Entries in ATF (14)


'Fast and Furious' Probe Clears Holder, Faults ATF and Justice Department

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- "Operation Fast and Furious," the controversial undercover operation that allowed U.S. guns to be walked into Mexico, was a "risky strategy" that did not "adequately take into account the significant danger to public safety that it created."

That was the conclusion Wednesday from the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, after an investigation that spanned more than a year and a half.

The OIG investigation found that Attorney General Eric Holder was not aware of the strategy and tactics used in "Fast and Furious," and turned up no evidence that Holder tried to cover up the operation, or mislead Congress about it. Holder was held in contempt of Congress earlier this year for allegedly withholding documents about DOJ's "Fast and Furious" investigation from congressional investigators.

In a statement Wednesday, Holder said, "It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations -- accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion."

The IG report did find that a misleading letter that the DOJ sent to Congress was "troubling" because senior officials who were involved in drafting it knew, or should have known, that reckless behavior had occurred.

The political combat triggered by the flawed undercover operation played out in a series of contentious hearings on Capitol Hill in the past year. Behind the battles, the OIG found, was an undercover operation to catch gun-runners on the Southwest border that quickly turned bad.

Some of the 2,000 guns that made their way into Mexico as a result of "Operation Fast and Furious" were later recovered at crime scenes, including two found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

The "Fast and Furious" strategy called for agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to conduct surveillance and review phone and financial records to track guns they believed to be going to Mexican drug lords, who could then be arrested. But ATF lost track of most of the guns, few arrests were made, and yet "the purchasing activity by Operation Fast and Furious subjects continued unabated, individuals who had engaged in serious and dangerous criminal conduct remained at large, and the public was put in harm's way."

The OIG investigation "revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the Headquarters of the Department of Justice."

The report also details serious mistakes in DOJ's response to congressional inquiries about "Fast and Furious."

The Inspector General's review has recommended 14 Justice Department and ATF officials for disciplinary and administrative review, including the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

As a result of the OIG findings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned his post Wednesday. The OIG report charged that Weinstein, a senior aide to Breuer, did not adequately share critical information about "Fast and Furious," and its predecessor operation, "Wide Receiver," with top DOJ officials.

Because that information did not reach the attorney general, more aggressive oversight of the operation did not occur, and misinformation was passed on to Congress, according to the OIG report. Weinstein and his attorney vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying Weinstein did not receive the key information he needed from the agents carrying out the operation. The former acting director of ATF during the operation, Kenneth Melson, on Wednesday retired from the Department of Justice, effective immediately.

The report was highly critical of William Newell, the former special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office. "Newell also bore ultimate responsibility for the failures in Operation Fast and Furious," the review found, citing his leadership position and involvement in the case.

Newell is working at ATF Headquarters in Washington.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the leading congressional critics of DOJ's handing of "Fast and Furious," issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters. And, we still don't know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General. It's clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious."

The OIG report also detailed the mistakes that lead to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry: "On January 16, 2010, one of the straw purchasers purchased three AK-47 style rifles from a Phoenix-area gun store. ATF agents learned about that purchase 3 days later and, consistent with the investigative strategy in the case, made no effort to locate (the purchaser) or seize the rifles although ATF had identified the suspect in November 2009. Two of the three rifles purchased by (the suspect) on January 16 were recovered 11 months later at the scene of the murder of Agent Terry, who was shot and killed on December 14, 2010, as he tried to arrest persons believed to be illegally entering the United States ... "

The day after Agent Terry's death, ATF agents arrested that suspect, Jaime Avila, and later 20 more alleged gun buyers and traffickers. As of Sept. 1, 2012, 14 defendants, including Avila, had entered guilty pleas to one or more counts of the indictment. In all, "Fast and Furious" identified more than 40 subjects believed to be connected to a trafficking conspiracy responsible for purchasing more than 2,000 firearms for about $1.5 million in cash. The vast majority of the firearms purchased by "Operation Fast and Furious" subjects were AK-47 style rifles and FN Herstal 5.7 caliber pistols.

