On December 14, 2010, Border Patrol Agents William Castano, Timothy Keller, Gabriel Fragoza, and Brian Terry were patrolling the Peck Canyon region of Santa Cruz County, Arizona, some eleven miles from the Mexican border. The Border Patrol team had been in the field for two days pursuing a rip crew.
Rip crew is the term applied to groups of heavily armed criminals who roam the border scrub preying on illegal immigrants and marijuana smugglers. They are themselves typically associated with rival drug cartels. These bloodthirsty mobs of narco-terrorists are legendarily ruthless.
Upon contact, the Border Patrol team deployed nonlethal beanbag rounds. The Mexican killers were not constrained by rules of engagement, so they responded with Kalashnikov rifles. One of the criminals was hit in the subsequent firefight and apprehended at the scene. Agent Terry caught a 7.62x39mm round to the pelvis. Terry was medevac’d to an area hospital but succumbed the following morning. He was forty years old.
Brian Terry was a sheepdog. He was a Marine veteran who had served as a uniformed police officer in Lincoln Park, Michigan, before assessing into the Border Patrol. His entire adult life was defined by service to his country. On the night he was murdered, Agent Terry was taking down bad guys indirectly armed by the US government.
When the dust settled two Romanian Cugir WASR 10/63 semiautomatic Kalashnikov rifles were recovered. The bullet that killed Agent Terry was a 7.62x39mm round like those fired by these WASR rifles. The government designated the mangled bullet as a piece of evidence Q6. The projectile was too badly damaged to allow a definitive connection to a particular weapon.
These two guns had been sold through a Glendale, Arizona, gun shop as part of Operation Fast and Furious. The advertised intent was to allow straw buyers to purchase firearms and then track them until BATF agents could apprehend high-level arms dealers.
The rub is that these guns, though knowingly sold to criminals, were never actually tracked. A Mexican drug cartel member shot Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry that December night in 2010. However, it was a partisan, inept, and politically weaponized US Government under President Barack Obama that gave him the tools.
Fast and Furious
A straw buyer is someone who purchases a firearm from a gun dealer with the intent of transferring that weapon to someone who would otherwise not be legally permitted to possess it. Apprehending straw buyers can seem relatively straightforward given the volume of information you must supply to purchase a gun. We FFL holders are directed to report any buyer who seems suspicious so that BATF agents can investigate.
However, a straw buyer is a small fish. This is frequently a relative or girlfriend of a criminal. The party line from the Department of Justice was that the BATF intentionally allowed these weapons to pass into the hands of criminals so they could catch the higher-level traffickers. The problem is that little to no effort was made to actually follow the guns once they were sold.
The DOJ initially denied everything but then recanted when presented with the facts. The sundry sordid details are beyond the purview of this article, but they are adequate to make you ill. Attorney General Holder and President Obama denied any knowledge of Fast and Furious before Agent Terry was killed and the scandal broke.
Holder’s unwillingness to provide supporting documents resulted in the first incidence in our nation’s history of a sitting Attorney General being held in contempt of congress. President Obama claimed executive privilege and refused to release detailed records of the operation.
Fast and Furious moved about 2,000 firearms. Of these, 389 were recovered in the US. Another 276 were seized in Mexico. The remaining 1,300 or so ended up predominantly in the hands of the Sinaloa Cartel as well as the El Teo and La Familia organizations. Most of these weapons were Kalashnikovs and AR rifles. However, there were thirty-four .50-caliber anti-materiel rifles and a large number of FN Five-Seven pistols.
Fast and Furious guns have since turned up at around 170 crime scenes. Criminals have thus far used these weapons to kill at least 300 people to include Mario Gonzales Rodriguez, the brother of Mexico’s Attorney General. One Mexican military helicopter was engaged by a Fast and Furious Barrett .50 wielded by cartel gunmen.
