sample questions the ATF provided four possible responses:
ANSWER: The death of Agent Terry in tragic and is a sad and dark day for all of law enforcement. We've lost one of our own. This is another example of the dangers faced by law enforcement every day across this country when pursuing these violent criminals.
ANSWER: Agent Terry's death is the exact reason why we must continue going after those who are determined to destroy the lives of so many innocent individuals in our communities by plying their illicit trade. For those who would say it is Mexico's problem, I say Agent Terry's death and all of those who have perished because of this violence prove that this challenge belongs to everyone.
ANSWER: The investigation into the murder of Agent Terry is active and ongoing. ATF has pledged its support and resources to bring to justice the perpetrators who are guilty of that crime. I won't say anything here today to jeopardize that investigation or the subsequent prosecution of those responsible for this terrible crime.
ANSWER: The murder of Agent Terry is a tragic loss that has been felt throughout the United States and underscores the dangers that law enforcement officers face every day. As the investigation continues into this heinous crime, our hearts go out to Agent Terry's family and his fellow Border Patrol Agents who continue to risk their lives to protect the citizens of our great Country.
The second answer above says Agent Terry's death is a "the exact reason" to support the ATF's gun trafficking operations. But the Grassley/Issa letter reveals that the real motivation for the talking points was an email sent by Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix field office to Scot Thomasson, Chief of the ATF's Public Affairs Division. The email dated January 11th reads, "Just heard Melson's coming for the Fast/Furious press conf on the 25th. I hope he realizes how politically charged Arizona is right now especially regarding gun issues, was that way even before the Tucson shooting." The "Tucson shooting" is a reference to the January 8th shooting spree by Jared Loughner which left six dead and more than a dozen injured including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Putting a proper public face on Agent Terry's death is an effort the ATF began even before the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious. Given the months of stonewalling over claims DOJ was ignorant of the tactics used in the case and the more recent claims of executive privilege over documents related to the stonewalling, it's fair to say that effort is ongoing.