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ATF: Lost Guns, Cigarettes, and Credibility

We learn ATF employed the same crime-facilitating strategy behind Fast and Furious with illegal smokes.

by
Shoshana Bryen

Bio

October 2, 2013 - 3:00 pm
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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had a great idea: facilitate the sale of weapons to gun runners near the Mexican border, then follow the guns to the higher echelon of criminals in Mexico. American and Mexican authorities would arrest the kingpins. Foolproof?

No. Project Gunrunner began in 2005 as an effort to use electronic tracking to trace guns sold illegally in Mexico and the Caribbean. It led to Fast and Furious (2009-11), Wide Receiver (2006-2007), the Hernandez case (2007), and the Medrano case (2008). In these latter operations, rather than create an intelligence trail with the eTrace software, the U.S. simply let straw buyers purchase guns to transport to Mexico. Mexican authorities were not notified. In the case of Fast and Furious, the ATF attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City was not notified.

The ATF Phoenix office facilitated the movement of more than 2,500 weapons, and promptly lost track of them. Some 195 Fast and Furious guns have been recovered from crime scenes in Mexico. Nearly 270 have been recovered at crime scenes in the U.S., including the two recovered at the scene of the murder of U.S. Customs and border agent Brian Terry. The 2011 death of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata may have been the result of these guns as well.

It wasn’t a great idea. Now, we know the ATF has applied the same “strategy” to illegal cigarettes.

The ATF made profits of $162 million from stings — but they lost an estimated 420 million cigarettes worth more than $15 million between 2006 and 2011. Through a system of “churning operations,” ATF used profits from one sting to finance the next set of operations. ATF used informants to handle the cigarettes (one informant received a staggering $4.9 million in “expenses”). The operations were done without proper approval according to the Justice Department’s internal watchdog arm. The informants were paid without receipts. With so much money unaccounted for, is it possible that some ATF agents were also paid without proper approval and receipts?

Illicit cigarette sales cost states billions in tax revenue. New York State adds $4.35 to each pack and New York City another $1.50, so 21 million packs — 2.1 million cartons — represents tremendous money.

But lost tax revenue is only part of the story; terrorist financing is another.

According to Police Chief Magazine, terrorist groups including Hamas, Hezbollah, the PKK, and the IRA have made millions by selling cigarettes and sending the money to the Middle East (or to Ireland). In 2004, Mohammed Hammoud was convicted of funneling $7.9 million to Hezbollah and sentenced to 155 years in prison, one of several cases that year involving money laundered to Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Despite these available historical examples, in 2006 ATF decided to facilitate illegal sales.

In 2008, Republican members of the House Homeland Security Committee published a report detailing the relationships between terror groups and traffickers. A pack of cigarettes that retailed for $8 at the time in high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey would cost only $4 in Virginia or North Carolina. The profit from a standard stolen truckload of 1,500 cartons would be worth approximately $60,000. An anti-tobacco group estimated that five percent of all cigarette sales in North America were illegal.

That ATF might have been one of the profiteers was not present in the report.

In 2009, U.S. Customs conducted the largest cigarette bust in its history — 200 million stolen cigarettes worth more than $20 million. How many of those came from ATF? There’s no way to know. More than twice that many were “lost” by the agency. 

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"The ATF Phoenix office facilitated the movement of more than 2,500 weapons, and promptly lost track of them. "

That is not correct. They did not "lose track" of them. They never made any attempt to track them. There was never any mechanism in place that would have tracked them.

That's a big difference, the difference between mere incompetence (losing track) and evil intent.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
So ATF lost the Tobacco and Firearms. Maybe because they were drinking all the Alcohol?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (19)
All Comments   (19)
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my neighbor's mother makes $87 hourly on the laptop. She has been without work for 10 months but last month her pay check was $12126 just working on the laptop for a few hours. look at here now........> WWW.Rush64.COM
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
This black market in cigarettes has been created by the anti smoking Nazis, who have raised tobacco taxes to excessive levels, levels so high that a black market has become profitable. You cant raise taxes on anything too high without adverse consequences. We have now reached that level in many states with excessively high tobacco taxes.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Many of the Obama/holder fast and furious guns overflowed from Mexico to Los Angles, Good Job boys,

Southsiders in LA are heavily. armed
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
ATF has always been a bit of a cowboy operation. Nothing they do/ screw up is much of a surprise, but if they've reached the point they're making a profit, it's time to make some changes.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
These are the signs of a government that has grown so large that it out grew itself. We keep hearing of things that get to big to fail, well our government has got so big it cannot succeed.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ugh. Get off the cigarette issue, already. Our tax dollars at work ... or down the drain.

[edited to change "cigarettes" to "cigarette issue"]
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
another government failred program brought to you by those that want to run health care and control your medical records
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The ATF Phoenix office facilitated the movement of more than 2,500 weapons, and promptly lost track of them. "

That is not correct. They did not "lose track" of them. They never made any attempt to track them. There was never any mechanism in place that would have tracked them.

That's a big difference, the difference between mere incompetence (losing track) and evil intent.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
"With so much money unaccounted for, is it possible that some ATF agents were also paid without proper approval and receipts?"

You'd have to be BATFit crazy to not suspect so.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama has those guns here in LA, south siders are selling AK-47's for 450-1000 but if you really need one they can deliver it to as far south as Orange Conty for 850 with in 2 hours.

More guns in LA today then ever before because of Holder and Obama. Ammunition is still tight.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
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