The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration has admitted that the agency knew about and played a role in “Operation Fast and Furious,” a botched gunrunning program that allowed more than 2,000 firearms to “walk” across the border into Mexico.
In a letter to the House Committee on Oversight, obtained by the LA Times, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart wrote that DEA agents in Phoenix and El Paso were “indirectly involved” in the Fast and Furious operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The letter states that the DEA had no “decision-making role” in Fast and Furious.
Leonhart’s letter marks the first time another law enforcement agency, other than the ATF, has acknowledged working on Fast and Furious. The House is investigating why ATF agents were allowed to let guns be smuggled into Mexico and who in the U.S. Department of Justice (which oversees the ATF) knew about the operation.
More than half of the Fast and Furious guns are missing, and nearly 200 have been found at bloody crime scenes on both sides of the border.
The DEA letter does not confirm or deny claims that, unbeknownst to the ATF, the Mexican drug cartel leaders targeted by Fast and Furious were apparently paid informants for the FBI and the DEA. If those allegations are true, the Fast and Furious investigation will likely grow wider and may focus on the upper echelons of the DOJ.
The allegations, made by ATF director and other unnamed sources, are corroborated by documents filed in federal court Friday by attorneys for Vicente Zambada Niebla, a top-ranking Sinaloa cartel boss who is standing trial in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges. Zambada claims he was a DEA informant and was guaranteed immunity from prosecution at the top levels of the U.S. Justice Department.
According to the defence motion, U.S. federal agents made a deal with the Sinaloa Cartel that gave the cartel “carte blanche” to smuggle drugs into the U.S. in exchange for information about other cartels. The motion claims that the deal was part of a “Divide and Conquer” strategy whereby the federal government helped finance and arm the cartel through Fast and Furious.
The DEA has categorically denied Zambada’s claims. But even if Zambada is exaggerating his relationship with the U.S. government, his trial will likely put even more pressure on the Justice Department to reveal who knew what about Fast and Furious.
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