Since the president was reelected in November of last year, a good deal of poison has been poured into Washington’s grimy alphabet soup. Among the departments that have become embroiled in scandal are the IRS, the DOJ, the DOE, the EPA, the NSA, the USDA, and, of course, the ATF. This week, the lattermost is back in the news — and for good reason.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is probably best known these days for the failure of its disastrous Fast and Furious scheme — a botched initiative that aimed to give American guns to Mexican cartels first and to ask questions later. Under pressure, the administration was quick to imply that the mistake was an aberration. But a watchdog report, published last week by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, suggests that the caprice, carelessness, and downright incompetence that marked the disaster was no accident. In fact, that it is endemic in the ATF.
As with Fast and Furious, the primary objective of the ATF’s stings seems not to be to fight a known threat but instead to manufacture crime. Across the country, the agency has set up shops in which it attempts to facilitate or to encourage illegal behavior, and it has drafted citizens into the scheme without telling them that they were involved. It is fishing — nonchalantly, haphazardly, even illegally. And the consequences can go hang.
Some of the stories are heartrending. Tony Bruner, a convicted felon with an IQ of 50, was hired in Wichita to work at “Bandit Trading,” a fake store that agents had established as a front. Bruner didn’t realize that he was working for the ATF — he thought he had finally found a steady job. But the agents knew how valuable Bruner could be to them, recognizing immediately that he was disabled (or “slow-headed,” in one agent’s unlovely phrase) and that he would therefore be easy to manipulate. Having established his trust, agents asked Bruner to find guns for them, which he agreed to do...
The Journal Sentinel investigation is worth reading in its entirety. Some of the low-lights:
■ As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several ripped off from police cars...
■ Agents pressed suspects for specific firearms that could fetch tougher penalties in court. They allowed felons to walk out of the stores armed with guns. In Wichita, agents suggested a felon take a shotgun, saw it off and bring it back — and provided instructions on how to do it. The sawed-off gun allowed them to charge the man with a more serious crime.
Perhaps House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa could open up a formal inquiry into the almost unbelievable misbehavior of the ATF.
That is, if it doesn't impact the 42 other investigations he's "working on".