Congressional report criticizes ATF gun operation

By PETE YOST | June 15, 2011 | 11:13 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican House committee chairman says federal agents were told by superiors to stand aside while gun buyers in Arizona walked away with weapons headed for Mexican drug cartels in a risky U.S. law enforcement operation that went out of control.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California says leaders of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were fully aware of the details of Operation Fast and Furious, which was designed to track small-time gun buyers to major weapons traffickers on the Southwest border.

At a hearing before Issa's panel, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said hundreds of weapons destined for cartels were purchased in Arizona gun shops.

The operation was designed to respond to criticism that the agency focused on small-time gun arrests while major suppliers eluded prosecution.