The op's name, "Fast and Furious," came from the series of movies about an undercover drag racer working for the FBI -- which gives you some idea of the lack of seriousness behind this cockamamie scam.
The Justice Department, which oversees the ATF, says the idea was to allow the sale of handguns, AK-47s and .50 caliber rifles to so-called "straw purchasers," who'd then pass them along to the cartels. In theory, ATF agents would then trace the extent of the smuggling networks in an effort to stop the illegal cross-border gun trade.
Oops No 1: The agency had no real way to trace the guns once they left the country -- and no real power to operate in Mexico.
Oops No. 2: The gangs used the weapons for what you'd expect. At least two American agents have been killed with Fast and Furious guns. God knows how many Mexicans have died; since 2006, more than 40,000 have died in the drug wars.
The operation was vehemently opposed within the Phoenix Field Division of the ATF, where the scheme originated. Agent Pete Forcelli testified: "What we have here is a colossal failure of leadership. We weren't giving guns to people for killing bear, we were giving guns to people to kill other humans."