Internal Justice Department memos made public this week show Holder had at least heard of Operation Fast and Furious as early at July 2010. He testified in May 2011 that he had probably learned of the program "a few weeks" before his appearance on Capitol Hill. In March 2011, President Obama characterized the operation, overseen by the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE), as an ill-advised program. Its aim was to track guns smuggled from the US into Mexico, via straw buyers for the cartels, with the aim of disrupting the networks and nabbing the criminals. But instead the guns ended up in the hands of violent drug-runners, contributing to the deaths of as many as 200 Mexican nationals and, evidently, US border patrol agent Brian Terry, as well as adding to the bloodbath in Mexico's border regions.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a similar interdiction effort, called Operation Wide Receiver, occurred under President George W. Bush as early as 2006. Both programs led to indictments. Government officials have explained that the programs were born out of frustration that BATFE was prosecuting small-time arms dealers instead of hunting bigger players in the Mexican cartels.