ATF Director accuses DEA, FBI & Justice Department of withholding key information during Operation Fast & Furious
The head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has accused the FBI, DEA and Justice Department of withholding critical information that would have halted the agency’s controversial gun trafficking operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
ATF Director Kenneth Melson told congressional investigators that the “ATF was kept in the dark about certain activities of other agencies, including the DEA and the FBI.” Specifically, the FBI and DEA failed to notify the ATF that some of the gun trafficking “higher-ups” targeted in Operation Fast and Furious were actually paid informants for the agencies.
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating whether the Justice Department and ATF intentionally allowed weapons to be smuggled to Mexican drug cartels, further fueling the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in such activities,” Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The whole misguided operation might have been cut short if not for the catastrophic failures to share key information.”
Melson told the committee that he “was sick to his stomach” when he learned the full story about Operation Fast and Furious.
During Operation Fast and Furious, ATF agents from the Phoenix field office were ordered to only observe – but not seize – guns bought by “straw purchasers” who later sold the weapons to members of the Mexican drug cartels.
Deviating from ATF’s standard practice and common sense, the Phoenix ATF agents were prohibited from seizing the illegally-purchased guns they had under surveillance before the weapons crossed the border. The practice of allowing guns to “walk” was allegedly sanctioned by the U.S. Attorney’s office to track the movement of the straw gun purchases and build cases against the “higher-ups” in the weapons trafficking rings.
Operation Fast and Furious unraveled after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed by members of the Mexican drug cartel near Rio Rico – 18 miles inside the U.S.-Mexico border – in December 2010. Weapons found at the scene of Terry’s killing were traced back to straw gun purchases investigated by ATF agents under Operation Fast and Furious.
- Committee on Oversight & Government Reform: Congressman Issa & Senator Grassley’s letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Operation Fast & Furious July 5, 2011 (PDF)
- Committee on Oversight & Government Reform: ATF Director testifies on operation targeting gun smugglers
- ATF.gov: Executive biography of Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson
- ATF.gov: Phoenix field division
- LATimes.com: More U.S. agencies implicated in Mexico gun-trafficking probe
- ABCNews.com: In secret testimony ATF Chief tells Congress about controversial gun program
- WhatTheFolly.com: ATF Special Agent John Dodson’s testimony on Operation Fast & Furious
- WhatTheFolly.com: ATF Special Agent Peter Forcelli’s testimony on Operation Fast & Furious
- WhatTheFolly.com: ATF Special Agent Olindo James “Lee” Casa’s testimony on Operation Fast & Furious
- WhatTheFolly.com: Robert Heyer’s testimony on Operation Fast & Furious delivered on behalf of the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry