Pubdate: Sun, 17 Jul 2011
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Los Angeles Times
Author: Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau


Probe Reveals That the U.S. Agency Running the 'Fast and Furious'
Anti-Gun-Trafficking Operation Didn't Know About the Alleged FBI
Informants. Congressional Investigators Are Looking into the Matter.

Reporting from Washington-- Congressional investigators
probing the controversial "Fast and Furious" anti-gun-trafficking
operation on the border with Mexico believe at least six Mexican drug
cartel figures involved in gun smuggling also were paid FBI
informants, officials said Saturday.

The investigators have asked the FBI and the Drug Enforcement
Administration for details about the alleged informants, as well as
why agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,
which ran the Fast and Furious operation, were not told about them.

The development raises further doubts about the now-shuttered program,
which was created in November 2009 in an effort to track guns across
the border and unravel the cartels' gun smuggling networks. The gun
tracing largely failed, however, and hundreds of weapons purchased in
U.S. shops later were found at crime scenes in Mexico.

The scandal has angered Mexican officials and some members of
Congress. Investigators say nearly 2,500 guns were allowed to flow
illegally into Mexico under the ATF program, fueling the drug violence
ravaging that country and leading to the shooting death of a U.S.
border agent.

In a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, the investigators
asked why U.S. taxpayers' money apparently was paid to Mexican cartel
members who have terrorized the border region for years in their
efforts to smuggle drugs into this country, and to ship U.S. firearms
into Mexico.

"We have learned of the possible involvement of paid FBI informants in
Operation Fast and Furious," wrote Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Vista),
chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate
Judiciary Committee. The two have been the leading congressional
critics of the program.

"At least one individual who is allegedly an FBI informant might have
been in communication with, and was perhaps even conspiring with, at
least one suspect whom ATF was monitoring," they wrote.

The FBI and DEA did not tell the ATF about the alleged informants. The
ATF and congressional investigators learned later that those agencies
apparently were paying cartel members whom the ATF wanted to arrest.

"Operation Fast and Furious was conceived to get some of the bigger
fish down there," said one official close to the congressional
investigation, who asked not to be identified because the probe is
ongoing. "Then it turned out that some of the ones they were zeroing
in on actually, mostly likely were paid informants."

The official said at least half a dozen cartel figures were being paid
by one U.S. law enforcement agency while they were being targeted by

"We are learning more about them, and there are six so far that we
know about. It's multiples, for sure," the official said.

The official declined to identify the six, but said the individual
cited in the letter to the FBI operated along the Texas border with

"This guy could die if it got out who he is," the official said. "He'd
be killed."

The FBI and DEA referred queries Saturday to the Department of
Justice. Officials there said they cannot talk about paid informants,
but are attempting to answer the questions from Issa and Grassley.

They noted that they already have provided thousands of pages of
documents to Congress, and have answered questions in sworn
depositions and open hearings.

"We have been cooperating, and we will continue to cooperate," said an
Obama administration official. "We want to learn as much as we can
about Fast and Furious, just as they do."

The ATF ran the Fast and Furious operation out of its field office in
Phoenix until early this year. The idea was to monitor illegal
purchases in federally licensed U.S. gun shops, but allow the illicit
buyers to walk away with the weapons, giving ATF agents the
opportunity to learn how the guns are smuggled across the border.

But many of their gun tracing efforts failed, and hundreds of firearms
purchased under the program were used to commit crimes in Mexico.

In addition, two AK-47s purchased during the operation were found at
the scene last December where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry
was shot to death near Tucson, allegedly by a Sinaloa cartel member.

A second U.S. immigration agent, Jaime Zapata, was slain in a cartel
ambush in February in Mexico, and investigators now are trying to
determine whether Fast and Furious weapons were used to kill him as

In the letter to Mueller, the senators asked if Zapata was armed when
he was killed and "if not, why not?" They also asked if his vehicle
was bulletproof, and if so, "how was he killed inside of the vehicle?"

They also asked how many cartel members were paid, if any of the
informants had been deported from the United States, and if FBI
personnel in Arizona knew of the informants.

The Republican leaders asked to see all "emails, documents, memoranda,
briefing papers, and handwritten notes" from and to FBI and DEA field
supervisors and agents in Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales and Yuma in
Arizona, and in El Paso, Texas.

They are seeking the same material from the FBI case agent
investigating Terry's death.

Zapata's family also is seeking answers. Relatives of the slain
immigration agent sent a letter June 14 to the U.S. attorney's office
in South Texas, the top FBI official in San Antonio, and several U.S.
immigration officials, "requesting information about the specific
circumstances of Jaime Zapata's death." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.