The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that its investigation of the secretive Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has turned up an operation that — get this — targets brain-damaged people and uses them to set up storefront sting operations. Those storefront sting ops have turned out to be rogue ops full of sketchy, dangerous tactics and outcomes.
Concerns about planning and oversight of undercover operations date to at least the late 1990s when the ATF was part of the Treasury Department. Discussions were held by top officials not only from Treasury but from the Department of Justice and others in hopes of bringing ATF investigations in line with other federal agency standards.
“It was a source of frustration for everybody,” said Rory Little, a former longtime federal prosecutor who participated in the meetings.
Nearly 20 years later, many of the same problems exist.
Butbecause much of the agency’s work is done secretly, the public hasn’t known.
Problems with storefront stings surfaced publicly earlier this year when the Journal Sentinel followed up on a tip from a Milwaukee landlord that the ATF had damaged his building and left behind sensitive documents revealing details about undercover agents and their operation.
The newspaper’s investigation found the operation, dubbed Fearless Distributing, was marred by far more than the landlord knew. A machine gun and other weapons had been stolen from an agent’s car, the storefront was burglarized, agents arrested the wrong people and hired the brain-damaged man, who had an IQ of 54, to set up gun and drug deals.
The machine gun has not been recovered.
Members of Congress from both parties demanded answers, sparking an internal investigation by the ATF and a review by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. Eight months later, the ATF has not released its findings and the Justice Department investigation is not complete.
We’ll only get anything out of DoJ if the problems go no higher than the agency itself. Or, if the administration can manage to come down on the ATF without jeopardizing its own Fast and Furious cover-up.
So, this will get buried.