MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said it is studying a U.S. Justice Department report on Operation Fast and Furious, a federal undercover sting that allegedly allowed some 2,000 weapons to be smuggled south of the border.
The AG’s office said Friday in a statement that “the introduction of weapons into the nation’s territory without compliance with applicable legal requirements constitutes a crime.”
“Therefore, it is incumbent on the AG’s office to determine whether as a consequence of ‘Fast and Furious’ this crime was committed, independent of the conclusions of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General,” it added.
A careful analysis of that report is being conducted to determine if it can “provide information within the scope of previous relevant inquiries,” the AG’s office said.
It noted that “there are also institutional channels for the exchange of information with the U.S. authorities.”
Finally, it noted that “effectively combating weapons trafficking is an indispensable component in battling trans-national organized crime gangs that operate both in Mexico and in the United States, and therefore national and bilateral actions in this sphere must be strengthened.”
Fast and Furious was launched in 2009 by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Phoenix office and shut down in late 2010 after guns traced to the program were linked to the killing in Arizona of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
The much-awaited Justice Department report on the sting documented mistakes by several officials, but found “no evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder knew of the botched effort to trace the flow of guns to Mexico’s drug cartels prior to its unraveling in January 2011.”
A U.S. congressional committee filed a civil suit last month against Holder demanding that he hand over additional documents concerning Fast and Furious.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), filed the suit asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to require Holder to turn over the documents subpoenaed by the congressional panel in October 2011.
The committee earlier voted to hold Holder in contempt for his refusal to deliver the documents.
“Our review of Operation Fast and Furious and related matters revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona,” the Office of the Inspector General said.
It recommended disciplinary action – but not criminal charges – against 14 ATF employees.
The report said most of the weapons were AK-47 rifles and FN Herstal 5.7 pistols and it acknowledged that numerous weapons were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States, including two at the spot near the border where Terry was killed in December 2010.
The Terry slaying touched off the gun walking scandal that has raised the ire of the Mexican government, which has called on the United States to take forceful measures to halt the flow of weapons across the border.
Conflict among rival cartels and between the traffickers and the security forces has claimed some 60,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon – whose term ends Nov. 30 – militarized the struggle against the drug trade.
Calderon says the United States is largely responsible for the violence because of the high demand for illegal drugs there and the cross-border flow of weapons to the violent cartels.