February 13, 2013
You may have read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) was running an undercover operation that had several very concerning mistakes and problems. The ATF’s mistakes included allowing a machine gun and other weapons to be stolen in the Milwaukee area. We need a full accounting of what happened in the Milwaukee operation and what the ATF will do to make sure something like this does not happen again in our neighborhoods or around the country.
As part of the “Violent Crime Impact Team,” ATF rented a storefront in a Milwaukee neighborhood to purchase drugs and guns. Notably, the ATF chose a neighborhood where aggravated assaults were decreasing and homicide numbers were far fewer than other sections of the city.
ATF has already been the subject of ongoing investigations for their failed gun-walking operation, called "Fast and Furious," where agents knowingly sold guns to drug cartels and traffickers in Mexico. This operation came to light when several of the walked guns were lost and one of the weapons was used to kill a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent.
Now, ATF has conducted another botched operation; this time not in Mexico, but Milwaukee.
A 2006 Department of Justice Inspector General report cited “ineffective oversight” of the Impact Teams and found no evidence showing firearm crimes were actually reduced in the “hot spots” where they performed. Not only do these teams continue to exist today, but the Journal Sentinel reports indicate the Milwaukee operation suffered from the lack of oversight cited in the IG report.
One of the most concerning and incredible facts uncovered in the reports is that ATF, for the second time that we know, has allowed guns to get into the hands of criminals. Three guns were stolen from an agent’s car, including a machine gun which has yet to be recovered. Then, when one gun was resold to the ATF storefront, the agents failed to arrest him for another two months.
After the storefront was burglarized and the ATF finally closed the operation, the agents reportedly left behind sensitive documents with information on the undercover agents.
I sent a letter with my colleagues Chairmen Issa and Goodlatte and Senator Grassley to ATF Acting Director Todd Jones asking him to explain what happened in Milwaukee and why the type of “ineffective oversight” the IG report found in 2006 has continued to persist for seven years.
Beyond "Fast and Furious" and the recent Milwaukee sting, ATF has had a rocky history. In 2006, ATF Director Carl Truscott resigned due to lavish spending, ethical violations, and questionable treatment of employees. The ATF needs an accountable, Senate-confirmed head just like the other law enforcement agencies under the Department of Justice.
The Obama Administration wants to pass new gun laws and give new responsibilities to the ATF, but the agency has been inept at enforcing the laws that we already have. The agency should have rigorous oversight of their operations, but the recent reports indicate the opposite is true. I look forward to hearing back from the ATF. We need to get answers on the botched Milwaukee operation with the goal of preventing other debacles in the future.