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Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee today that she knew nothing of a shift in strategy that delayed arrests of suspected gun traffickers and allowed hundreds of guns to be transported into Mexico.

Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she became aware of a now controversial gun-running investigation only after two of her border patrol agents were shot and killed.

In one of those shootings, two AK-47 assault rifles bought by straw buyers but not confiscated were found of the scene of the shooting of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry on Dec. 14th.

Napolitano was questioned about the case by Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who has criticized the decision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to let “thousands” of guns “walk” into Mexico as a means of trying to expose players higher up in the Sinaloa drug cartel.

“This ill-conceived policy has clearly affected countless lives,” Grassley told Napolitano. “Agents on the ground were ignored when they questioned the wisdom of this decision. And that just pours salt on the wounds of the families who lost loved ones.”

Officials at the bureau — which is part of the Justice Department, not the Department of Homeland Security — have defended the new strategy, saying that they were trying to shut down gun trafficking organization linked to the Mexican cartels, rather than merely arresting low-level straw buyers who are easily replaced.

Napolitano said nobody expressed concerns to her about the new strategy and she declined to give her views on it because the Terry murder is still under investigation.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association is now urging the Senate to do its own investigation of the Fast and Furious operation and the ATF’s response’s to whistleblowers.

In a letter sent today to Sens. Grassley and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, the the NRA’s chief of legislative action, Chris Cox, called the new strategy “an approach that can only be called wrongheaded, foolish and reportedly deadly.”

Cox said the Justice Department shouldn’t be trusted to conduct its own investigation of one of its bureaus. And Cox said in his letter that law enforcement agencies have enough laws already to deal with gun running into Mexico. He points out that federal laws prohibit the sales of guns to undocumented aliens, outlaw straw purchases and prohibit the illegal export of guns.

Officials at ATF have sought stronger rules to try to track gun smuggling into Mexico, including a proposal the NRA opposes to require that border-state gun dealers report multiple sales of long guns within a five-day period. The bureau says straw buyers for the drug cartels are generally legal residents with no criminal background and that charging them with any crime involves watching them transfer weapons.

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