WASHINGTON — Firearms illegally trafficked under the federal government's Fast and Furious program turned up at the scenes of at least 11 violent crimes in this country in addition to being involved in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in southern Arizona last year, the Justice Department has acknowledged to Congress.
The department did not provide any details about those crimes. But the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday cited an unnamed source close to the controversy who said the crimes occurred in several Arizona cities, including Phoenix, where Operation Fast and Furious was managed, as well as in El Paso, Texas, where a total of 42 Fast and Furious weapons were seized at two separate crime scenes. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
The new numbers, which vastly broaden the scope of the danger the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program posed to U.S. citizens over a 14-month period, are contained in a letter Justice Department officials turned over last month to Senate Judiciary Committee members.
In the letter, obtained by the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, department officials also said ATF officials advised them that the ATF's acting director, Kenneth Melson, "likely became aware" of Fast and Furious as early as December 2009, a month after the program began. Melson has said he did not learn about how the program was run until January of this year, when it was canceled.
The July 22 letter was signed by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich and sent to Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was in response to questions posed to the department about Attorney General Eric Holder and Fast and Furious.
The program was intended to identify Mexican drug cartel leaders and smuggling routes across the border by allowing illegal purchases of firearms and then tracking the weapons. Instead, many of the guns simply vanished.