Federal agents routinely were prevented from arresting Mexican weapons smugglers for fear that it would foul up a sting that ended up going painfully awry anyway, according to a report Congress released today. Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives also feared that the gun used in the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., was obtained through the sting, reports the Los Angeles Times
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ordered a joint report on the Arizona “Fast and Furious” operation, in which undercover agents sold guns to smugglers who trafficked them to Mexican cartels, with the intention of tracking the weapons.
Agents’ concerns about the dangers of the operation came to fruition in December with the shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona. Terry’s family are scheduled to be featured witnesses at a committee hearing on the sting today.
At the hearing, Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said hundreds of weapons destined for cartels were bought in Arizona gun shops.
Almost 200 weapons have been tracked south of the border, but 1,700 guns that were sold to traffickers remain unaccounted for, the Times reported.
"I cannot see anyone who has one iota of concern for human life being OK with this," the newspaper quotes ATF Agent John Dodson as telling congressional investigators.
Orders from the top seemed to fly in the face of standard law-enforcement procedures at every turn, putting agents and the public in danger throughout the sting, according to the report. Dodson told investigators about one incident in which a trafficker recognized an undercover ATF agent and knew he was being followed as he delivered guns and collected cash. The agent “begged for permission” to arrest him but was denied.
"I mean, there is a verbal screaming match over the radio about how — ‘what are you talking about?’” Dodson recalled to investigators. “There is no better time or reason to pull this guy over than right now.”
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