WASHINGTON – The No. 2 official at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was rebuffed in March 2010 when he urged a halt to “Operation Fast and Furious,” a botched program that allowed weapons bought by straw purchasers at U.S. gun shops to be smuggled into Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The ATF’s acting deputy director, William Hoover, was very concerned because his agents had lost track of hundreds of weapons and five months after Fast and Furious had been launched authorities still had not announced any indictments.
So Hoover called an emergency meeting in which he demanded an “exit strategy” for a program that ran counter to the agency’s longstanding mission of preventing illegal weapons trafficking.
But the participants in the meeting, including a Justice Department official, “did not want to stop the illegal gun sales until they had something to show for their efforts,” the Times said.
Hoover recommended a one-to-three-month plan to shut down Fast and Furious as soon as the first federal indictments were announced, the paper added.
Those indictments, however, took 10 months to materialize and by that time two semiautomatic weapons had been recovered after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed south of Tucson, Arizona, and another 200 had been discovered at various crime scenes in Mexico.
“I probably should have been a lot more strident with that, there’s no question,” Hoover has said, looking back on the March 2010 discussions.
“I probably should have jumped on a plane and flown to Phoenix and gotten the field division team and the U.S. attorney’s team together and had a discussion,” he said.
ATF authorities launched Fast and Furious in 2009, when President Barack Obama’s administration was eager to prevent weapons purchased at U.S. gun shops from fueling more drug-related violence in Mexico, where turf battles among cartels and clashes between mobsters and security forces have left more than 40,000 dead since late 2006.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department, which oversees the ATF, wanted to focus more on the biggest drug cartels and less on small-scale gun smugglers, the Times reported.
Fast and Furious, which has sparked tensions between the United States and Mexico, is the subject of separate investigations by the Justice Department and Congress. EFE