The War on Drugs
Suspected members of the Zeta cartel, among them two female minors who were told only to show their backs, are presented to the media in Guadalajara June 14, 2011. Reuters

Officials with the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms did not inform the White House of a disastrous program that allowed weapons to flow to violent Mexican drug cartels.

"Operation Fast and Furious" allowed illegal gun purchases to proceed so that agents could track them to their destination, but low-level agents testified to Congress that they were not told of the operation and were rebuffed or ignored by superiors when they raised concerns about U.S. firearms surfacing at crime scenes in Mexico. The Los Angeles Times reported that the deception may have extended to a top ATF official failing to tell President Barack Obama's national security team about the program.

In September of 2010, William D. Newell, who was then in charge of the ATF's field operations in Arizona and New Mexico, sent e-mails to Kevin M. O'Reilly, director of North American affairs for the White House national security staff, detailing the ATF's efforts to crack down on illegal gun trafficking. While he outlined goals similar to those sough by Fast and Furious, he did not explicitly mention the program.

"There was no mention of investigative tactics like letting the guns walk or the details of how this was all going down," an official told The Los Angeles Times, referencing the controversial technique of "gunwalking" in which agents intentionally failed to arrest gun traffickers as they crossed the border.

In testimony to a Congressional investigation headed by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., agents alternately described the technique as "insane," a "disaster" and a "perfect storm of idiocy." Guns linked to the program appeared at the scene of a bloody shootout between the Sinoloa cartel and the La Familia cartel, as well as at the scene of a murdered U.S. Border Patrol Agent.

"I can say with authority 'walking guns' is not a recognized investigative technique," said Carl Canino, an ATF agent who was stationed in Mexico. "These guns went to ruthless criminals. ... It infuriates me that people, including my law enforcement, diplomatic and military colleagues, may be killed or injured with these weapons."

Officials at the Mexican embassy were also ignorant of the program, something Grassley called "incomprehensible."

"Keeping key details secret while straw purchasers continued buying weapons for gun traffickers jeopardized our relationship with our southern ally and put lives at risk," Grassley said in a press release.