Plan to Let Drug Cartels Buy Guns in U.S. Approved at ‘Highest Levels' of DOJ

By Fred Lucas | June 17, 2011 | 9:31 AM EDT

Soldiers stand guard during a media presentation of a weapons cache that includes 154 rifles and shotguns and over 92,000 rounds of ammunition, in Mexico City, Friday June 3, 2011. Army Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas said Friday the weapons were found in "a subterranean stockpile" at a ranch near the northern city of Monclova this week. Authorities believe the weapons belonged to the Zetas drug cartel. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

( - Instead of trying to stop the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels, the Obama administration’s “Operation Fast and Furious” deliberately allowed it to happen. Moreover, “This shift in strategy was known and authorized at the highest levels of the Justice Department,” says a report by congressional staffers.

“Through both the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and ‘Main Justice’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Department closely monitored and supervised the activities of the ATF,” the report says.

On Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convened a hearing to determine who ultimately authorized the Operation Fast and Furious, who knew about it – “and why it took the murder of a 40-year old border patrol agent and a congressional inquiry before administration officials cancelled it.”

Operation Fast and Furious, conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was launched in 2009 in an effort to track the flow of guns from U.S. straw purchasers to Mexican cartels.

ATF agents who complained about the recklessness of allowing cartel associates to buy guns in Arizona were reprimanded, the congressional report said.

David Voth, a supervisor at the ATF field division in Phoenix, told complaining agents to back off: “Whether you care or not people of rank and authority at HQ are paying close attention to this case and they also believe we (Phoenix field division) are doing what they envisioned the Southwest Border Groups doing,” Voth wrote in an e-mail dated March 12, 2010. “It may sound cheesy, but we are ‘The Tip of the ATF spear’ when it comes to Southwest Border Firearms Trafficking.

“If you don’t think this is fun you’re in the wrong line of work – period,” the Voth e-mail continued: “This is the pinnacle of U.S. law enforcement techniques. After this, the tool box is empty. Maybe the Maricopa County Jail is hiring detention officers and you can get paid $30,000 (instead of $100,000) to serve lunch to inmates all day.”

Voth’s e-mail was included in a 51-page report by Republican staffers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Two of the guns purchased by cartel associates were found at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent’s murder in December.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in March he ordered the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the ATF’s gun-tracking operation – “to see exactly what happened, and whether or not what happened was appropriate.”