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Published: Monday, 9/24/2012

Editorial

Fast, furious fiasco

tHE scheme by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to track the movement of guns from their sale in the United States into the hands of Mexican drug dealers was just as misguided and mismanaged as it seemed. The best report the nation is likely to see about the scandal confirms this view.

The first attempt at prying open the secrets of the scandal came through a partisan investigation in Congress led by Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California. Attorney General Eric Holder resisted handing over all the documents requested. Republicans took the unprecedented step of finding him in civil and criminal contempt of Congress.

Political grandstanding aside, the program called Operation Fast and Furious was a fiasco. The major result of the "gun walking" program was that the ATF lost track of about 2,000 high-powered weapons sold in Phoenix-area gun stores.

Although Fast and Furious did lead to charges against 20 gun traffickers, it didn't stop the flood of guns across the border -- and it contributed to the arming of the worst types of criminals. Worse yet, two of the guns were recovered at the scene of a shootout that killed a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Last week, the long-awaited report by the Justice Department inspector general came out in great detail. The highly critical review likely will be the final word on what went wrong.

With more information than was made available to the congressional inquiry, and with a willingness to hold Justice Department officials accountable, the internal report identified 14 officials for possible department disciplinary action. As a result of the report, one senior official resigned and another retired.

Although the report was praised by Republicans, including Mr. Issa, it didn't blame Mr. Holder directly for the debacle. But it remains a political problem.

President Obama, who claimed executive privilege for withholding documents from Congress, has another problem to answer for, although the harebrained idea was hatched during the administration of George W. Bush, in a program called Operation Wide Receiver.

This report is a strong, cautionary tale about what can happen when, in its words, "a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures" put public safety at risk.



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