The OIG report also noted, "What began as an important and promising investigation of serious firearms trafficking along the Southwest Border that was developed through the efforts of a short-staffed ATF enforcement group quickly grew into an investigation that lacked realistic objectives, did not have appropriate supervision within ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and failed to adequately assess the public safety consequences of not stopping or controlling the alarming purchasing activity."

The report indicates that the OIG reviewed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed more than 130 witnesses, many on multiple occasions.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, "We operated with complete and total independence in our search for the truth, and the decision about what to cover in this report and the conclusions that we reached were made solely by me and my office."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


House Report Cites Five Former ATF Officials in Fast and Furious Operation

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House and Senate must improve the leadership of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a draft report that was critical of the government's botched "Operation Fast and Furious" that resulted in hundreds of guns falling into criminal hands.

The report, prepared by California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, cited five one-time ATF officials in particular for instituting the gun-tracking operation and then failing to stop it after things went wrong.

Those named were former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.

The ATF first allowed up to 2,000 firearms to cross the border into Mexico in order to find violent criminals involved in gun trafficking and drug cartels.  However, many of those weapons were misplaced and two turned up at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The Justice Department initially denied knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious and then admitted it was aware of the program.  Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before numerous congressional committees to testify about what he knew and is currently being held in contempt by the House for not turning over documents requested by Issa.

Two other reports from congressional Republicans are due that will allege further missteps by the Justice Department's criminal division and the office of the attorney general.  Holder and members of the Obama administration have called the probes a "witch-hunt."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Feds Offer $1 Million Reward for Alleged 'Fast and Furious' Killers

John Moore/Getty Images(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Justice Department officials Monday offered $1 million for the capture of the five Mexican "border bandits" who killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry with an ATF-sourced weapon in the mountains south of Tucson.

Agent Terry's death has been at the center of the Congressional investigation into a botched ATF gun-smuggling investigation dubbed "Fast and Furious." Two weapons linked to the shooting of Agent Terry made it into criminal hands as a result of that operation, which sought to track smuggled guns to drug cartel kingpins. A dispute between Congressional investigators and the Justice Department over "Fast and Furious" documents led to Attorney General Eric Holder being held in contempt of Congress last month.

But despite all the controversy, the details of how Agent Terry was killed have never been revealed until Monday.

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At a news conference in Tucson, Justice Department officials said that on December 14, 2010, Agent Terry and his Border Patrol team were trying to intercept five men who had crossed into the U.S. from Mexico and tripped electronic sensors planted in the southern Arizona desert. The federal agents confronted the men, opening fire with beanbags, not bullets.

It turned out the men were "border bandits," armed gangsters who rob drug smugglers. The bandits returned fire, and in the firefight, Agent Terry was killed. One of the bandits was shot in the foot, and taken into custody, but four other suspects escaped while agents were tending to Agent Terry.

On Monday an indictment charging five individuals involved in the death of Agent Terry was unsealed in Tucson, and a reward of up to $1 million from the FBI for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives was announced by Department of Justice officials.

According to the indictment, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza are charged with crimes including first degree murder, second degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, use and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged only with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.

In addition to the murder of Agent Terry, the indictment also alleges that the five defendants assaulted Border Patrol agents William Castano, Gabriel Fragoza and Timothy Keller, who were with Agent Terry during the firefight.

"Brian Terry was truly an agent's agent," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy said at the press conference Monday. Duffy promised Terry's family "the very best" her office had to offer. "We will not rest until these individuals are brought to justice."

"Agent Terry served his country honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect it from harm, and we will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for his murder to justice," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. "This investigation has previously resulted in one defendant being charged with Agent Terry's murder and taken into custody, and today's announcement reflects the department's unrelenting commitment to finding and arresting the other individuals responsible for this horrific tragedy so that Agent Terry's family, friends and fellow law enforcement agents receive the justice they deserve."

"U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry made the ultimate sacrifice in December of 2010, while protecting our border," stated James L. Turgal Jr., FBI Special Agent in Charge, Phoenix Division. "Today's announcement is an important step forward in the pursuit of justice for Border Patrol Agent Terry and his family. It is our hope that the publicity surrounding this case will lead to information concerning the whereabouts of the remaining four fugitives."

