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New 'Fast and Furious' report finds DHS warning signs ignored

March 21, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano
  • U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has received persistent criticism for Operation Fast and Furious.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has received persistent criticism for… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

WASHINGTON — Even as they lost scores of illegal firearms in their Fast and Furious operation, federal ATF agents asked their Border Patrol counterparts not to pursue criminal leads or track gun smuggling in southern Arizona so they could follow the firearms themselves, and senior Homeland Security agents “complied and the leads were not investigated,” according to a new Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s report.

The report, obtained Thursday by The Times, also said that a Homeland Security special agent on the border was collaborating with the ATF in Fast and Furious, but his “senior leaders” in Arizona never read his updates about fundamental flaws with the failed gun tracking operation. Had they done so, Homeland Security officials could have tried to close down the operation before one of their Border Patrol agents, Brian Terry, was killed not far from Tucson.

Furthermore, the report determined that top Department of Homeland Security officials in Washington did not learn about Fast and Furious until Terry was shot to death in December 2010 and two of the 1,430 lost firearms were found at the scene of his murder.

Fast and Furious has led to a number of high-ranking demotions within the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a contempt of Congress citation against Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. Now, the new Homeland Security inspector general’s findings for the first time document that the ATF also managed to mostly keep their Border Patrol counterparts in the dark about Fast and Furious.

Officials at Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, responding to the report, agreed to enact a series of  recommendations to better coordinate law enforcement operations on the border.

Radha C. Sekar, acting executive associate director for management and administration for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the inspector general that they would assess whether senior Phoenix officials “fulfilled their duty to enforce the weapons smuggling statutes,” and also would review their own policies for collaborating with other law enforcement agencies.

Charles K. Edwards, the deputy Homeland Security inspector general, said in his report that shortly after ATF launched Fast and Furious in Phoenix in October 2009,  Homeland Security special agents learned of the operation while conducting their own investigation into a Mexican gun smuggling ring.

But ATF agents told the Homeland Security special agents that the firearms were “related” to Fast and Furious and asked them to “refrain from further efforts to identify the smuggling ring’s transportation cell.” The top Homeland Security agent in Phoenix  “agreed to the request,” largely because federal prosecutors supported Fast and Furious.

Edwards added that Homeland Security officials tried to get the ATF to change its tactics in allowing guns to be illegally smuggled, but “ATF did not revise their strategy.”

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richard.serrano@latimes.com

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