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Parents of slain border agent seek $25 million from Fast and Furious agency

Slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry

The parents of a slain U.S. Border Patrol agent are seeking $25 million from the federal agency that ran Operation Fast and Furious, a gun-smuggling probe that is under investigation in Congress.

Josephine and Kent Terry on Wednesday filed a claim alleging the death of agent Brian Terry was due to negligence by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to The Arizona Daily Star newspaper of Tucson.

The 65-page claim, a legal prerequisite to a lawsuit, blames bureau negligence for allowing weapons in Operation Fast and Furious to illegally cross the border, leading to Terry's death on Dec. 14, 2010, the Daily Star said. On that day, Terry and three other border patrol agents were patrolling south of Tucson. They came across armed men, and a gunfight ensued, killing Terry.

In Operation Fast and Furious, begun in 2009, agents lost track of about 1,400 weapons that they were tracking. The guns were sold to low-level straw purchasers believed to be supplying Mexican drug gangs and other criminals. Another 700 firearms connected to suspects in the investigation have been recovered, some from crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including the scene in Nogales, Ariz., where Terry was killed.

The first so-called gun-walking probe was launched in 2006 and was known as Operation Wide Receiver. Other smaller, similar operations in which ATF agents monitored gun purchases were conducted in 2007 and 2008. 

"Brian's death could have and should have been prevented by competent law enforcement personnel if those involved had simply followed ATF policy and common sense," read the claim, according to the Daily Star.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department rejected an assertion by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that top agency officials are covering up events surrounding Fast and Furious.

Issa made the accusation in a letter threatening to seek a contempt of Congress ruling against Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to turn over congressionally subpoenaed documents that were created after problems with Fast and Furious came to light. Holder was to testify Thursday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs.

The Washington Post late Wednesday, citing the Justice Department, reported Holder was expected to testfiy that the gun-walking tactic used in Fast and Furious was "wholly unacceptable," used in a misguided way, and would not be used again.    

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, The Associate Press reported, responded to Issa's letter that the department will provide material created after Feb. 4, 2011, the day the department gave incorrect information to Congress about Fast and Furious. At the time, the department said federal agents made every effort to intercept illegally purchased weapons. Instead, agents in the Phoenix-based Fast and Furious investigation tried to track the weapons after purchase to make cases against gun-smuggling ring leaders who had long escaped prosecution.

A committee spokesman, Frederick Hill, said the department is under investigation not only for Fast and Furious but also for its response to whistleblowers and investigators who expressed concern about the operation.

"If the Justice Department cannot provide assurances that it will meet its legal obligations" and provide the documents, "the committee has no other option than moving to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt," Hill said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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