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes has been in custody since his arrest the night of the shooting. Rito Osorio-Arellanes has been in custody since Dec. 12, 2010, when he was arrested by Border Patrol agents on immigration charges. The indictment is being unsealed Monday in order to seek the public's assistance in locating the four fugitive defendants.

This case is being prosecuted in federal court in Tucson by attorneys from the Southern District of California, Special Attorneys Todd W. Robinson, David D. Leshner, and Fred A. Sheppard. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona is recused, because of its involvement in the "Fast and Furious" operation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Georgia College Girl Arrested for Alleged Pipe Bomb 'Hobby'

WSB/ABC News(CORNELIA, Ga.) -- Her father says she's just a daddy's girl with some unladylike hobbies. The FBI and the ATF disagree.

Celia Alchemy Savage, 23, was arrested by federal and local officials after a Wednesday search of her Cornelia, Ga. home allegedly turned up two pipe bombs, a pistol, suspected marijuana and methamphetamine and alleged drug paraphernalia. She is being held on federal weapons, explosives and drug charges, and has been denied bond.

According to the criminal complaint, when an ATF agent asked Savage what there was to do in Cornelia, Ga., she said, "Blow things up." The agent said that Savage also stated that she "likes to blow up toilets in the woods."

Savage allegedly told authorities that "manufacturing explosive devices and detonating them for recreation was her hobby," and that she had built five to seven pipe bombs for fun.

"Savage stated she was aware that it was wrong, or against the law, to manufacture the destructive devices," alleged the ATF agent in the criminal complaint, "but claimed she has a passion for it."

The complaint alleges that the drugs, drug paraphernalia, "numerous pills," pistol and bomb components were found in a bedroom of the residence that Savage described as her "lab." According to the ATF agent, Savage admitted that she had used marijuana "the previous day and methamphetamine two (2) months ago."

A video of Savage blowing up a toilet in the woods can still be seen on YouTube. Savage's father, Tommy Savage, confirmed to investigative reporter Mark Winne of ABC Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV that his daughter was the person seen in the video.

Savage's Facebook profile, which is also still on the web, lists "explosives" as an interest, her political orientation as "anarchist" and her status as "Push to test. Release to detonate."

"I despise all law enforcement and any governing authority," she says in her "about Celia" section. "I am not one for selective targeting but mass destruction." Various photos show Savage with high-powered weapons, holding a snake, riding a motorcycle, in a kickboxing stance and posing with her father and a dead animal.

The profile also includes a paraphrased quote from Scott Adams, the creator of the quotes from George S. Patton and U.S. Grant: "There is no problem that cannot be solved by the use of high explosives."

Savage's father Tommy told Winne of WSB-TV that his daughter was a daddy's girl and a church-going college student who is not a member of any radical group. "She likes to hunt and fish," said Savage. "She loves shooting. She goes sky diving. All kinds of stuff like that that you wouldn't really typically think of a young lady doing." He denied that she was a drug user, but said he worried about some of the people with whom she'd been hanging out.

Tommy Savage also said, however, that his daughter shared his distrust of government. "I think everybody ought to be able to set on their property and do whatever the heck they want to," he told Winne.

Tommy Savage declined a request from ABC News for comment. His daughter's court-appointed lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Threatened with Contempt, Attorney General Holder to Testify on Fast and Furious Scandal

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder will take the hot seat again on Thursday in what is expected to be a contentious hearing over the botched ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) gun running operation “Fast and Furious” before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The committee has been investigating the actions by ATF and Justice Department officials into the gun trafficking case that resulted in about 2,000 guns being allowed to go to drug cartels and criminal groups in Mexico.  The ATF operation took a tragic toll when two guns linked to the operation were found near slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry on Dec. 14, 2010.

On Tuesday, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., threatened to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, claiming that the Justice Department has been withholding documents related to the congressional inquiry into Fast and Furious.

“If the department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information, this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress,” Issa wrote to Holder.

Issa also addressed concerns he had over the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, proposing a cross-border operation with Mexican law enforcement officials to make arrests of gun straw purchasers on the border.

Issa is giving the Justice Department until Feb. 9 to turn over the requested documents. Critics also claim that emerging inter-agency emails contradict testimony Holder gave about his knowledge of the operation.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department responded with Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole writing to Issa.

