Obama administration reveals new ATF gun probe rules

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 27, 2012 8:08 PM
Obama administration reveals new ATF gun probe rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday revealed new reforms undertaken to improve how it conducts undercover gun trafficking investigations in the wake of a botched operation in which scores of weapons disappeared.

The reforms require additional oversight of undercover operations, including those that involve more than 50 firearms, and, in most cases, ends the practice of paying gun dealers to serve as confidential informants.

Additionally, a new review committee has been established to monitor sensitive undercover cases or those that would have a "significant regional or national impact," according to the Justice Department.

The details were revealed just before Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Thursday before members of the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the bungled operation known as "Fast and Furious."

The operation, run out of the Phoenix offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and U.S. Attorney's office was meant to follow the guns from the initial buyers along the U.S. border to violent drug cartel leaders in Mexico.

However ATF agents did not track the weapons after they were transferred from the initial buyer to others who smuggled them across the border. As many as 2,000 guns may have been sold under the operation.

Two AK-47 style weapons from that program were found in Arizona 18 miles from the border where a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was shot and killed during a December 2010 shootout with illegal immigrants.

A similar, smaller program was run during the Bush administration dubbed "Wide Receiver."

"We are undertaking key enhancements to existing department policies and procedures to ensure that mistakes like those that occurred in 'Wide Receiver' and 'Fast and Furious' are not repeated," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Congress.

Republicans have been demanding to know who in the Obama administration knew about the "Fast and Furious" operation and when. Holder and other senior ATF and Justice Department officials said they did not learn about it until early 2011.

(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky)