Documents describe another gun probe
Jan. 5, 2012 05:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- In a probe of arms trafficking during the George W.
Bush administration, a federal prosecutor said it was wrong that law
enforcement agents had allowed hundreds of guns to go into Mexico and
into the hands of drug dealers, according to documents the Justice
Department turned over to Congress on Thursday.
The emailed comment by an assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona to a law
enforcement colleague in December 2008 focused on the tactic used in
Operation Wide Receiver, an investigation that began in early 2006.
The newly disclosed internal Justice Department documents show Wide
Receiver had many of the same problems that turned up more recently
in a separate, later probe called Operation Fast and Furious, which
is the focus of an inquiry by congressional Republicans.
The concerns about the earlier Wide Receiver probe that were
expressed in the internal Justice Department documents deal with the
law enforcement tactic of standing aside rather than arresting
"straw" buyers of illicitly purchased weapons in the hopes that
agents can follow the guns and straw buyers to major arms traffickers.
The tactic, known as, "letting guns walk," long has been prohibited
by Justice Department policy. But federal agents under both the Bush
and Obama administrations, nevertheless, turned to the tactic as a
response to long-running criticism that traditional department
policies have left arms-trafficking kingpins virtually untouched by
In the more recent Fast and Furious investigation, focused on sales
at Phoenix-area gun shops, federal agents lost track of nearly 1,400
of the more than 2,000 weapons they were trying to track. Some of
those turned up later at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.
The Wide Receiver investigation that began in early 2006 proceeded
and used the gun-walking tactic despite the concerns expressed by
some of the law enforcement personnel involved in it.
"I am no longer comfortable allowing additional firearms to 'walk,'
without a more defined purpose," a supervisor for the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona wrote in a June
2007 email to a federal law enforcement official in Texas about
Operation Wide Receiver.
"I think it is wrong for us to allow 100s of guns to go into Mexico
to drug people knowing that is where they are going," Assistant U.S.
Attorney Serra Tsethlikai wrote in a Dec. 19, 2008, email to another
assistant U.S. attorney.
The probe languished at the Justice Department until the Obama
administration took office.
In an August 2009 email, an ATF agent said that a federal prosecutor
had a "moral dilemma" about Wide Receiver because the government had
allowed the targets of the investigation "to traffic 300+ firearms to
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department pursued the Wide
Receiver case and six defendants have pleaded guilty, two others who
were charged are fugitives and a third fugitive in the case was
There was extensive discussion in the internal documents about the
desire to coordinate the Wide Receiver investigation with Mexican
authorities -- but little in the documents to indicate that
coordination actually took place.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the Republican who chairs the House
Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is investigating
Operation Fast and Furious, has said coordination with the Mexican
government on Wide Receiver was "just the opposite" of the manner in
which Fast and Furious was conducted, with Mexican authorities in the
loop on Wide Receiver but out of the information loop on Fast and
"It is deeply discouraging that top Justice officials knew such
details about problems in Operation Wide Receiver yet were still so
quick to dismiss warnings from whistle-blowers" in Operation Fast and
Furious, Issa said of the newly released documents.
Another Arizona-based gun-running probe, the Hernandez investigation,
was undertaken during the Bush administration after Wide Receiver.
Those agents made contact with Mexican authorities and arranged for
them to take over surveillance of a vehicle driven by suspected straw
purchasers after it crossed into Mexico with weapons purchased in
this country, but the Mexican agents claimed they never spotted the
Subsequently, ATF officials asked Bush administration attorney
general Michael Mukasey to lean on his Mexican counterpart to supply
better vetted, incorruptible agents for such operations. Mukasey has
declined to say whether he had any success or even whether he tried
to do that.
The Hernandez case was run by ATF's Phoenix office, which also later
handled Fast and Furious.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/