DOJ Finds Serious Flaws in ATF’s Undercover Storefront Operations

ATF's Firearm Library ( Photo: MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

ATF’s Firearm Library (Photo: MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a report last week outlining a number of serious flaws within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm’s undercover storefront operations.

While the IG did not recommend shutting down the storefronts, investigators did identify numerous areas of concern including a lack of oversight, training, planning, and expertise. The report also notes that the ATF failed to determine the success of its operations.

“We did not find evidence that ATF examined the impact of the operations to determine if they had achieved measurable success on the specific crime problems that they were designed to address,” the report read.

The ATF has been running undercover storefront operations for the last several years. The fake businesses usually revolve around secondhand stores, though the ATF also set up one in a tattoo parlor and one in a mobile van. Once the storefronts are established, ATF agents spread the word that they’re looking to buy used guns, no questions asked. Prohibited persons or those attempting to sell illegal guns are either prosecuted or used to lure additional criminals into the sting.

The strategy seems straightforward enough, but it comes with limitations. Even with proper training and oversight, the storefront technique often requires more effort and resources than it’s worth. Rather than targeting a specific potential criminal, ATF agents opened their stores in the hopes that a high-level target of federal interest would one day wander in.

That never happened. The ATF purchased hundreds of firearms but never made headway into criminal organizations. As the head of the FBI’s undercover program told the IG, storefronts are “a crude tool to target a crime problem” and that any storefront employed by the FBI would have to have predicated targets.

See also: Holder’s shocking Fast & Furious email

The sting operation the ATF set up in a mobile van exemplified the problems with the storefront strategy in general as well as the ATF’s shoddy execution in particular. The van operated for nearly a year selling sneakers and cigarettes, but produced nothing more than four guns and a small amount of drugs. As one supervisor noted in the report, “the likelihood of bumping into an individual that just happens to be walking down the street as you’re selling product out of the back of a van that’s willing to trade you a gun for sneakers is nil.”

Deficient oversight and training also resulted in a lack of clear policy in the ATF’s approach to juveniles. Though juveniles are obviously not targets of federal interest, one storefront relied on a juvenile to facilitate 15 percent of all the illegal firearms purchased by the covert team, The District Sentinel noted. One teenager at a different storefront sold ten firearms to the agents during the course of the operation, despite the fact that, according to one agent, teens weren’t “encouraged” to sell firearms.

“We found that ATF’s approach to juveniles at the storefronts was inconsistent,” the IG noted, finding that there were “few, if any” discussions from bureau headquarters about how the various storefronts should deal with minors.

The ATF, according to the IG, is fully complying with all of its recommendations.  However, given the ATF’s horrible track record with its previous sting operations, e.g. Operation Fast and Furious, Operation Fearless (see video below), one shouldn’t be too optimistic that any real change will happen at the ATF.

About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over two years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • mka June 29, 2018, 8:30 am

    The ATF is a rogue agency,with the department of justice backing it up. It broke away from its parent,the irs in 1972.
    These are the same type goons that killed multiple children in the Koresh compound during slick Willie’s tour of the presidency.
    They also managed to be tough enough to kill a mans son and wife in Idaho.This guy who lost his family had performed the outlandish crime of sawing of a shotgun barrel,an atf informant had convinced him to saw.
    The NRA labeled them jack booted thugs,causing popa Bush to turn in his lifetime NRA card.
    Several things about all the above. The ATF attacked the Koresh compound because of rumors they were converting semi
    automatic rifles into fully automatic. Koresh,went to town every week. He could have been arrested there and his followers
    would have given up at the compound. Instead our heroes went charging into the compound,guns blazing where they promptly
    got their ass kicked. This led to the fbi coming to the rescue. According to the large dyke that was attorney general at the time
    Koresh had been molesting minors. A charge never proven. Therefore it was important enough to bring in a tank equipped with
    CS gas to disburse these evil people. A fire started quickly from something released into the compound and burned to death
    children whom had been trapped when the tank covered them with the debris.It was about 50 adults and twenty five children
    burned alive. No outcry from the hollywood political whores nor much protest from politicians.
    A little later in the story of Clinton and his dyke Janet Reno (doj) they attacked the man Randy Weaver.
    This was a guy that was supposed to be an aryan seperatist who was stockpiling everything from automatic weapons to explosives.His real crime was wanting to be left alone in Ruby Ridge Idaho and away from the federal government,that he and his family distrusted. He was persuaded to saw off a shotgun for an undercover rat and did not show up for his trial.
    A judge ordered him to be brought in and fbi,federal marshals etc.descended on him. Before it was over a marshal had been killed,Weaver was wounded and his son,14 and his wife shot while holding her baby were killed. Another episode in the Clinton
    example of law enforcement. The FBI agent that shot the wife,was indicted in Idaho ,the federal gov. paid Weaver 3.1 million dollars for wrongful death. Fifty federal swat snipers were sent to this poor man’s land. All because of a sawed off shotgun.

