At least one gun smuggler who also was a paid FBI informant was involved in the controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious, two key Republicans leading a congressional investigation said Monday.
In response to allegations that taxpayer money may have been used to pay individuals trafficking guns in the controversial operation, Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa have shifted their focus to the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration. They appear to be centering on allegations that the two federal agencies did not know of the dual involvement.
In letters to both agencies dated last week, they made sweeping requests for more information on the agencies’ involvement and the “veracity of claims” regarding paid informants.
“We have learned of the possible involvement of paid FBI informants in Operation Fast and Furious,” the congressmen wrote in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. “At least one individual who is allegedly an FBI informant might have been in communication with, and was perhaps even conspiring with, at least one suspect whom ATF was monitoring.”
The L.A. Times reported that investigators believe at least six Mexican drug cartel members involved in gun smuggling were also paid FBI informants, citing congressional officials close to the investigation.
Officials declined to name the informants due to safely concerns if their identities were to become public. But Issa and Grassley clearly hoped to extract more information, asking for the number of informants in contact with the agencies and the nature of the contact those informants might have had with ATF.
The letters followed broad requests last week for communications records between top DOJ officials regarding the operation. But they also signal a broadening public focus by congressional investigators, who for the past six months have focused primarily on agents and senior officials within the ATF and Justice Department.
The letters cited information provided in a July 4 closed-door interview with ATF acting Director Kenneth Melson, who first revealed that the FBI and DEA may have paid gun smugglers who purchased weapons from ATF agents as part of the operation.
Communications breakdowns among the agencies apparently led to the situation, Melson said according to letters released by investigators.
Issa and Grassley have led the investigation into Fast and Furious, which allegedly resulted in at least 2,000 firearms being sold to straw buyers for drug cartels in Arizona. The ATF then allegedly allowed the guns to be taken Mexico.
Two guns from the operation were recovered at the scene of a shootout between Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandits near Rio Rico, Ariz., that ended in the death of agent Brian A. Terry. Other firearms sold during the operation have been linked to scenes of violent crime in Mexico.