The botched Arizona-based gun-tracking operation known as Operation Fast and Furious was "marred by missteps, poor judgments and inherently reckless strategy," the Republican investigators said in a final report obtained by the Los Angeles Times Monday and likely to be released this week.
The five ATF managers, including the top official in the bureau's Washington headquarters, have since moved to other positions. They have either defended Fast and Furious in congressional testimony or refused to discuss it, the Times said.
The report -- written by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Charles E. Grassley of Iowa -- said the investigators' findings were "the best information available as of now" about the flawed gun operation that led to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's being found in contempt of Congress June 28 for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents.
Two more final reports are to deal with "the devastating failure of supervision and leadership" at the Justice Department and an "unprecedented obstruction of the [congressional] investigation by the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the attorney general himself," said the report.
The ATF is a federal law enforcement organization within the Justice Department.
Fast and Furious, conducted from late 2009 to early 2011 by Phoenix-based ATF agents, was part of a strategy begun during the George W. Bush administration to combat Mexican drug and organized-crime cartels.
The operation let suspected smugglers buy more than 2,000 firearms -- including AK-47 variants, .50-caliber sniper rifles, .38-caliber revolvers and semiautomatic pistols -- without intercepting the weapons.
The stated goal of permitting the purchases was to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key cartel figures, which would presumably lead to the figures' arrests and the cartels' dismantling. But the agents lost track of several hundred weapons.
Some guns later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including that of a Dec. 14, 2010, shootout in which U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.
The gun-walking operation became public after Terry's death, when enraged agents went to lawmakers about the operation.