"Fast and Furious," a U.S. sting operation to let firearms "walk" across the border into Mexico and track them to powerful drug cartels, risked innocent lives and generated more violence in the neighboring country, according to a congressional report presented here Wednesday.
The goal of the effort by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which that agency lost track of nearly 2,000 weapons, was to establish a link between "straw" firearm purchasers in the United States and high-ranking members of drug cartel in Mexico.
"Unfortunately, ATF never achieved the laudable goal of dismantling a drug cartel. In fact, ATF never even got close," according to the joint staff report prepared for Republican lawmakers Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Charles E. Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Instead, Fast and Furious put the U.S. Border Patrol in danger and "contributed to the increasing violence and deaths in Mexico," the document says.
Issa and Grassley presented the report Wednesday during a House Oversight Committee hearing attended by relatives of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed late last year just north of the U.S.-Mexico border after a shootout with drug suspects.
Two assault rifles linked to Fast and Furious were found at the crime scene.
The authors of the report, the first of several to be released to pressure the Justice Department into fully disclosing details of the operation, allege that ATF safety measures to keep track of the weapons failed and that the strategy was "reckless" and doomed to fail.
During the hearing, Terry's mother told lawmakers about the call she received to inform her of her son's death.
Three ATF field agents who opposed the operation - Olindo Casa, Peter Forcelli and John Dodson also attended the hearing. Dodson had told CBS News in an interview in March that he was ordered to let the weapons enter Mexico without the knowledge of the Mexican authorities.
David Voth, supervisor of the ATF group in Phoenix that carried out Fast and Furious, decided to forge ahead with the operation despite warnings from field agents that someone could die, the report said, adding that the deadly consequences of the "irresponsible" operation could have been prevented.
The report noted that the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January caused a "state of panic" within the group coordinating Fast and Furious because they feared one of the weapons linked to the operation may have been used.
"To agents' shock, preventing loss of life was not the primary concern," Issa said during the hearing, urging the Justice Department to hand over all documents requested by Congress.
For his part, Grassley said licensed gun dealers warned the ATF in 2010 of the danger of conducting undercover operations that allowed weapons to fall into the hands of smugglers, but the agency assured them that the straw purchasers were under surveillance.
"The agents said (the operation) was a bad idea and the gun dealers said it was a bad idea. Who thought this was a good idea? Why did this happen?" he asked.
"(President Barack Obama) said he didn't authorize it and that the attorney general (Eric Holder) didn't authorize it. They have both admitted that a 'serious mistake' may have been made. There are a lot of questions, and a lot of investigating to do. But one thing has become clear already - this was no mistake," Grassley said.
The operation was "a conscious decision by senior officials. It was written down. It was briefed up to Washington, D.C."
Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since late 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office and deployed tens of thousands of Federal Police and soldiers to states wracked by cartel turf wars.
U.S. diplomatic cables disseminated by WikiLeaks and published in March by Mexico's La Jornada newspaper acknowledged that the vast majority of the handguns and many of the assault rifles used by the cartels enter Mexico from the United States.