The extent of the failure of Operation Fast and Furious, the much lamented gun-tracing operation undertaken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, became clearer Thursday as previously concealed data in an Inspector General’s report further confirmed that only a small fraction of some 1,500 firearms were recovered after being allowed to fall into criminal hands.
A more stark portrait of the lapses in Fast and Furious emerges from those portions of the nearly 500-page report as the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General on Thursday reissued its report on the operation. It lifts its redaction on some wiretap information — information that some congressional leaders said was evidence that top DOJ officials knew of the dangerous tactics at play.
At Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s request, the department sought through federal court to have portions of the wiretaps unsealed, the IG said in a statement. The unredacted sections do not relate to ongoing investigations, the IG’s office said Thursday.
Nineteen pages of the nearly 500-page report contain highlighted passages with newly released information. Portions of the nine wiretap applications and affidavits were leaked to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) during the congressional inquiry of Fast and Furious. Some Republicans said the applications showed that top department officials were aware guns were “walking” over the border and into the hands of Mexican cartel members and they were attempting a cover-up. The IG report ultimately found that those reviewing the wiretaps should have seen the “red flags” in the wiretaps.
Fast and Furious was a gun-tracing operation headed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It aimed to track some 2,000 guns as they were sold to strawbuyers, who in turn smuggled them over the border and they eventually landed in the hands of Mexican cartel members. Hundreds of guns went missing, however, and two from the operation were found at the scene of a shootout that ended in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Some of the unsealed information revealed more specifics on the number of guns that flowed over the border.
The May 21, 2010, affidavit’s contents, the IG found, would cause a read to “infer from the facts stated that agents were not taking enforcement action to interdict the weapons or arrest” straw purchasers, which the IG later deemed as a dangerous tactic.
“The affidavit reported that ATF had identified 24 straw purchasers and that from September 23, 2009, to March 23, 2010, 302 of the 1,500 firearms had been recovered. Of those 302 recovered firearms, 182 were recovered in Mexico while 116 were recovered in the United States but near the Mexican Border. Additionally, the affidavit stated that the firearms were recovered anywhere from 1 day to 105 days after being purchased in Arizona,” the report now states on page 277.
The unsealed information also reveals that the nine wiretap affidavits that the the disparity between the number of firearms out in the field and the number being recovered was “significant.”
“According to the affidavit in support of the final wiretap extension request, the straw purchasing organization had acquired at least 1,500 firearms, of which only 337 had been recovered,” the report states on page 279.
One passage also further explained the strategy that ATF agents in Phoenix, Ariz., employed, a strategy which the IG report found had disregarded the public’s safety.
“With respect to the government’s need for the wiretap, the affidavit stated that the technique was the only means of investigation that was likely to expose the overall scope and extent of the criminal organization being investigated. According to the affidavit, the government was not aware of any reliable cooperating defendant or confidential informant and did not believe the use of an undercover agent was viable because… [redacted section],” the report states on page 157. “The affidavit also stated that physical surveillance had had limited value in the case, and that prolonged surveillance was likely to compromise the investigation… The affidavit also stated that the execution of a search warrant would not be successful because it would compromise the investigation, would not identify co-conspirators, and would not be of significant evidentiary value because ATF did not believe …[redacted.] “With respect to interviews of subjects, the affidavit stated that these were unlikely to produce sufficient information about the identities of all individuals involved in the conspiracy or the disposition of sales proceeds, and would likely compromise the investigation”
The following pages contain unredacted information:
Read the full reissued report here.