Federal gun agents in Arizona -- convinced that "someone was going to die" when their agency allowed weapons sales to suspected Mexican drug traffickers -- made anguished pleas to be permitted to make arrests but were rebuffed, according to a new congressional report on the controversial law enforcement probe.
Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told congressional investigators that there was "a state of panic" that the guns used in the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in January and two U.S. agents in Mexico a month later might have been sold under the U.S. surveillance operation."I used the word anxiety. The term I used amongst my peers is pucker factor," Larry Alt, special agent with ATF's Phoenix field division, told investigators preparing a joint staff report for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The report will be released Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Neither of those shootings was ultimately linked to the "Fast and Furious" probe, though two weapons sold to a suspect under surveillance were found at the scene of the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Nogales, Ariz., in December.
Terry's family will be among the key witnesses at an oversight committee hearing Wednesday on the ATF operation, under which the bureau allowed purchases of high-powered weapons in an attempt to track their progress into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. According to the report and numerous interviews with The Times, several ATF agents regarded the operation as dangerous and misguided.
At least 195 of the weapons have been traced to Mexico, found mainly at crime scenes, but ATF agents quoted in the report said more than 1,700 firearms were trafficked "to known criminals or cartel elements south of the border and elsewhere" under the operation.
The Hill has further details:
“Instead of trying to interdict the weapons, ATF purposely avoided contact with known straw purchasers or curtailed surveillance, allowing guns to fall into the hands of criminals and bandits on both sides of the border,” the report states.
The ATF’s attempt to monitor the sale of the guns, catalog their serial numbers, and track them back to members of Mexican drug cartels is “likely” to have contributed to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in a shootout last December in Arizona, according to the report.
“The death of Border Agent Brian Terry was likely a preventable tragedy,” states the report. Two of the weapons found at the scene of Terry’s killing were traced back to a purchase that the ATF had monitored earlier that year, according to ATF documents.
"Unfortunately, ATF never achieved the laudable goal of dismantling a drug cartel. In fact, ATF never even got close,” the report states.