How Mexican killers got US guns from 'Fast and Furious' operation
US officials thought they would catch Mexican criminals in a bold gun-running sting called 'Fast and Furious.' Instead, they inadvertently armed drug cartels as the operation spiraled out of control, a congressional report finds.
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According to whistleblowers and key witnesses, however, the real lesson behind Fast and Furious, a two-year operation that ended in January 2011, is how "groupthink" clouded decision-making at the highest levels of government, causing an agency to go against its basic instincts – which is to not allow arms to be trafficked illegally – and consequently contribute, not detract, from border violence.Skip to next paragraph
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"These guns weren't going for a positive cause, they were going for a negative cause," ATF attaché Carlos Canino told the congressional oversight committee. "The ATF armed the [Sinaloa] cartel. It's disgusting."
Despite repeated pushback from some agents and the attaché office in Mexico City, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson assessed it as "a good operation," the report says. According to witnesses, Assistant Attorney General Breuer appeared to cite Fast and Furious in meetings with Mexican officials, saying the US had a major gun-interdiction effort underway out of Phoenix, the report adds.
Where the guns went
The plan was to trace the guns through straw buyers to major cartels, to then build cases and make arrests. But early on, it became evident that tracking the guns had become a problem and that hundreds had made their way across the border and disappeared into cartel gun caches. According to the report, Fast and Furious guns made their way to three prominent Mexican cartels: Sinaloa, El Teo and La Familia.
Those within ATF who raised concerns about the fundamental flaw in the strategy were rebuffed or simply kept in the dark, Daniel Kumor, the ATF's international affairs chief, told congressional investigators.
At least one witness cited in the report contended knowledge of the tactics in Fast and Furious was widespread in ATF and Justice: "It was common knowledge that they were going down there to be crime guns."
The report names main Justice Department trial attorney Joe Cooley as saying the movement of vast numbers of guns to Mexico was "an acceptable practice." Mr. Cooley was Breuer's main contact with Fast and Furious, according to the report.
The Justice Department has maintained that it never knowingly allowed guns to "walk" to Mexico.
In the report, at least one higher-up fought back against accusations that field officers and ATF attachés in Mexico were raising concerns about the program. Asked if his reports raised concerns about the operation, Bill McMahon, deputy field operations director for ATF, told Congress: "Not that I can remember."