Tags: Immigration | Latin America | Mexico | Issa | project gunrunner | investigation | deaths

Issa Investigating Mishandling of ATF Operation

Thursday, 17 Mar 2011 01:14 PM

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has launched an investigation into allegations that a federal sting operation dubbed “Project Gunrunner” may have led to the deaths of hundreds of people including two federal agents at the hands of Mexican drug lords. Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said “grave questions” have been raised about the handling of the operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Issa, project gunrunner, investigation, deaths, Mexico, drugs
Rep. Darrell Issa
The allegations first surfaced in a CBS News investigation that charged thousands of high-powered weapons made their way across the border and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels as a result of the operation that began in 2006. Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who were alerted to suspicious sales by gun shops, decided to let the guns “walk” so they could be traced to higher-ups despite protests from other agents.

"We were fully aware the guns would probably be moved across the border to drug cartels where they could be used to kill," one agent told CBS. The guns began showing up at Mexican crime scenes and two were found at the scene of the murder of Border patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Issa said he had no problem with government sting operations that allow limited buys to follow trafficking to the source but in this case the weapons weren’t followed.

“Certainly, having a sting operation that has no sting in it is a terrible example of misuse of their ability to do investigations,” Issa said in an appearance on California’s Roger Hedgecock Show. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it.”

Guns sold in the United States have also been linked to the killing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata and the wounding of another agent in Mexico.

In a letter to Kenneth Melson, the acting Director of the ATF, Issa demanded the release of a host of documents relating to the program including a list of “those responsible for authorizing the decision to ‘walk’ guns to Mexico in order to follow them and capture a ‘bigger fish.’”

"Recent media reports have raised grave questions about your department's handling of operations involving gun trafficking in Mexico," he wrote. "In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jamie Zapata, it is imperative that you act decisively to assuage the public's deep suspicions that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has a policy permitting — and even encouraging — the movement of guns into Mexico by straw purchasers.”

Issa charged in the letter that the "presence of these guns may have subsequently led to the deaths of hundreds of people on both sides of the border including agents Terry and Zapata.”

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