“Your criticisms of the Department, in general, and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer, in particular, seem predicated on significant misunderstandings…of the documents we recently produced,” Cole wrote.

Cole also defended Breuer, noting, “It is inconceivable that his intention was to have guns released into Mexico.”

Cole wrote that the Justice Department has cooperated with Issa’s investigation and has provided numerous resources, telling the committee that the department has provided more than 6,400 pages of material, made numerous witnesses available to testify, and had a team of lawyers collecting and reviewing requests and documents for the investigation. Issa and other critics claim the documents are slow in coming, and usually are "dumped" on Fridays, in an attempt for the documents to avoid scrutiny.

In prepared testimony, Holder on Thursday is expected to repeat many of the same points he has made before and to emphasize reforms at the ATF.

“If some of my comments today sound familiar, it is because this marks the sixth time I have answered questions about this operation before a congressional committee in the last year,” Holder’s prepared testimony reads.

Holder also is expected to repeat, “something that cannot be said often enough: Allowing guns to ‘walk’ -- whether in this administration or in the prior one -- is wholly unacceptable.” However, documents are proving that's exactly what the agencies did, and Holder will be hard pressed to prove he had no knowlege of it.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Judge Upholds ATF Gun Rule for SW Border States

Thinkstock/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge has upheld a rule proposed by the ATF to track multiple gun sales in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico in a lawsuit brought by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and two gun dealers in Arizona.

Over the summer the ATF announced that it would seek information in those four states on gun purchasers who buy two or more weapons a week for semi-automatic long guns that have a caliber greater than .22 and a detachable magazine. The ATF would require gun dealers to report the sale of multiple rifles with what ATF was calling a Demand Letter for the records.

The rule was sought amid the controversy over the botched ATF gun trafficking operation Fast and Furious, which resulted in about 2,000 weapons being allowed to flow into Mexico. The Obama administration has said it was seeking the rule to allow for more accurate and faster tracing of guns involved in crimes that may be linked to drug trafficking.

The suit was brought by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, J & G Sales Ltd., and Foothills Firearms LLC. They argued that the ATF proposal was not authorized by Congress and that the measure would amount to a national firearms registry.

“The reporting requirement is an effort to increase ATF’s ability to detect and disrupt the illegal firearms trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce into the hands of criminal gangs that threaten law abiding citizens,” an ATF spokesman said in a statement. “The Department of Justice is pleased the court upheld the requirement.”

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer wrote, “Congress has effected a delicate balance between ATF’s regulation of firearms and the right to privacy held by lawful firearms owners.  ATF’s Demand Letter did not disturb that balance. Because the Demand Letter was limited to only certain sales of certain guns in certain states, ATF did not exceed its authority. Further, ATF did not act arbitrarily or capriciously because the reporting requirement set forth in the Demand Letter was based on relevant factors. Accordingly, the Court will grant ATF’s motion for summary judgment.”

Click here for the judge’s opinion.

“We disagree with the Judge and an appeal will be forthcoming,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam when asked about the ruling. “This is more proof that the Obama administration is intent on blaming gun owners and the Second Amendment for a problem that is rooted in Mexico.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


AG Eric Holder to Congress: 'Lying' About Fast and Furious 'A State of Mind'

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congressman Darrell Issa, R-CA, declared Attorney General Eric Holder a "hostile witness" before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday as Holder testified about the botched gun trafficking operation called Fast and Furious run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Issa, who serves on the judiciary committee, has been leading the Congressional inquiry into the ATF operation as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  He said that not all documents have been provided to his Committee's investigators and he wanted to know why no emails to or from Holder appeared in the thousands of pages of documents that the Justice Department (DOJ) has provided to Congress.

"There is not one email that is yours," Issa said, surrounded by boxes of documents that the DOJ has provided to his staff.

Issa indicated that he may subpoena Holder and other top Justice Department officials to testify before his committee in January.  Holder said that the DOJ has provided unprecedented information to Congress and that he would consider the request to appear before Issa's committee.

In his prepared testimony, Holder called Fast and Furious "inexcusable," and said the operation run by the ATF made use of "misguided tactics."

