Senators Blast Feds for Bungled Border Scandal

By Dirk Hanson 07/14/11

Botched gun-smuggling scheme put weapons in the hands of Mexican drug thugs, endangered informants, and may have gotten agents killed.

Guns that went south.
Photo via frontpagemag

Just how did a massive anti-smuggling Operation dubbed Fast and Furious turn into a fiasco that might as well be known as Operation Dazed and Confused?  Angry senators are investigating how the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) managed to bungle an effort to break up a gun-running ring in the Southwest, turning it into a fiasco that allowed some 2,000 firearms to slip into Mexico. Now that investigation has widened considerably in the past week. A furious letter from U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) to Attorney General Eric Holder even claims “some of the gun trafficking ‘higher-ups’ that the ATF were seeking to identify were already known to other agencies, and may even have been working as informants for other U.S. agencies. The Acting Director [Kenneth Melson] said that ATF was kept in the dark about certain activities of other agencies, including DEA and FBI. Mr. Melson said that he learned from ATF agents in the field that information obtained by these agencies could have had a material impact on the Fast and Furious investigation as far back as late 2009 or early 2010,” the letter furiously concludes.

In short, the senators say, ATF was cluelessly hunting down gun-smuggling drug dealers that other federal agents were running as informers. Not surprisingly, the Congressmen are not happy: “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 traffickers engaging in such activities.”

Now comes another angry letter this week from Representatives Issa and Grassley, once again aimed squarely at the Justice Department. “As our investigation into Operation Fast and Furious has progressed, we have learned that senior officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ)—including Senate-confirmed political appointees—were unquestionably aware of the implementation of this reckless program,” Grassley and Issa again wrote to Holder. “Therefore it is necessary to review communications between and among these senior officials.” All the more so, since it now appears that two U.S. Border Patrol agents were killed by drug cartels using Operation Fast and Furious guns. There's no love lost between the Attorney General and the conserative G.O.P. congressmen, so this is one gun trafficking scandal that won’t be going away any time soon. Expect dramatic hearings on the scandal in the near future.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
dirk hanson.jpg

Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]