Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona repeated to members of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee Wednesday what they have been saying to the media for months.
They told lawmakers they were instructed to only watch as hundreds of guns were brought, illegally resold and sent to Mexico while they had to watch and not arrest the straw-buyers and limit their activities to seeing where the guns went.
Reuters said Republicans and Democrats on the panel expressed outrage about the ATF program — “Operation Fast and Furious” — and demanded answers from the Obama administration about why arrests were secondary to tracking the firearms.
“We monitored as they purchased handguns, AK-47 variants and .50 caliber rifles, almost daily at times,” John Dodson, an ATF special agent in Phoenix, told the committee. “Rather than conduct any enforcement actions, we took notes, we recorded observations, we tracked movements of these individuals, we wrote reports but nothing more.”
Both the White House and the Department of Justice have said that neither President Barack Obama, nor Attorney General Eric Holder had approved the program that began in 2009. DOJ has not given Congress the documents it has requested because it says an investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, nobody knows who approved the mission or how high in the administration was the approval made.
As a result of the ATF program, two weapons were found at the scene where a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed in a shootout with illegal immigrants. It still has not been revealed whether either of those weapons was responsible for his death.
“What we find is that people at the local level overwhelmingly objected to this program but were assured that it was approved at the highest levels,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.
Terry’s family testified at Issa’s hearing and demanded that investigation find who authorized this program run amok.
According to Reuters, of the nearly 30,000 firearms recovered in 2009 and 2010 in Mexico, where gun possession is illegal, some 70 percent were determined to have come from the United States, ATF officials told lawmakers last week.
Dodson said agents were never given reasonable answers why their activities were limited.
An ATF supervisor in Phoenix, Peter Forcelli, said some tried to raise concerns with supervisors but were rebuffed.
“My concerns were dismissed,” he told the committee. “I believe that these firearms will continue to turn up at crime scenes, on both sides of the border, for years to come.”