March 4, 2011 in News
U.S. gun-tracing operation let firearms into criminal hands (Los Angeles Times):
A federal operation that allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers so they could be traced to the higher echelons of Mexican drug cartels has lost track of hundreds of firearms, many of which have been linked to crimes, including the fatal shooting of a Border Patrol agent in December.
The investigation, known as Operation Fast and Furious, was conducted even though U.S. authorities suspected that some of the weapons might be used in crimes, according to a variety of federal agents who voiced anguished objections to the operation.
Many of the weapons have spread across the most violence-torn states in Mexico, with at least 195 linked to some form of crime or law enforcement action, according to documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and The Times.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, said that 1,765 guns were sold to suspected smugglers during a 15-month period of the investigation. Of those, 797 were recovered on both sides of the border, including 195 in Mexico after they were used in crimes, collected during arrests or intercepted through other law enforcement operations.
John Dodson, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who worked on Operation Fast and Furious, said in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit research group based in Washington, that he was still haunted by his participation in the investigation.
“With the number of guns we let walk, we’ll never know how many people were killed, raped, robbed,” he said. “There is nothing we can do to round up those guns. They are gone.”
The ATF said agents took every possible precaution to assure that guns were recovered before crossing into Mexico.
Scot L. Thomasson, the ATF’s public affairs chief in Washington, said the Fast and Furious strategy is still under evaluation.
Agent: I was ordered to let U.S. guns into Mexico (CBS):
Federal agent John Dodson says what he was asked to do was beyond belief.
He was intentionally letting guns go to Mexico?
“Yes ma’am,” Dodson told CBS News. “The agency was.”
An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms senior agent assigned to the Phoenix office in 2010, Dodson’s job is to stop gun trafficking across the border. Instead, he says he was ordered to sit by and watch it happen.
Investigators call the tactic letting guns “walk.” In this case, walking into the hands of criminals who would use them in Mexico and the United States.
Dodson’s bosses say that never happened. Now, he’s risking his job to go public.
“I’m boots on the ground in Phoenix, telling you we’ve been doing it every day since I’ve been here,” he said. “Here I am. Tell me I didn’t do the things that I did. Tell me you didn’t order me to do the things I did. Tell me it didn’t happen. Now you have a name on it. You have a face to put with it. Here I am. Someone now, tell me it didn’t happen.”
Agent Dodson and other sources say the gun walking strategy was approved all the way up to the Justice Department. The idea was to see where the guns ended up, build a big case and take down a cartel. And it was all kept secret from Mexico.
ATF named the case “Fast and Furious.”
Surveillance video obtained by CBS News shows suspected drug cartel suppliers carrying boxes of weapons to their cars at a Phoenix gun shop. The long boxes shown in the video being loaded in were AK-47-type assault rifles.
So it turns out ATF not only allowed it – they videotaped it.
Documents show the inevitable result: The guns that ATF let go began showing up at crime scenes in Mexico. And as ATF stood by watching thousands of weapons hit the streets… the Fast and Furious group supervisor noted the escalating Mexican violence.
One e-mail noted, “958 killed in March 2010 … most violent month since 2005.” The same e-mail notes: “Our subjects purchased 359 firearms during March alone,” including “numerous Barrett .50 caliber rifles.”
Dodson feels that ATF was partly to blame for the escalating violence in Mexico and on the border. “I even asked them if they could see the correlation between the two,” he said. “The more our guys buy, the more violence we’re having down there.”
Senior agents including Dodson told CBS News they confronted their supervisors over and over.
Their answer, according to Dodson, was, “If you’re going to make an omelette, you’ve got to break some eggs.”
Related Material From the Archive:
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- Drug Cartel Dumps 72 Bodies At Mexican Ranch
- More Than 12,000 Killed This Year in Mexican Drug War
- Mexican Drug War
- Mexico’s drug cartels siphon liquid gold
- (U//LES) ATF Project Gunrunner Mexican Cartel Strategy
- (U//FOUO//LES) Texas Fusion Center: Mexican Drug Cartel Warns of Coming Violence
- More Mexican Drug War Photos