Government agents acting without authorization conducted dozens of undercover investigations of illegal tobacco sales, misused some of $162 million in profits from the stings and lost track of at least 420 million cigarettes, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Wednesday.
In one case, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sold $15 million in cigarettes and later turned over $4.9 million in profits from the sales to a confidential informant — even though the agency did not properly account for the transaction.
The current ATF director is Minneapolis’s own Todd Jones. Jones said the audit covered only selected, “historical” ATF investigations between 2006 and 2011, and said the agency had adopted the recommendations of the report to tighten its internal guidelines since then. The report is thus ancient history. The ATF is now a well-oiled machine. The report itself indicates that ATF is working on the recommendations produced in the course of the investigation.
The report examines the ATF’s performance of income-generating undercover operations (so-called “churning” investigations). The ATF appears to have conducted these operations in a manner inconsistent with its own policy. According to the report, none of the 35 requests for undercover churning operations was reviewed and approved by ATF’s Undercover Review Committee, as required by ATF policy. In addition, 33 of these 35 investigations did not comply with other ATF requirements governing requests for and approval of churning authority.
The ATF respectfully disagrees with certain of the findings of the Inspector General’s report. It contends, for example, that it is unable to account for only some 447,218 cartons of cigarettes rather than the 2.1 million cited in the report.
This is actually an important report. The agency involved is entrusted with work bearing on a trade that produces financial support for terrorist groups. The report makes out an agency that is, however, badly mismanaged if not out of control.
But then, we knew that. We all came to know the ATF during the Fast & Furious scandal, the bottom of which we will apparently never see. The very good Washington Post article on the current investigation notes an echo to Fast & Furious: “In its Phoenix-based ‘Fast and Furious’ gun operation, ATF lost track of more than 2,000 guns that investigators were monitoring as they were sold to traffickers suspected of arming Mexican drug cartels. The operation to link guns to a cartel fell apart after some of those guns were found at the scene of a shootout that killed a U.S. Border Patrol agent.”