Allowing guns into Mexico during Operation
Fast and Furious was a ‘catastrophic disaster’
(also ‘You should be ashamed’)
Three federal firearms agents told lawmakers Wednesday how their supervisors in Phoenix prevented them from breaking up Mexico-bound gun purchases in hopes of following the weapons trail to drug cartel higher-ups.
“What we have here is a colossal failure of leadership,’’ Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Peter Forcelli told a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. “This was a catastrophic disaster.’’
The strategy of “gunwalking,’’ as the investigative technique is known, was at the heart of the ATF Phoenix office’s Operation Fast and Furious. It aimed at reeling in major gun-smuggling players who employ “straw’’ purchasers to buy high-powered weaponry at gun stores in Arizona, Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest.
But agents lost track of the guns as they were handed off from purchaser to middleman to trafficker. As a result of the up to 2,500 weapons that could have been intercepted were instead smuggled into Mexico.
Two of the guns, both AK-47s, were recovered at the site in Southern Arizona where smugglers killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last December.
“ATF is supposed to stop criminals from trafficking guns to Mexican drug cartels,’’ said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who appeared as a hearing witness. “Instead, ATF made it easier for alleged cartel middlemen to … buy hundreds and hundreds of weapons. Agents warned that inaction could lead to tragedy, but management didn’t want to listen.’’
The controversy over Operation Fast and Furious is a part of a proxy war over gun laws and gun control, as well as whether U.S.-purchased guns winding up in Mexico represent a significant problem.
Gun-rights advocates, many of them in Texas, argue that the Fast and Furious case shows that most, if not all, U.S. weapons purchases were within ATF’s power to prevent. Most weapons in Mexico come from Central America or are sold to traffickers by corrupt Mexican law enforcement, they claim.
Gun-control advocates, on the other hand, focus on the documented cases of weapons purchased in the U.S. that wind up in Mexico.
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