WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Memos from 2010 indicate some U.S. Justice Department officials knew guns were sold illegally then tracked in a failed plan to catch Mexican drug cartel chiefs.
E-mails last year indicate senior government officials discussed two undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives programs, including the failed Fast and Furious operation in which ATF agents allowed firearms to be "walked" into Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
In the e-mails turned over to congressional investigators, Justice Department officials last October discussed the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking surveillance operation in Phoenix and Operation Wide Receiver, a 2006-2007 investigation in Tucson. In Operation Wide Receiver, firearms also were acquired by illegal straw purchasers and lost in Mexico, the e-mails indicate.
"Gun walking" is key to the failure of Fast and Furious. ATF agents knowingly allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, with the goal of tracking the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arresting them. However, more than 2,000 weapons were lost and Mexican officials said some of them surfaced at about 170 crime scenes. Two were recovered at the scene of a fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona in December.
Justice Department officials repeatedly said they didn't know anything about the Fast and Furious tactics until ATF whistle-blowers publicly alleged guns were being bought illegally with the ATF's knowledge. Justice Department officials also said that while senior officials knew guns were "walked" in the Wide Receiver investigation, they didn't know similar tactics were used in Fast and Furious.
July 2010 memos included in weekly reports discussed an illegal straw purchaser in the Fast and Furious operation who bought 1,500 weapons "that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels."
Congressional investigators working for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they consider the e-mails strong evidence that Justice Department officials knew about "gun walking" tactics in Fast and Furious, the Times said.
Operation Fast and Furious, which ran from fall 2009 until January, netted charges against 20 people, none of whom were cartel leaders. It was unclear whether Operation Wide Receiver resulted in any indictments.