The Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a second hearing Tuesday, investigating allegations that Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents allowed 2,020 high-powered weapons, including AK-47s and .50-caliber sniper rifles, to “walk” to Mexico.
Operation Fast and Furious, which began in Phoenix in November 2009, was aimed at catching top gun smugglers who funnel weapons from the U.S. to drug-cartel gangs in Mexico.The operation was developed by the ATF in response to a Justice Department report which castigated the ATF for not pursuing larger gun trafficking cases and spending too much time and resources on single “straw purchasers.”
The operation’s tactics were to not seize the weapons immediately, hoping that the straw buyers would lead investigators to higher-ups in the ring. These tactics created controversy within the ATF after guns linked to Fast and Furious straw buyers were found at the scene where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in December 2010. Details are now emerging at the hearing about how agents in Arizona allegedly lost track of nearly 2,000 handguns and high-powered assault weapons.
Hundreds of weapons still remain unaccounted for, but are showing up on the killing fields of northern Mexico.
Operation Fast and Furious was kept secret from Mexican officials, nor did the ATF tell its own agents stationed in Mexico.
This infuriated some ATF agents, leading them to testify against their Phoenix colleagues.
“To put it bluntly, it is inconceivable in my mind, or the mind of any competent ATF agent, to allow firearms to cross an international border, knowing that they are destined for the worst of the worst criminals in the Western Hemisphere,” said Darren Gil, the ATF’s attaché in Mexico City at the time of the operation. Mr. Gil compared the Fast and Furious missteps to the ATF’s performance in its 1993 raid of a religious sect in Waco, Texas, where a gun battle left four ATF agents dead.
The program is now shut down, after 19 people were arrested — only one of them for gun trafficking.