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Mr. Patino came to the attention of ATF in October 2009. Within three weeks, he had purchased a total of 34 weapons, including the AK-47s from gun dealers cooperating in Fast and Furious. The serial numbers of the weapons were logged into the ATF’s Suspect Gun Database, which discovered that one of them had turned up in Mexico just 14 days after it had been bought.

ATF is supposed to stop criminals from trafficking guns to Mexican drug cartels,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who began the Fast and Furious probe last year. “Instead, ATF made it easier for alleged cartel middlemen to get weapons from U.S. gun dealers.”

Kept in the dark

While Fast and Furious was supposed to monitor the purchased weapons as they headed to buyers in Mexico, ATF agents assigned in Mexico had been kept in the dark about the operation.

“I would like to apologize to my former Mexican law enforcement counterparts and to the Mexican people for Operation Fast and Furious,” Darren Gil, former ATF attache to Mexico, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “I hope they understand that this was kept secret from most of ATF, including me and my colleagues in Mexico.”

During a rancorous five-hour hearing, ATF agents assigned in Mexico said they discovered the Fast and Furious investigation only after documenting that an alarming rate of guns found at violent crime sites in Mexico were being traced to Arizona gun dealers.

Mr. Gil said he found it “inconceivable” that any competent ATF agent would allow “firearms to disappear at all,” especially on an international border. As a result, he said, Mexico will continue to suffer the consequences of drug-related firearms violence.

Agent Carlos Canino, ATF’s acting attache to Mexico, angrily told the committee that “walking guns” was not a recognized investigative technique, adding that hundreds of weapons ultimately went to ruthless criminals in Mexico.

“It infuriates me that people, including my law enforcement, diplomatic and military colleagues, may be killed or injured with these weapons,” he said, adding that “never in my wildest dreams” would he have thought that ATF agents would allow guns to be walked to Mexican criminals.

Noting that Fast and Furious ended with the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, one high-ranking former Border Patrol official described the operation as “scary.”

“The only thing I can figure is that the politicians in the upper management of the agencies involved decided it would work,” the official told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of being reprimanded. “They sure as hell couldn’t have run it by the agents in the field who would have known what would happen.”

‘The most fun you have’

Not only were the ATF agents in Mexico unaware of the Fast and Furious investigation, several ATF agents involved in the operation itself had their own concerns.

Agent Olindo James Casa testified before the House committee that as a member of the Group VII Strike Force, he discovered that straw buyers were purchasing numerous firearms, that “no law enforcement activity” had been planned to stop them, and that numerous firearm traces had put many of the weapons in Mexico.

Because they were “increasingly concerned and alarmed,” he said, he and several other strike force agents took the matter to their bosses, including Mr. Voth, but to no avail. Instead, he said, they received an email they regarded as a “direct threat to the agents who were not in agreement” on how the operation should be run.

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