The tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious were flawed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in front of the House Judiciary Committee, and will likely be responsible for many more deaths in the United States and Mexico.
Amid a firestorm of questions from U.S. representatives about who authorized the 2009 Phoenix-based sting operation that allowed firearms to "walk" into Mexico, Holder said he has made personnel changes and asked the inspector general to launch an investigation into the operation that sold and lost track of about 2,000 guns, many which later were tied to crime scenes on both sides of the border.
"We're going to be feeling the repercussions for years to come. We're seeing these weapons in the United States and Mexico," Holder said. "We're in the process of trying to determine to the extent we can where they are."
During the hearing, which often grew heated, representatives demanded from Holder accountability and answers for the failed gun-trafficking sting.
The operation, launched in 2009 by the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, allowed buyers for criminal organizations to purchase firearms so the agency could record the trafficking of the weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border.
But many of the weapons fell into the hands of cartel leaders and other criminals with no way for authorities to track the firearm movement. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot by an Operation Fast and Furious weapon in 2010.
"The guns lost continue to crop up in crime scenes on both sides of the border," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, as he asked Holder how many of the 2,000 guns law enforcement has recovered.
Holder replied that several hundred are recovered, but he didn't give an exact number.
After Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata, a Brownsville native, was shot and killed in Northern Mexico, questions arose over whether the firearm was connected with Operation Fast and Furious.
Several representatives mentioned Zapata when asking Holder why such an operation was authorized. Holder said Zapata's death has not been tied to the operation.
In response to questions about who authorized the sting operation, Holder said he does not yet have a name, but he said it initiated in the regional Phoenix office, rather than in Washington.
He said the Department of Justice has employed various techniques to track the lost weapons. The agency has moved additional law enforcement to the border, he said.
"I fear the number of people on the Mexican side of the border and frankly the U.S. side of the border will be negatively impacted by the mistakes," he said. "People will be harmed."
Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee as part of an ongoing Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
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