By Lachlan Markay
News broke yesterday that three officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were instrumental in the agency’s botched Fast and Furious operation had been promoted. That was jarring enough, given the large and seemingly growing scope of the scandal.
Now we find out that Fast and Furious was an even bigger disaster than initially thought. Not only were guns from the operation discovered at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder, but an additional 57 Fast and Furious firearms were recovered at 11 different violent crime scenes in the American Southwest.
The gunwalking tactic – which ATF officials have denied and admitted to, sometimes in the span of only a few minutes – was devised as a means to learn how cartels illegally obtained firearms from the United States. But the vast majority of the roughly 1,500 guns ATF estimates were sold to “straw buyers” were not tracked by agency officials.
Many of those guns did not even make it back to the cartels in Mexico, but were instead sold or handed off to operatives in the United States – hence the 11 crimes involving Fast and Furious guns north of the border.
The Los Angeles Timesreported today:
The department did not provide details about the crimes. But The Times has learned that they occurred in several Arizona cities, including Phoenix, where Fast and Furious was managed, as well as in El Paso, where a total of 42 weapons from the operation were seized at two crime scenes.
The new numbers, which expand the scope of the danger the program posed to U.S. citizens over a 14-month period, are contained in a letter that Justice Department officials turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.
In the letter, obtained by The Times on Tuesday, Justice Department officials also reported that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials advised them that the agency’s acting director, Kenneth E. Melson, “likely became aware” of the operation as early as December 2009, a month after it began.
Melson has said he did not learn about how the operation was run until January of this year, when it was canceled…
But a source close to the controversy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said that as early as January 2010, just after the operation began, weapons had turned up at crime scenes in Phoenix, Nogales, Douglas and Glendale in Arizona, and in El Paso. The largest haul was 40 weapons at one crime scene in El Paso.
In all, 57 of the operation’s weapons were recovered at those six crime scenes, in addition to the two seized where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.
Despite the scandal – which seems to grow even bigger each week – the ATF recently decided to promote three agents that were intimately involved in devising the operation.
The ATF has promoted three key supervisors of a controversial sting operation that allowed firearms to be illegally trafficked across the U.S. border into Mexico.
All three have been heavily criticized for pushing the program forward even as it became apparent that it was out of control. At least 2,000 guns were lost and many turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and two at the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
The three supervisors have been given new management positions at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They are William G. McMahon, who was the ATF’s deputy director of operations in the West, where the illegal trafficking program was focused, and William D. Newell and David Voth, both field supervisors who oversaw the program out of the agency’s Phoenix office.