You've heard Carlos Canino's voice before.
His northeastern accent may be that of a Puerto Rican raised in Boston, but to a Tucson ear it sounds just like the cops and tough guys in New York-based police shows like Law and Order.
I was surprised when I learned a couple of weeks ago that Canino, whose congressional testimony about Operation Fast and Furious I watched last year, had become assistant special agent in charge of the ATF's Tucson office. It was also a bit surprising when he agreed to an interview, considering ATF's reputation in Arizona.
But as the interview — much of which was published in this piece Monday — progressed, it became clear why the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives would like him to appear in public. To an extent, he could serve as a sort of Fast and Furious Cleanser for the bureau in Arizona.
Perhaps most notable in the views he expressed in last year's testimony and Friday's interview is his insistence that gun-trafficking investigations like Fast and Furious are not complicated, despite what the authors of that probe claimed.
In Canino's view — and he's long been a teacher of ATF agents — if they're done right, trafficking cases can go fast. What agents in Fast and Furious did wrong, Canino said in his testimony, is not intervene quickly against straw purchasers and turn them into witnesses against higher-ups.
Here are some additional excerpts from my interview Friday.
On gun laws:
I’m apolitical about the gun laws. The gun laws are the gun laws. That’s for the politicians who people vote in to enact — or not enact — legislation. Whatever they decide, my job is to enforce those laws. Whether I agree with them or disagree with them, I don’t have the luxury to say 'I disagree with that law so I’m not going to enforce it. To me that’s dereliction of duty. I’m going to enforce the gun laws on the book, whether I like them or don’t like them.
On the Mexican police he worked with in Mexico City:
Those are some of the bravest people I’ve ever met in my life. Being a Mexican federal policeman is not like being a federal agent in the United States. The cartels can reach out and touch you any time, anyplace, in Mexico. These guys are going after them day in, day out, with that hanging over their heads.
On ATF's role in Mexico:
We are the explosives guys in Mexico right now. ATF has responded to every car bomb in mexico. ATF has been at the scene assisting the Mexicans in processing the bomb scene.
On the Internet as an investigative tool:
This job is always going to be about wearing off your shoe leather. It doesn’t matter — all these whiz-bang computers. That’s what I try to tell our younger agents. They’re the computer generation, so, they’re great on the computer, but as long as this job is about human beings, you have to get out on the street and talk to people. All this other stuff can enhance your investigations and save you time, but at the end of the day you’re going to get up from behind the desk, get into the street and talk to people. It’s the only way.
Also remarkable were some of the things Canino said in testimony about Operation Fast and Furious before the House Oversight and Government Affairs committee. You can catch that video here.
You’ve got to put this in context. Everybody’s saying this case was so big, it was complicated. Firearms trafficking cases are not complicated, sir. They’re not complicated The reason this case was so big is because we didn’t do anything, plain and simple. Everybody wants to make this bigger than it is.
In this case like I said earlier, we have the ATF trafficking guidelines and best practices and we just threw it out the window.. Nobody got stopped. Like I said earlier, how can you let somebody buy 730 guns?! At what point are you going to stop him?
This is not a special case. This is a trafficking case that we do. This is what we do, especially on the SW border … This wasn’t a whodunnit. This was a ground ball.
I am embarrassed sir. I have agents, guy who I consider American heroes, my friends. I never thought I would hear this but they’ve told me since this broke, 'Carlos I'm ashamed to carry an ATF badge.' To me, I have cried over that, literally.
This is not a job to me — this is a profession. I don’t have a hobby. My hobby is being an ATF agent. I love this job. I hit the lottery when I came on.