“Things Just Keep on Getting Curiouser and Curiouser.” – Alice
It’s a page right out of Louis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has served up the encore to its Fast and Furious gun running to Mexico debacle that culminated in the death of US Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, in December 2010. This time it’s more of the same from a blown undercover operation in Milwaukee, WI.
Not to be outdone and apparently unscathed by the continuing Congressional probe involving Fast and Furious, the ATF has doubled down on a strategy that by all accounts has never worked. The only consequence being that Congress has launched yet another probe into what smacks of an anti-gun agenda driven by forces not necessarily confined to the halls of ATF headquarters in Washington but otherwise involving the usual suspects.
In a January 31, 2013, letter of inquiry to Acting ATF Director, B. Todd Jones, a Congressional fact finding panel chaired by Senator Charles Grassley along with House of Representative members, Darrell Issa, Robert Goodlatte, and James Sensenbrenner, recounted the origins of this operation designed to target criminal activity involving the “worst of the worst” violent criminals. ATF designated “impact teams” identified “hot spots” of gun related criminal activity in cities across America, in many cases even when such activity was not confirmed.
The letter cited a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which an ATF undercover operation, startling similar to Fast and Furious, was pursued in spite of ”many problems and limited successes”. Given that the fallout of Fast and Furious was still far from settled, the Congressional panel questioned how Jones and the US Attorney, Milwaukee, would have been comfortable with signing off on yet another strategy of undercover sales and purchases of weapons from street level criminals.
Rather than using civilian gun store owners for the weapons supply, ATF set up a phony storefront aptly named Fearless Distributing complete with a Facebook page designed to attract people seeking to buy clothes, shoes, and drug paraphernalia. Undercover agents at the storefront also made it known that Fearless Distributing was willing to buy drugs and guns from convicted felons.
The surrounding community was unaware that the business was a government run operation but they were aware that Fearless Distributing was paying premium prices for guns, no questions asked. Undercover agents couldn’t wait to pay $1,250 for guns that normally sold for $400-$700. Sure, the storefront did a brisk business but who wouldn’t take the opportunity to fleece a bunch of rubes so eager to part with taxpayer money for the sake of a statistic?
Apparently, the supply of guns in the neighborhood started drying up and fledgling entrepreneurs had to start looking elsewhere. This eventually lead to an escalation in the incidence of robbery and other related crimes to get the guns that of course ran counter to the goals of the operation in the first place.
The Last Straw?
The Sentinel reported that on September 13, 2012, three weapons were allegedly stolen from an ATF Ford Explorer parked near the storefront. The weapons stolen included a 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun, a Sig Sauer .40 caliber pistol, and an M-4 semi-automatic rifle (of the heralded “assault weapon” variety). The next day, an individual sold the stolen weapons, minus the M-4 and Smith and Wesson 9mm, back to the storefront’s undercover agents for $1,400. The seller was not arrested but remained at large for two months. Presumably, that was just enough time to start spending profits from the sale.
Unexpectedly (and most certainly a surprise to all involved), Fearless Distributing was robbed and $35,000 in merchandise including jewelry, clothing, auto parts, shoes, and other items was stolen. Apparently, ATF had failed to hook up an alarm system at the store. They probably never considered that as a possibility. The storefront closed not long after.
But there’s always redemption in the roundup. Agencies try to save face when operations go south by arresting any warm body even remotely associated with criminal acts that were targeted by the operation. According to the Congressional inquiry, during a roundup from another sting, ATF agents charged the wrong person on at least three occasions. Agents also charged one individual for “selling drugs even though he was in prison during the time of the operation.” Finally, ATF agents participating in the sting “left behind a sensitive document that listed names, vehicles, and phone numbers of undercover agents.”
You wouldn’t think that a government agency, when embroiled in a brand new fiasco fresh on the heels of the one before it, would even consider a future endeavor of the same variety. You wouldn’t think it necessary for Congress to have to tell any agency that this new episode in continuing episodes is the last straw. You wouldn’t think that when hearing that, anyone would understand that something bad just happened, that it has happened before, and maybe they should stop what they’re doing so that it doesn’t happen again.
You wouldn’t think it unreasonable to expect that. But when it comes to agencies and stats, agencies don’t think. Agencies go crazy over stats.
The ATF is proof of that.
Brett Braaten is the author of Homeland Insecurity: Failed Politics, Policies, and a Nation at Risk. His book brings his no nonsense, insider’s account of the current state of national security to help you decide whether you, your family, and your country are truly safe. Brett’s career as a writer and speaker is informed by 30 years of experience as a federal agent with U.S. Customs and the Department of Homeland Security. Brett Braaten draws back the curtain on the vast federal law enforcement bureaucracy to give a rare glimpse of behind the scenes agency responses to politics and policies that impact national security, sovereignty and the economy. “As a former special agent with both the U.S. Customs Service and later Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I enjoyed a great career. In retrospect, it was job satisfaction that most of us spent time looking for as we did our jobs in a system that fostered more obstacles than solutions.” Contact Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org .Visit his website, at www.homeland-insecurity.com for his thoughts and analysis of current issues affecting national security and the well-being of American families.