Issa: ATF’s Tactic May Be ‘Increasing Crime in Your Neighborhood’

By Melanie Arter | April 2, 2014 | 12:51 PM EDT

ATF Director B. Todd Jones talks to Attorney General Eric Holder (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

( – Three years after the botched gun-walking operation Fast and Furious led to the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Director B. Todd Jones faces scrutiny about the agency’s storefront operation in Milwaukee in which convicted felons were allowed to leave the store armed and dangerous.

“ATF’s dangerous tactics may actually be increasing crime in your neighborhood,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said at Wednesday's hearing on the agency’s undercover storefront operations.

Jones first took over the helm of the agency as acting director and later as its first director since the wake of Operation Fast and Furious with the task to “change the culture at ATF and to move the agency in the right direction,” Issa said. “This was no small task. Two and a half years into his tenure, it is safe to say the ATF still has a long way to go.”

In Operation Fearless, not only did ATF agents allow convicted felons to leave the store with guns, but the storefront itself was burglarized, “and $39,000 worth of merchandise was stolen – all because the ATF neglected to install an alarm system,” Issa noted.

“Three weapons, including a machine gun, and I repeat - not a semi-automatic weapon often called a machine gun – a machine gun was stolen from an ATF vehicle,” Issa added.

Also, a 28-year-old man – Chauncey Wright – who has “an IQ of 54 and functions at the level of a kindergartner,” was recruited by ATF agents to promote that the storefront “was looking for people willing to sell guns and drugs” and later charged for his involvement in the undercover sting operation, the Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel reported on June 7, 2013.

“ATF exploited a mentally handicapped person with an IQ in the mid-50s to assist in the storefront operation and then arrested this poor, limited capacity individual for his involvement,” Issa said in his opening statement at Wednesday’s hearing.

The ATF assured the committee in April 2013 that the “botched operation” was “an isolated incident,” Issa said, but the committee learned in December of that same year that the agency “mismanaged similar undercover operations across the country, stretching from Portland, Oregon, to Albuquerque to Wichita to Atlanta to Pensacola, Florida.”

“These other storefront operations followed an incredibly reckless pattern,” Issa said. “ATF’s dangerous tactics may actually be increasing crime in your neighborhood.

“These operations do not inspire public confidence. Rather, they make America wonder if ATF is a reliable partner to keep the streets safe. The Milwaukee operation Fearless was part of the ATF’s monitored case program. The monitored case program was created after Operation Fast and Furious to ensure careful oversight of field operations from ATF headquarters,” Issa said.

“Unfortunately, it is clear in the case of Operation Fearless the monitoring case program failed and failed miserably,” he said. “Three years after the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, ATF has yet to fire anybody for their roles in Operation Fast and Furious, and I personally find that inexcusable.”

“We have been down this path before. ATF has promised to change its culture, implement new policies and procedures and hold agents accountable for their actions, but what good are these new policies and procedures if they too fail? What good are promises of accountability if the accountability never occurs?” Issa added.

"What message does it send to the hard-working ATF agents who get it right? You could be wreckless and jeopardize public safety in furtherance of your investigation, but you will not be disciplined and certainly not fired," he said.