In this Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 picture, Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF Phoenix, speaks behind a cache of seized weapons in Phoenix. The ATF is under fire over a Phoenix-based gun-trafficking investigation called "Fast and Furious."
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has promoted three managers who were involved in the agency's "Fast and Furious" operation, which allowed weapons to be illegally smuggled across the U.S. border into Mexico.
The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story, reports:
All three have been heavily criticized for pushing the program forward even as it became apparent that it was out of control. At least 2,000 guns were lost and many turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and two at the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
The three supervisors have been given new management positions at the agency's headquarters in Washington. They are William G. McMahon, who was the ATF's deputy director of operations in the West, where the illegal trafficking program was focused, and William D. Newell and David Voth, both field supervisors who oversaw the program out of the agency's Phoenix office.
Last month, in testimony before the House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, McMahon admitted mistakes in the implementation of the operation.
"I share responsibility for mistakes that we made in the Fast and Furious investigation," McMahon said in a prepared statement. "The advantage of hindsight and the benefit of a thorough review of this case clearly points me to things that I would have done differently. However good our intentions, regardless of our resource challenges, and notwithstanding the difficult legal hurdles we face in fighting firearms traffickers, we made mistakes."
Newell also testified before the House and defended the broader program but admitted he should have more frequently assessed the risk of letting certain people buy guns time and time again without interfering.
"The whole plan was to take out the whole organization, but I realize in retrospect that there were times when I should have conducted more risk assessments," The New York Times quotes Newell as saying.
The Times also provides a bit of background on the operation:
Operation Fast and Furious ran from late 2009 to early 2011, and is part of a still-open larger investigation into the gun-trafficking ring. The operation's tactic of not quickly seizing guns and arresting straw buyers in the hope that they would lead investigators to higher-ups in the ring prompted controversy within the firearms bureau.
After the Los Angeles Times ran its story, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the promotions.
UPI reports he said: "Until Attorney General [Eric] Holder and Justice Department officials come clean on all alleged gun-walking operations, including a detailed response to allegations of a Texas-based scheme, it is inconceivable to reward those who spearheaded this disastrous operation with cushy desks in Washington."
The ATF did not comment on the Los Angeles Times' story.