The Brian Terry Guns
The WASR 10/63 is a reasonably priced Kalashnikov rifle. WASR stands for Wassenaar Arrangement Semi-automatic Rifle, whatever that really means. The WASR guns are built in the Cugir Arms Factory in Cugir, Romania. This is a state-owned defense company that traces its origins back to 1799 and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The WASR 10/63 is an adaptation of the Romanian Model 63 and GP75 Combloc AKM military rifles. WASRs originally fed from proprietary single stack magazines. As a result, the pressed receivers of the WASRs lack the characteristic dimples a traditional AKM uses to stabilize the standard steel box magazine. Instead, the WASRs employ internally welded spacer plates. These WASRs were imported by Century Arms and subsequently milled to accept standard capacity magazines.
The WASR 10/63 features a chrome-lined barrel, a side-mounted scope rail, and traditional wooden furniture. The fire control components on early WASR guns were notorious for producing trigger slap. This is a condition wherein the cycling action thrusts the trigger back into reset with sufficient vigor as to be painful. Substitution of a Tapco Intrafuse G2 American-made trigger group rectified that problem.
WASR 10/63 guns were assembled using Romanian surplus parts stripped from military weapons made from the 1960s through the 1980s. The resulting civilian rifles were transferred based upon the serial numbers taken from those original Romanian trunnions. The two guns seized at the scene of the Brian Terry murder were serial numbers 1971-CZ3775 and 1983-AH3977.
The WASR 10 is a relatively crude rendition of the classic AKM, and some versions had reliability problems. Inconsistencies in widening the magazine well to accept standard capacity magazines were typically to blame. However, like most AKs, the vast majority of these Romanian guns are reliable performers.
Magazines have to be rocked into place, but this allows a full mag to be seated easily with the bolt closed. The charging handle reciprocates on the right side as part of the bolt carrier. This allows the operator to cycle the action manually if it ever gets sticky.
The WASR 10/63 is about as small and lightweight as one might want a gun firing the relatively heavy 7.62x39mm round to be. These weapons typically push a 123-grain jacketed bullet to around 2,400 feet per second. Running the gun is not quite as fast as the same chore with an M4, but that doesn’t mean the WASR 10/63 is a poor performer. In the hands of a determined operator, the WASR 10/63 is a devastating close-combat tool.
Jesus Rosario Favela Astorga, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, Ivan Soto-Barraza, and Rosario Burboa-Alvarez were eventually apprehended, extradited, tried, and convicted in the American court system for the roles they played in the death of Brian Terry.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced, “The fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry last night is an unconscionable act of violence against the men and women of the Border Patrol…we will leave no stone unturned as we seek justice for the perpetrators.”
That sounds great, but it apparently wasn’t true. The Obama administration had no interest in explaining why such a gun-averse administration had placed some 2,000 serious tactical weapons into the hands of criminals. As a result, from the top to the bottom government officials deflected, obfuscated, and, in some cases, outright lied.
The truth was never definitively established. One version was that BATF supervisory personnel were so breathtakingly incompetent as to authorize the transfer of 2,000 tactical firearms directly into the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels without informing their superiors. That’s Eric Holder’s version. A few players were reassigned or retired, but no one was ever really held accountable.
Apparently, somebody in the government wanted to convince American voters that the legal firearms trade in the United States was the primary source of armaments for Mexican drug cartels. An email dated July 14, 2010, five months prior to Agent Terry’s death, between two BATF supervisors, stated, “Bill- Can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same FFL and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales. Thanks, Mark R. Chait Assistant Director Field Operations.”
Conspiracy theorists believe that gun-walking to influence public opinion in support of further gun control measures began at the highest levels of power. Apologists attribute the whole sordid affair to simple overzealous incompetence. The truth is likely somewhere in between.
Operation Fast and Furious is a perfect example of what happens when activists in positions of responsibility convince themselves that the ends justify the means. That it ultimately cost the life of a patriot of Brian Terry’s caliber, as well as hundreds of Mexican nationals, make the whole sordid mess one of the most egregious government failures in American history.