US Agents: Gun Sting Operation Allowed Flow of Weapons to Mexico

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 4:13 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. firearms agents say they were ordered by superiors to stand aside while gun buyers purchased weapons that would go to Mexican drug cartels.

Agents for the federal agency in charge of monitoring firearms testified before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee that they were told not to arrest the buyers, but instead track where the purchasers went.

A congressional report says the program, dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious,” began in late 2009 and was a “risky new strategy” that allowed the guns to end up in the hands of violent criminals on both sides of the border. The effort was meant to follow where the weapons went and identify other members of a trafficking network.

Republicans and Democrats voiced outrage Wednesday about the program. Two of the weapons under the program's surveillance were found at the scene of a shootout in Arizona where a U.S. border patrol agent was killed.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa said the effort failed, with Mexican drug traffickers ending up with approximately 2,000 AK-47s and derivatives, some .50 caliber sniper rifles and others, and 10,000 or more rounds of live ammunition.

Senator Chuck Grassley, who was at the House hearing, said at first the allegations sounded too shocking to believe, since the ATF is supposed to stop criminals from trafficking weapons. He said agents warned management that inaction could lead to tragedy.

The report — prepared for Issa, and Senator Grassley, who is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee — said ATF would only see the weapons again after they turned up at a crime scene. It said many of those recoveries involved deaths.

Mexico has been increasingly critical of U.S. efforts to stop guns from crossing the border.

A separate report released this week by three U.S. senators said 70 percent of the nearly 30,000 firearms recovered in Mexico in 2009 and 2010 came from the United States.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed nearly 50,000 troops in the crackdown against drug violence since he took office in 2006. More than 37,000 people have been killed in the country's drug war since then.