Report: More than 1,000 weapons unaccounted for in Fast and Furious

All along, critics have argued Operation Fast and Furious was a reckless operation because officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should have known they would never be able to keep track of the weapons they allowed to be sold to straw buyers, those who legally purchase guns and illegally sell them to a third party.

A congressional report out today validates and quantifies that criticism. The report shows federal agents running the disastrous program can’t account for more than 1,000 firearms bought by suspected smugglers. The WSJ reports:

Suspected smugglers bought 1,418 firearms after coming to the attention of ATF agents running the probe, according to the congressional report, detailing the most complete accounting to date of weapons in the operation. Of those, 1,048 haven’t been recovered or traced, the report said.

The Justice Department’s inspector general’s office is conducting its own probe of the operation. Attorney General Eric Holder and other top officials have said they didn’t know of, nor approve of, the ATF tactics.

The congressional report was released by Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), who have led the criticism of the ATF, and its parent agency, the Justice Department, over the Fast and Furious operation. Mr. Grassley is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The report also shows the Phoenix ATF withheld from ATF officials in Mexico the crucial information that the department was allowing guns to walk:

In a congressional report being released in conjunction with the hearing the findings note, “ATF and DOJ leadership kept their own personnel in Mexico and Mexican government officials totally in the dark about all aspects of Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, ATF officials in Mexico grew increasingly worried about the number of weapons recovered in Mexico that traced back to an ongoing investigation out of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division.”

The congressional report notes that ATF intelligence analysts notified the ATF’s attaché in Mexico, Darren Gil, and Carlos Canino, Deputy Attaché, about a large number of guns showing up in Mexico from the Phoenix field office investigation.

“Hundreds of weapons were suddenly appearing in Mexico – traced to Phoenix – without explanation. Gil and his agents struggled to get answers from their own agency. Although ATF officials in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. acknowledged that an investigation was underway, they refused to share the details of the strategy and operation with the agents in Mexico … ATF officials in Mexico finally realized the truth: ATF was allowing guns to walk. By withholding this critical information from its own personnel in Mexico, ATF jeopardized relations between the U.S. and Mexico.” The report noted.

That ATF officials learned the truth only as they recovered weapons that traced back to the fumbled Phoenix investigation is representative of the secretive and incompetent way in which OF&F was conducted.

“It’s incomprehensible that officials at the Justice Department, the ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office would keep their counterparts at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the dark about Operation Fast and Furious. Keeping key details secret while straw purchasers continued buying weapons for gun traffickers jeopardized our relationship with our southern ally and put lives at risk,” Grassley said in a statement.

The report was the basis for questioning at a hearing this morning at which ATF officials in Mexico testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Update: Grassley gave the key takeaways of the hearing on Fox News.

“People with ATF in Mexico City — they were asking questions over a long period of time,” Grassley said on “Happening Now.” “They never got any answers. They testified today, when they found out about it, they were very embarrassed.”

The hearing also revealed a wiretap was approved at some point in connection with OF&F. Wiretap approval occurs at a level no lower than the assistant attorney general level, Grassley said.

“That gets us to a higher level within the Justice Department than we’ve been able to get to before,” he said. “We don’t know how high up in Justice this goes — that’s the whole motivation for our investigation … or a partial motivation.”