In asking why a Department of Justice letter to Congress was withdrawn last week, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner pressed Holder, reminding him that lying to Congress constitutes a federal felony. "There have been statements [made to Congress by the Justice Department] that have been so misleading that a letter had to be withdrawn," Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said. "...Heads should roll."

Holder insisted, "Nobody at the Justice Department lied," and then when pressed about, "the difference between lying and misleading congress" by Sensenbrenner, Holder explained, "It all has to do with your state of mind."

Congress has been investigating Fast and Furious and how the ATF ran the gun trafficking operation that resulted in a reported 1,800 firearms flowing into Mexico. Two were found at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed by Mexican drug smugglers on Dec. 14, 2010.

Testifying on Thursday, Holder said that the operation was organized by ATF in Phoenix and did not originate out of Washington or from orders out of Justice Department headquarters.

He claims that he became aware of the operation sometime in the beginning of 2011 and directed the Justice Department Inspector General to conduct a formal inquiry after learning about the tactics used in Fast and Furious and getting some conflicting information from media reports and Congressional inquires.  The Inspector General's review is expected to be released sometime early next year.

And despite calls from some members of Congress for his resignation, Holder -- who rolled his eyes and slouched defiantly in his seat throughout his testimony -- said on Thursday that he had no intention to resign over the Fast and Furious controversy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Grassley Wants DOJ Official to Resign in Fast and Furious Scandal

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Wednesday demanded the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division resign over the controversial ATF gun trafficking program known as Fast and Furious.

Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has provided inaccurate statements and information to Congress on Fast and Furious and a Bush-era gun running case called Wide Receiver in which the ATF also let guns walk into Mexico.

Under the botched program hundreds of guns flowed into Mexico.  ATF officials say they hoped to track the guns to their ultimate destination, and then make arrests. Instead, many of the guns were used in crimes, including one that was used in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

In recent months ongoing congressional investigations have focused on what senior Justice Department officials knew about the program.  Attorney General Eric Holder is set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday to testify about the scandal. Last Friday the Justice Department withdrew a Feb. 4, 2011 letter that was sent to Sen. Grassley that asserted that ATF did not let guns walk into Mexico.

Breuer has said that he was not involved in the review or drafting of the letter sent to Grassley’s office despite emails showing that he was aware of the initial inquiry from Sen. Grassley and sending drafts of the letter to his personal non-government email account.

“So imagine my surprise when I discover from documents provided Friday night that that Mr. Breuer was far more informed during the drafting of that letter than he admitted before the Judiciary Committee. In fact, Mr. Breuer got frequent updates on the status of the letter while he was in Mexico,” Grassley said on the Senate floor.  “If you can’t be straight with Congress, you don’t need to be running the Criminal Division. It’s time to stop spinning and start taking responsibility. I have long said that the highest-ranking official who knew about gun-walking in Operation Fast and Furious needs to be held accountable.”

In November, Breuer admitted that he made mistakes after being briefed last year about questionable tactics from Wide Receiver by not raising the issue with senior DOJ leadership as prosecutors moved to indict the case in 2010.

“At the time, I thought that -- dealing with the leadership of ATF was sufficient and reasonable,” Breuer told the Senate Judiciary committee last month when he was asked why he did not raise the issue to DOJ leadership,  “I thought that that was the appropriate way of dealing with it. But I cannot be more clear that knowing now -- if I’d known then what I know now, I of course would have told the deputy and the attorney general.”

In a statement, Justice Department Director of Public Affairs Tracy Schmaler said, “Assistant Attorney General Breuer has acknowledged his mistake in not making -- and therefore not alerting Department leadership to -- a connection between the allegations made about Operation Fast and Furious and the unacceptable tactics used years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver.  He has acknowledged that mistake to Congress and to the Attorney General, who continues to have confidence in Assistant Attorney General Breuer’s ability to lead the Criminal Division.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


AG Eric Holder Admits Errors in ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder apologized to lawmakers on Tuesday for an inaccurate report his office sent to Capitol Hill about the controversial Fast and Furious operation.

