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Univision report looks at deadly toll of US gun smuggling in Operation Fast and Furious

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 10:00 a.m. MDT

Kent Terry Sr., father of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, and Richard Kent Terry Sr., father of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, and Richard "Rick" Barlow, chief patrol agent of the Tucson sector, share a quiet moment during the dedication ceremony for a new station named after Brian Terry, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 on Naco, Ariz. Brian was killed in a December 2010 firefight with bandits north of the Mexican border. Two guns found at the scene of the shootout were bought by a member of a gun smuggling ring that was being monitored in the government's botched gun smuggling probe known as Operation Fast and Furious. (Associated Press)

Two days after Univision aired a report on the U.S. government's Fast and Furious gun-walking operation's bloody toll in Mexico, one border agent was killed and another injured in Arizona, drawing attention to the border once again.

Sen. Charles Grassley, who led much of the investigation into Fast and Furious on Capitol Hill, said Tuesday's shooting stands as a reminder of the gun-walking program.

"There's no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we'll wonder for years if the guns used in any killing along the border were part of an ill-advised gun-walking strategy sanctioned by the federal government," Grassley said. "It's a sad commentary."

An investigation into Fast and Furious, a government program that put around 2,000 guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels in order to follow the weapons to major traffickers and cartels, recently ended. The probe faulted the Justice Department for misguided strategies, errors in judgment and management failures, The Associated Press reported in September.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 picture, Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF Phoenix, speaks behind a cache of seized weapons in Phoenix. (Associated Press) In this Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 picture, Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF Phoenix, speaks behind a cache of seized weapons in Phoenix. (Associated Press)

The program came to light after whistleblowers emerged following the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. Tuesday's border patrol death was the first since that of Terry, and occurred at the Border Patrol station in Naco, Ariz., that had recently been named in Terry's honor.

Two guns used in Terry's murder have ties to Fast and Furious, while the death of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata on Feb. 15, 2011, may also have ties to a similar program out of Texas.

In its Sunday night special, the Spanish-language television news network Univision focused on the effect of Fast and Furious in Mexico, looking at the human toll the U.S. program had within Mexico's borders.

According to the report, guns from the ATF operation were used to commit massacres in Mexico, including the murder of 16 young people attending a party and 18 young men in a rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez.

Univision compared a list of serial numbers and guns seized in Mexico, finding that at least a hundred of the Fast and Furious guns were used in crimes of all kinds. Of those, 57 were not mentioned in Congress' investigation.

"I think Mexico has paid a very high price in blood," said Luz Del Carmen Sosa, a journalist covering the Juarez police beat. "It's the country with the highest number of victims in this war without victors."

The facts of the Fast and Furious case suggest that the success of the program depended on a "perverse and indolent calculation" that when weapons were used to kill in Mexico, it could then be established who had acquired them, Univision suggested.

The Univision report also looked at Operation Castaway, which may be tied to guns found in Columbia, Honduras, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. In July 2011, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and then-acting ATF Director Ken Melson asking about Operation Castaway, which reportedly ran out of Florida.

Hugh Crumpler, who was arrested for selling guns without a license, said the ATF asked him to help apprehend individuals who were shipping weapons to Honduras. He said he was told the investigation was being supervised at the national level.

"They stopped me and they told me the guns were going to cartels. The ATF knew before I knew," Crumpler said. "They could not have followed me for two months like they said they did and not know the guns were going somewhere, and not want for that to be happening."

Special Agent John Dodson, an ATF whistleblower, said the death of Brian Terry was the first time he could put a name to a victim of the guns he was ordered to let walk.

"Nobody really knows, to my knowledge, the specifics about all those recoveries — the victims involved with all those recoveries," Dodson said. "Who are they? What happened? Is anybody ever going to know? Are those questions ever going to be answered?"

In Sept. 2011, then-Mexican Congressman Humberto Benitez Trevino estimated that 300 Mexican have been killed by Fast and Furious guns, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Americans are not often moved by the pain of those outside (their country)," Javier Sicilia, father of one of the victims, said. "But they are moved by the pain of their own. Well, turn around and watch the massacres."

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