  • Patriot September 20, 2016, 9:16 pm

    The ATF must be a shameless idiot organization controlled by corrupt idiot Democrats such as Hillary and Billy to try to destroy the production of ammunition and other aspects of the Second Amendment and practically destroy the lives of good American people in the honest gun business.

    The ATF should completely abandon the idiot nonsense they have proposed and let Americans defend themselves from robberies, rapes, killings, and dope heads needing money.

    This shows how corrupt and biased the network news media usually is on liberal matters, such as the idiot nonsense proclamation by the ATF that would end the supply of ammunition and be a huge step in gun control. There was no objection from the biased media and that is because the media supports Hillary and idiot Democrats. The network news media and Hillary, Billy, and Chelsea supporters, such as Obama, Tim Kaine is Hillary’s selection for Vice President, Pelosi, Feinstein, Boxer are rotten gun control politicians from California, Gov. Brown of California, Gov. Brown of Oregon, Gov. Inslee of Washington, Bloomberg is a major gun control idiot who contrives with Katy Couric to make the pro gun people seem to be confused and stupid on network news, Soros is a major gun control idiot who is a friend of Hillary and owns Progressive insurance, Sen. Schumer of New York wants to stack the U.S. Supreme Court with gun control Democrat justices, Katie Couric who contrived with Bloomberg to make the network news represent pro gun people as confused and stupid, Attorney General of Massachusetts Maura Healey who dictated that certain common guns are illegal, Sen. Harry Reid of Arizona who, as Majority Leader of the Senate, refused to hear Republican legislation, Dan Gross who is leader of the gun control Brady Bunch, Republican Susan Collins of Maine says she will not vote for Trump, all have something in common and it is the fact that all are ROTTEN TO THE CORE!!!!

  • TMAC September 16, 2016, 5:56 pm

    The same old DOJ? You know The one that did THE HILLARY Email fiasco. What A Joke.

  • Chuck Kimberl September 16, 2016, 12:10 pm

    ATF is a collection of unconstitutional scumbag, criminals. They routinely trample on the rights of citizens. At least in this case they were dealing with folks like themselves. . . . . . . .mentally retarded.

  • rev_dave September 16, 2016, 10:04 am

    The best was to fix BATFE would be to shut it down entirely. It’s already far exceeded the bounds of its originally stated purpose in the enabling legislation.

  • Abner T September 16, 2016, 9:10 am

    DOJ watching the ATF? Wow, talking about the fox watching over the henhouse…

  • Pete September 16, 2016, 8:42 am

    You can fix the problem of the DOJ just by renaming it to make it more realistic. It should be called the Department of INjustice. Never in my lifetime have I ever seen such corruption in an administration as we have observed in Obama’s. He has brought ‘Chicago politics’ to DC. Capone would be so proud.

  • GRA September 16, 2016, 8:02 am

    All the more reason to repeal the entire NFA. If nothing else, repeal the full-auto ban and the sporting clause of the NFA.

  • DRAINO September 15, 2016, 7:18 am

    Hmm…..the corrupt (DOJ) inspecting the incompetent(ATF)….That’s the standard US Govt way of doing business!! We HAVE to get an outsider in office so we can clean up this alphabet soup nightmare! The ATF needs to vanish and the DOJ needs a COMPLETE house cleaning. A small step on a long road.

    • Fb September 16, 2016, 12:20 pm

      You nailed it! Thank you…

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