WASHINGTON – A senior U.S. Department of Justice official approved a sting operation that allowed some 2,000 guns to be smuggled into Mexico, a former U.S. agent told CBS News.
Darren Gil, former head agent in Mexico for U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operations, said his direct supervisor in Washington told him the sting had been approved by officials of higher rank than ATF director Kenneth Melson.
Gil said in an exclusive interview Friday with CBS investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson that he asked his supervisor if Melson was aware of the operation and the latter responded: “Yes, the director’s aware of it. Not only is the director aware of it, D.O.J.’s aware of it.”
CBS News reported that Gil told Attkisson that a senior Justice Department official, Lanny Breuer, visited Mexico last summer and told ATF staff about a big case against suspected gun smugglers that was having good results.
Ties between the U.S. and Mexico, which has long claimed that most of the assault rifles and automatic pistols used by drug cartels are acquired in the gun shops of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, were strained after media reports uncovered Fast and Furious.
Two of the weapons that were part of that sting have been implicated in the killing of a U.S. border patrol agent last December.
Now, officials are investigating whether one or more may have been used in an attack on two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Feb. 15 in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi that left Jaime Zapata dead and Victor Avila wounded.
Gil said he consistently opposed the Fast and Furious operation and became involved in heated arguments about it with his superiors in Washington, who insisted that he not to tell his Mexican counterparts about the case.
During those discussions, he told CBS News that he noted that “at some point, these guns are gonna end up killing either a government of Mexico official, a police officer or military folks, and then what are we gonna do.”
Gil said the operation created more headaches for Mexico, which he said is trying to battle drug trafficking and trying to stop weapons from illegally crossing the border.
He also expressed concern for ATF agents based in Mexico, saying they were not aware of Fast and Furious yet are now facing threats of prosecution from some Mexican politicians.
“I’m sure the State Department, they have to be upset, you would think the (U.S.) Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be interested in this, certainly the (Senate) Judiciary Committee would be interested in this ... the fact that a law-enforcement agency allowed this to occur,” Gil said.
In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, chaired by lawmaker Michael McCaul (R-Tex), will hold a hearing Tuesday on the U.S. State Department’s role in Mexico’s war on drug cartels.
Gil is the second ATF agent to tell CBS news that he warned that guns used as part of Fast and Furious could end up killing a Mexican government official or a police or military officer.
ATF agent John Dodson, who said he warned his superiors in Phoenix, Arizona of much the same outcome, told CBS News that he was instructed to allow the trafficking of guns to Mexico – where 35,000 people have died in drug-related violence over the past four years – as part of efforts to build a legal case against smugglers.
According to The Center for Public Integrity, which has conducted an independent investigation into Fast and Furious, only 10 percent of the roughly 2,000 weapons that entered Mexico illegally were recovered in that country, while about 30 percent were recovered in the United States.
Another 1,200 weapons have not been recovered and, according to experts, they likely have fallen into the hands of the drug-trafficking gangs that both nations are trying to combat.