Justice Department lawyers provided Sen. Charles Grassley’s office with information about the tactic of guns being walked into Mexico in the controversial Fast and Furious operation, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  The program was designed to track guns bought in the U.S. by strawmen and delivered to drug cartels in Mexico, in an attempt to catch the cartel higher-ups.  Started in 2009, it was shut down after the Dec. 2010 murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

But it turns out the letter submitted to Grassley in February, which stated the U.S. government had not allowed weapons to enter Mexico, was wrong.

“There was information in that letter that was inaccurate.  The letter could have been better crafted, we were relying on … information provided to them by people who were, we thought, in the best position to know what was accurate,” Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

In a Feb. 4, 2011, letter sent to Grassley and his staff, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote, “ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”

Congress has been investigating Fast and Furious and how ATF ran the botched gun trafficking operation that resulted in a reported 1,800 firearms flowing into Mexico.  Two were found at the scene of the murder of Terry, who was killed by Mexican drug smugglers on Dec. 14, 2010.

The Congressional investigation and ATF agents who blew the whistle on the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious have shown that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and ATF officials knew that guns were allowed to walk into Mexico as part of the operation.

“People in the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, people at ATF, people who themselves have now indicated in their Congressional testimony before the House that they were not aware of the tactics that were employed.  As a result of that, the information that is contained in the Feb. 4 letter to you was not in fact accurate…. I regret that,” Holder said.

Holder denounced the tactics used in the operation, telling Senators, “This operation was flawed in its concept and flawed in its execution.  And unfortunately, we will feel the effects for years to come, as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes, both here and in Mexico.  This should never have happened, and it must never happen again.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


ATF Agents in Mexico Kept in Dark About Gun Trafficking, Fast & Furious Op

Thinkstock/Comstock)(WASHINGTON) -- The ATF office in Phoenix allegedly kept ATF agents in Mexico out of the loop about a botched gun trafficking investigation that resulted in numerous weapons going to Mexico’s drug cartels, with almost 122 weapons being recovered there.  The ATF’s program, dubbed “Fast and Furious,” allowed firearms to “walk” across the U.S. border into Mexico in hopes of tracing the guns and locating major weapons traffickers. The operation took a tragic toll when two firearms investigators say killed U.S. Border Patrol Brian Terry were linked to Fast and Furious.
In 2009 ATF devised the program to try and track straw purchases of firearms where a gun is legally bought but then illegally sold to another individual. A congressional investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have revealed deep flaws in the program that was run out of the ATF’s Phoenix office. On Tuesday, current and former ATF officials are expected to testify before the House Oversight Committee about their frustrations with the program -- over being denied access to information about the Fast and Furious operation and being blocked on gun trace information about weapons that were being recovered in Mexico.
According to the report in March 2010, “ATF intelligence analysts told ATF and DOJ leadership that the number of firearms bought by known straw purchasers had exceeded the 1,000 mark. The briefing also made clear these weapons were ending up in Mexico.”
In a congressional report being released in conjunction with the hearing, the findings note, “ATF and DOJ leadership kept their own personnel in Mexico and Mexican government officials totally in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, ATF officials in Mexico grew increasingly worried about the number of weapons recovered in Mexico that traced back to an ongoing investigation out of ATFs Phoenix Field Division.”
The congressional report notes that ATF intelligence analysts notified the ATF’s attaché in Mexico, Darren Gil, and Carlos Canino, deputy attaché, about a large number of guns showing up in Mexico from the Phoenix field office investigation.
“Hundreds of weapons were suddenly appearing in Mexico -- traced to Phoenix -- without explanation. Gil and his agents struggled to get answers from their own agency. Although ATF officials in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., acknowledged that an investigation was underway, they refused to share the details of the strategy and operation with the agents in Mexico…ATF officials in Mexico finally realized the truth: ATF was allowing guns to walk. By withholding this critical information from its own personnel in Mexico, ATF jeopardized relations between the U.S. and Mexico,” the report noted.
The Tuesday hearing intends to examine why ATF was knowingly allowing the guns to travel south to Mexico. According to the report, in an interview with committee investigators the Mexico Deputy Attaché Carolos Canino said, “There was no gray area here. We knew that these guys were trafficking guns into Mexico. There is no gray area. They weren't trafficking, [the] guys weren't going out and buying two Larson 22 pistols. These guys were buying 7.62, 223's, .50 caliber rifles, okay, there was no mistake about this.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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