Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Four ATF agents contradict Justice Department account on ‘Fast and Furious’

Photo: AP
Four Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents in transcribed interviews with top GOP oversight official Darrell Issa’s office are contradicting the Justice Department’s account of “Operation Fast and Furious,” saying hundreds of weapons -– including assault rifles and military-grade sniper weapons -– were allowed to escape into the clutches of Mexican drug cartels in an apparently reckless investigative strategy.

Their testimony raises the question of whether Ronald Weich, a deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder, lied to congressional investigators in a Feb. 4 letter denying the allegations. Weich is testifying before Issa’s committee Wednesday.

The four ATF agents describe how the weapons were tracked from sales at U.S. gun shops but not seized as is normal practice. The goal of the operation was to track the weapons as they progressed from the purchasers through criminal networks.

But two rifles involved in “Fast and Furious” were found at the scene of Border Agent Brian Terry’s murder Dec. 14, 2010, apparently provoking the Justice Department to halt the operation in the aftermath of the murder. Jaime Avila, the purchaser of the guns, had been under surveillance for over a year as he illegally purchased weapons.

The ATF agents’ testimony, from John Dodson, Olindo James Casa, Lawrence Alt and Peter Forceilli, adds additional context and detail to “Fast and Furious” not previously known. The testimony is excerpted in a report from Issa released on the eve of the hearing where Weich is testifying.

Top-ranking Justice Department officials have previously denied the allegations, saying ATF agents made “every effort” to seize weapons purchased illegally. Since earlier blanket denials, however, Justice officials have since narrowed the scope of what they are denying, defining terms in ways the ATF agents say are at odds with common usage.



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