Furious folly: Report finds fault in ATF 'gun-walking' debacle

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The scheme run by the 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 every bit as misguided and mismanaged as it seemed. The best report the nation is likely to see on the scandal confirms this view.

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

Political grandstanding aside, it was fairly obvious that the program called 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 20 gun traffickers being charged, 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 U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

On Wednesday, the long-awaited report by the Justice Department inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, came out in great detail with a highly critical report that likely will be the final word on what went wrong.

With more information available than the congressional inquiry, and with a willingness to hold Justice Department officials accountable, Mr. Horowitz's report named 14 officials for possible department disciplinary action. As a result, 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 was -- and is -- a political problem. President Barack Obama, who claimed executive privilege for withholding documents from Congress, has another problem to answer for, although the harebrained idea was actually 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, as the report says, when "a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures" put public safety at risk.


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