During a forum Thursday on Capitol Hill, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States announced his country was conducting its own investigation into the disastrous federal gun-walking operation known as Fast and Furious, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Arturo Sarukhan said Mexican officials were kept out of the loop during the program, which saw around 2,000 U.S. purchased firearms walked across the border only to fall into the hands of drug cartels. The guns are believed to have been used in the killings of hundreds of people in Mexico, including U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
"Mexico was never apprised how the operation would be designed and implemented," Sarukhan told officials at the forum hosted by the New Democrat Network (NDN) and the New Policy Institute.
"Regardless of whether this was or was not the intent or the design of Fast and Furious," he continued, "The thinking that you can let guns walk across the border and maintain operational control of those weapons is really an outstanding lack of understanding of how these criminal organizations are operating on both sides of our common borders."
The Mexican ambassador also said the gun walking program has "poisoned the wellsprings" of public opinion in Mexico, undermining the accomplishments of the U.S. and Mexico in fighting illegal gun trafficking.
The Los Angeles Times has more from the Capitol Hill forum:
While condemning the ATF's gun-walking debacle, Sarukhan also tried to turn the focus to how the United States and Mexico could work together to prevent transnational gun trafficking. For Mexico, that would mean adding manpower and resources into its customs inspections and facilities at the border, he said.
"This has to be a dual process," Sarukhan said. "We won't achieve too much if the only ones inspecting or looking for guns are Mexican customs."
In March, Rep.Adam B. Schiff(D-Burbank) introduced legislation that would create two-year prison sentences for "straw purchasers," who acquire weapons to sell to Mexican gun smugglers. Currently, straw purchasers face probation or minimal jail time.
Yet he worries that Republicans may oppose the legislation in order to keep the focus on the Fast and Furious debacle.
The Justice Department's inspector general is doing an investigation, and members on both sides of the aisle agree that we need to get the facts," Schiff said. "What I don't want is the continual use of this investigation for political purposes that distract us from the need to curb the problem at hand and focus on solutions."
Operation Fast and Furious was run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and let illegal guns purchased in Arizona cross the Mexican border with the intention of tracking the guns back to drug cartel leaders. But nearly 1,700 guns were lost and weren't found until they started showing up at crime scenes throughout Mexico.
An ATF study revealed that 68,000 of 99,000 guns confiscated by law enforcement agencies in Mexico could be traced to the U.S, according to the LA Times.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been routinely criticized for his handling of Fast and Furious and for providing conflicting statements concerning when he was first made aware of the operation.
In another development, ATF documents obtained by CBS News in December revealed the agency had also discussed using Fast and Furious to make the case for new rules about gun sales in the United States. Read more from the report:
ATF officials didn't intend to publicly disclose their own role in letting Mexican cartels obtain the weapons, but emails show they discussed using the sales, including sales encouraged by ATF, to justify a new gun regulation called "Demand Letter 3". That would require some U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or "long guns." Demand Letter 3 was so named because it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.
On July 14, 2010 after ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. received an update on Fast and Furious, ATF Field Ops Assistant Director Mark Chait emailed Bill Newell, ATF's Phoenix Special Agent in Charge of Fast and Furious:
"Bill - can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same (licensed gun dealer) and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales. Thanks."
The Obama administration has attempted to distance itself from the Fast and Furious scandal and is likely the last thing they want brought up during an election year.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner and GOP leadership are presently applying additional pressure to Holder and the Justice Department in trying to enforce a congressional subpoena of documents relating to the operation.
“We write to express our concerns with the lack of full cooperation from the Department of Justice with the ongoing Congressional investigation into the operation known as ‘Fast & Furious’ and the related death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” House leaders wrote to Holder.