Saturday, August 6, 2011

ATF Officials in Mexico Denied Access to Fast and Furious Details

Over the last several weeks, new details have emerged about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ reckless strategy, named Operation Fast and Furious, to allow guns to fall into the hands of known straw purchasers.  The guns often were transported across the border to Mexican drug cartels.

I began asking questions in January and have been joined by Congressman Darrell Issa, the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  We’re working together to find answers about who signed off in the ATF and Department of Justice on the policy and why they thought it was an appropriate strategy.

In testimony to congressional investigators and in a hearing before the House committee, ATF officials based in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said they were increasingly worried about the alarming rate of guns found in violent crimes in Mexico that were traced to a single ATF operation based out of the ATF’s Phoenix Field Division. 

When the ATF officials in Mexico City asked their counterparts in Phoenix and at ATF headquarters for additional information, they were denied access.  This silo mentality is incomprehensible, especially after 9-11.   There is no reason for officials at the Justice Department, the ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office to keep their counterparts at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the dark about Operation Fast and Furious.  This secrecy jeopardized our relationship with our southern ally, and put lives at risk.

In a report released before the hearing, Congressman Issa and I outlined several of the findings from the interviews with congressional investigators.  This is the second report we’ve released.  The first report, which can be found here, outlined the accounts of ATF agents who provided firsthand accounts about Operation Fast and Furious.

The findings from the most recent report include:

·    Little to no information was shared by the officials in the Phoenix Field Division, the ATF Headquarters and the Justice Department with their colleagues in Mexico City.  Every time U.S. officials in Mexico City asked about the mysterious investigation, their U.S.-based ATF counterparts in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., continued to say they were “working on it” and “everything was under control.”

·    Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, was clearly aware of Operation Fast and Furious and touted the case during a visit to Mexico.

·    ATF officials in Mexico City were incredulous that their agency would knowingly allow guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and they were incensed when they finally began to learn the full scope of Operation Fast and Furious and the investigative techniques used.

It seems that with every stone we turn over, we uncover more information to track down.  We’ll keep working until we get to the bottom of who knew what and when, and then we’ll work on making sure the right people are held accountable.          

August 5, 2011

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