Did flawed US policies play role in death of a border patrol agent?
Before a US border patrol agent was killed in a shootout with Mexican bandits, the agents opened fire with bean bags. Found at the scene: two guns the ATF allowed gun runners to purchase.
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Senator Grassley also says documents he has procured contradict ATF statements that the agency wasn't aware of tracked guns disappearing into Mexico.Skip to next paragraph
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“The Justice Department and the ATF put up a wall to mislead the American people and were less than forthcoming,” he told the Center for Public Integrity, a public-interest investigative organization that has compiled the most detailed exposé of Operation Fast and Furious so far.
ATF to investigate its policy
Thursday night, Kenneth Melson, the ATF's acting director, said the ATF has ordered an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious. The agency “will ask a multi-disciplinary panel of law enforcement professionals to review the bureau’s current firearms trafficking strategies employed by field division managers and special agents," Melson said in a statement.
Mr. Melson added that the review “will enable ATF to maximize its effectiveness when undertaking complex firearms trafficking investigations and prosecutions. It will support the goals of ATF to stem the illegal flow of firearms to Mexico and combat firearms trafficking in the United States.”
Operation Fast and Furious began in October 2009 as ATF faced growing political pressure and a push from the agency's inspector general to, in essence, aim higher to stem what appeared to be large caches of US-purchased AK-47s and even .50 cal weapons flowing into Mexico and being used in that nation's violent drug war.
In response, the ATF decided to allow illegally purchased guns to "walk" in order to track their path and build more substantive cases against bigger-time criminals. ATF officials told the Center for Public Integrity that the ATF allowed a total of 1,998 weapons to pass from gun shops to straw buyers connected to the gun-running rings, with full understanding that those weapons could be used in the commission of crimes. Of those weapons, 797 were recovered by the ATF as a result of some kind of criminal investigation, including 195 inside Mexico.
An attempt to get at 'key people'
“When we look at the complexities of the organizations working around the border of Mexico, just dealing with the lowest level purchaser, the straw purchaser, doesn’t get you to the organizer, the money people and the key people in that organization to shut that down," ATF's assistant field director, Mark Chait, told the Center for Public Integrity.
"We found that if we don’t attack the organization and shut the organization down, they will continue to move guns across the border. It’s kind of a somewhat common sense approach that if you don’t get to the higher-level folks that are making the calls, then guns will continue to cross the border.”
Many ATF officers were "anguished" over Operation Fast and Furious, saying it was inevitable that guns would be used to commit crimes, thus putting blood on the ATF's hands.
Agents feared that the guns "are going to be turning up in crimes on both sides of the border for decades," ATF agent John Dodson, a whistleblower in the case, told the Center for Public Integrity's reporting team. "With the number of guns we let walk, we'll never know how many people were killed, raped, robbed ... there is nothing we can do to round up those guns. They are gone."
On Dec. 16, agents' worst fears were realized as a border patrol SWAT team, including Agent Terry, tracked a small group of armed men through Peck Canyon. ATF says there's no forensic evidence that shows the two "lost" guns found at the scene were used to kill Agent Terry. What is now clear is that, for some reason, the first projectile to fly that day was a bean bag.