ATF gunwalking scandal: Second agent speaks out
South of El Paso, Texas, on Mexico's side of the border, lies Juarez - the most dangerous city in the world. CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports ATF Special Agent Rene Jaquez has been stationed there for the past year, trying to keep U.S. guns from being trafficked into Mexico.
"That's what we do as an agency," Jaquez said. "ATF's primary mission is to make sure that we curtail gun trafficking."
That's why Jaquez tells CBS News he was so alarmed to hear his own agency may have done the opposite: encouraged U.S. gun dealers to sell to suspected traffickers for Mexico's drug cartels. Apparently, ATF hoped that letting weapons "walk" onto the street - to see where they'd end up - would help them take down a cartel.
Jaquez is so opposed to the strategy, he's speaking out. "You don't let guns walk. I've never let a gun walk."
Yet ATF agents told us they were ordered to let thousands of weapons walk. Two of them, assault rifles, were later found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona last December. Another gunrunning suspect under ATF surveillance was linked to the shooting of Customs Agent Jaime Zapata. And sources say many more "walked" weapons turned up at Mexican crime scenes.
Jaquez said, "I think this incidence is probably one of the darkest days in ATF's history."
But ATF wasn't working alone on the case known as "Fast and Furious." Documents show ATF had conference calls with "DHS" (Homeland Security). "USMS" (U.S. Marshals) and DEA. An "ICE," or Customs agent, was on ATF's Fast and Furious team. They were advised by an "AUSA," or Assistant U.S. Attorney under the Justice Department.
Justice Department head Eric Holder said the inspector general is investigating. "The aim of the ATF is to try to stop the flow of guns. I think they do a good job in that regard. Questions have been raised by ATF agents about the way in which some of these operations have been conducted. I think those questions have to be taken seriously, and on that basis, I've asked the inspector general to look at it."
Jaquez is second sitting ATF agent to come forward and speak out to CBS News on the controversy.
Jaquez says one of the most difficult things for him is believing that his own agency inadvertently put innocent lives at risk. Jaquez has family - uncles, aunts, father and sister - living in Mexico. "Any one of us could have been shot with one of those guns."
Jaquez says he's left wondering whether runaway violence in Mexico can be partly blamed on the agency tasked with stopping it.
NRA reacts to CBS News investigation on ATF "gunwalking"
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has asked Congress to investigate allegations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) allowed thousands of weapons to cross the US border into Mexico, knowing they were likely to be acquired and used by Mexico's drug cartels.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, told CBS News that his group has heard from many of its law enforcement members who are outraged at the so-called "gunwalking" by ATF.
"They wanted to prove that there were guns flowing to Mexico, so they set up an illegal pipeline to send guns to Mexico," speculates LaPierre. "When does it stop being law enforcement and start being a criminal enterprise? To prove there's islamic terrorists are they going to start manufacturing and selling explosives? It just makes no sense."
It was ATF agents from the agency's Phoenix office who blew the whistle on the controversial practice to CBS News, to Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and on blogs such as "Clean Up ATF". The gunwalking was allegedly allowed in a case known as "Fast and Furious" out of Phoenix, and also allegely allowed in a case known as "Wide Receiver" out of Tucson and supervised by Phoenix.
Phoenix ATF executive Bill Newell is quoted as having told reporters "Hell, no" when asked if he had ever allowed or approved gunwalking. Since then, ATF and the Department of Justice which oversees the agency have not repeated the firm denial. Justice Department Chief Eric Holder told Congress two weeks ago that the idea of gunwalking is wrong and said he's asked the Inspector General to investigate.
As to why guns would be allowed to walk, something that is normally strictly forbidden, agents say there seemed to be an idea among supervisors that the strategy of letting guns walk to see where they'd end up in Mexico would somehow help them build a big case and take down a major cartel. They were never able to take down a cartel, but the weapons began showing up at crime scenes all over Mexico. Two of them were found at the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December. Authorities are looking for possible links to the death of Customs Agent Jaime Zapata.