Washington (CNN) - Federal firearms agents in Arizona cringed every time they heard of a shooting after letting waves of guns pass into the hands of Mexican drug gangs, some of those agents told a House committee Wednesday.
It was part of an operation aimed at tracking the flow of weapons across the U.S.-Mexican border, but the operation has come under intense criticism since the December killing of a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Operation Fast and Furious, as the program was known, was "a colossal failure of leadership," said Peter Forcelli, a supervisor at the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
When U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was wounded and six others were killed in a January assassination attempt in Tucson, Forcelli said, an agency spokesman told him "that there was concern from the chain of command that the gun was hopefully not a Fast and Furious gun." Another agent, Lee Casa, said, "This happened time and time again."
"Every time there's a shooting, whether it was Mrs. Giffords or anybody, any time there is a shooting in the general Phoenix area or even in, you know, Arizona, we're fearful that it might be one of these firearms," Casa told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The killings of three people connected with the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, caused similar anxiety, Casa said.
And a third agent, John Dodson, told lawmakers: "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest. I hope the committee will receive a better explanation than I."
Operation Fast and Furious focused on following "straw purchasers," or people who legally bought weapons that were then transferred to criminals and destined for Mexico. But instead of intercepting the weapons when they switched hands, Operation Fast and Furious called for ATF agents to let the guns "walk" and wait for them to surface in Mexico, according to a committee report.
The idea was that once the weapons in Mexico were traced back to the straw purchasers, the entire arms smuggling network could be brought down. Instead, the report argues, letting the weapons slip into the wrong hands was a deadly miscalculation that resulted in preventable deaths, including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.FULL STORY
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