Proposal for a Thriller Series on HBO
Higher-ups in the Phoenix office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: under fire in the liberal press for failing to slow the flow of high-power weapons to narco gangs in Mexico, they also fear the wrath of the NRA which watches them with eagle eyes to make sure they don't stand between any man and his gun. ATF knows that guns are fueling violence along the border not only in Mexico, but in the US, and not just among Mexican narco gangs, but among US gangs who prey on illegal immigrants. Under existing conditions, they have no idea how to stop the smuggling.
Some of the Phoenix higher-ups get the idea of actually using guns both to trace illegal weapons to their ultimate destination and to get their hands on some actual narcos: a double whammy to impede both guns and narco violence. AND they hope that with this strategy,they can avoid accusations by the NRA that they are seizing legally-sold weapons and can win the praise of the liberals for slowing the flow of guns into Mexico..
ATF will send agents to gun shows and gun stores to recruit gun dealers to sell to "straw buyers", the folks who buy weapons for smugglers- The dealers then wills permit ATF agents to monitor sales in secre to suspected "straw buyers.". (Deliberately allowing the sale of guns like this is called gunwalking.) ATF agents will then follow the "straw buyers" to the trade-off to the smugglers which can happen, with some degree of drama, in shopping center parking lots or small rural roads. Smugglers are a varied lot: from young couples to doddering snow birds who take the arms in small quantities across the border. For this reason, thug-types shouldn't be cast in roles of smugglers. ATF guys then plan to follow the guns, in illegal and dangerous efforts, to the cartels.
Initial episodes can introduce the "good guys" as they set up operations, infiltrate gun shows and shops, select and approach possible gun sellers and offer them deals to sell marked weapons to straw buyers. A series of very short clips, overlaying each other, can introduce the variety of straw buyers, then pick out one set to follow to a smuggler's car. Also, there can be a scene or two to build tension when buyers or smugglers think or actuallly have spotted agents.
A subsequent show will follow the smugglers from the angle of the ATF agents. The agents can lose the smugglers while trying to keep them in sight in the narrow, tangled streets of Nogales, for instance. They can find themselves pursued in reverse.
It should become clear over several episodes that the agents can't follow the guns successfully into Mexico.
The next episodes can deal with shootings of Americans in which ATF-marked guns were used. A couple could take place on the US-side of the border. In one, a US Border Patrol Agent can be killed in a shoot out with a "rip crew" or gang preying on drug mules crossing the border illegally. This could be a very exciting and pivotal episode, complete with high speed chase and a gunfight in the dead of night in a dark Arizona canyon. The ATF agents involved in the proposed Fast and Furious series can be shown in clips alternating with the action in which they gradually becoming aware of the possibility that one of the guns they lost track of was use to kill the agent.
Another episode could show the story of a crack Border Control agent shot down in Mexico by narcos using US-obtained guns. Here the idea could be introduced that whether or not the guns used were those lost by ATF or simply sold by US gun dealers, it is US guns that are killlng people, including US law enforcement. This particular episode could be extremely dramatic as once again a chase ensues in the dead of night, this time in Mexican desert with the Border Patrol agents driving a huge black SUV, the classic Narco vehicle
The development of agents' growing dissatisfaction with Fast and Furious should be an ongoing theme of the first year's shows. The agents go along with the program at first, wiring sellers, following straw buyers, sometimes get spotted themselves and facing danger as they track and consistently lose smugglers in spite of planting GPS devices, etc, along the Mexican border. And they become more and more upset as growing numbers of reports indicate that guns from Phoenix are the source of death in Mexico. To heighten the drama, the agents can, with horror, report that upwards of 1500 AK-47s and similar weapons have slipped out of their hands and into the hands of gangsters.
The second year's shows can deal with the decision of one agent to turn whistleblower by going to a major news organization with his story. Now we move the series into the arena of political intrigue on a massive scale. Agents try to use the tools of their trade to find out how high up knowledge of the operation goes. They find efforts to call a halt to the operation thwarted by unknown authorities. They discover that the head of ATF in Mexico City doesn't even know about it, and cannot learn about it when ATF agents inform him because someone has blocked his access to all the computer information. It becomses clear the Mexican government doesn't know about it.
One episode can tell the story of a US Senator trying to smoke out what is going on. His efforts to get any kind of response from official sources are rebuffed. Another can follow tangled threads of conflict among various ATF officials, some of whom refuse to stop the program, others who see it as a violation of international law.
And then, of course, we can get all the way up to the Administration. Holder, Napolitano, Obama.
Suggestions for casting.
ATF agents should be mixed Anglo and Hispanic. For the chief agent and whistle blower, I would like to see Dominic West, Agent McNulty of The Wire fame. He would bring with him great skills as well as great associations with his previous role as a good guy with very rough edges. And the situations of the Wire and this proposed thriller are related: drugs, guns, government cover-ups enabling both, good guys shot, etc. etc.
I would love to see Jennifer Lopez as the second agent and the West-McNulty character's sidekick. I'd be happy to offer more suggestions but believe these two characters are the crucial ones.
Resources for this proposal:
Esquivel, J. Jesús, Rapio y furioso" todos lo sabían", Proceso
Atkisson, Sharyl, "ATF gunwalking: Who knew, and how high up?" CBS News
Carlsen, Laura, "Obama's Mexicogate?", Americas Program
"Grassley: More ATF Whistle Blowers Come Forward", Senator Charles Grassley's web page
"Agent: ATF Partly to Blame for Mexican Violence", CBS News