Senior Department of Homeland Security officials did not learn about the flawed gunwalking tactics involved in the ATF's Fast and Furious case until years after the investigation began, according to a new report released by the Office of the Inspector General for DHS.
The report, issued this month, shows senior DHS officials "had no awareness" of the investigative strategies that allowed criminals to access and smuggle guns to Mexico, until media reports were published in March 2011.
Department of Homeland Security's Involvement
Despite the ATF's lead role in the Fast and Furious case, a Homeland Security Investigations special agent (which falls under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) participated in the investigation in Arizona, as a member of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force.
The task force also included law enforcement officers from state, local and other federal agencies.
According to the OIG report, the Homeland Security Investigations special agent participated in the gunwalking tactics despite being aware "those activities might violate (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) policy."
"However," the report continued, "he believed that his role was to cooperate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and to coordinate enforcement activities with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations. "
The agent documented his actions in his reports, but senior leaders never read the reports.
Officials at ICE headquarters did not become aware of the tactics until weapons linked to the case were also found at the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
DHS Secretary's involvement
According to the report, DHS Secretary Napolitano did not know about the flawed Fast and Furious tactics until March 2011, when it gained media attention.
Napolitano "began to seek information about it and any involvement by DHS components," the report indicated.
"By the time the DHS Secretary received information about ICE participation in the task force, the DOJ OIG had already begun its review of Operation Fast and Furious….The Secretary's and ICE officials' actions were appropriate," the report said.
The OIG made three recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to improve the accountability within the department.
We recommend that the Director of ICE assess whether HSI Arizona senior leaders fulfilled their duty to enforce the weapons smuggling statutes for which DHS maintains jurisdiction.
We recommend that the Director of ICE determine whether the HSI SAC office's management of Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed an HSI special agent to participate in investigative activities that violated ICE policy and practice, adhered to ICE standards for its senior leaders.
We recommend that the Director of ICE enhance ICE policy, Accountability Requirements for Enforcement Operations Involving Contraband and Other Sensitive Items , to ensure that the language in the ICE/ATF MOU does not continue to foster an expectation that HSI SACs resolve all conflicts with ATF in the field. The language of the policy should be modified to state that the duty to report conflicts covered by the policy overrides the ICE/ATF MOU language, which may seem to place the responsibility on SACs to resolve all conflicts at the field level.