(CNSNews.com) – Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Director B. Todd Jones on Wednesday that the agency’s Milwaukee storefront operation – Operation Fearless – should have been renamed, “Operation Fearless and Brainless.”
“We’ve gone from Fast and Furious. Now we’ve got, I guess Milwaukee was given Operation Fearless. I think it should be renamed Operation Fearless and Brainless from what we’ve heard here today,” Mica said. Operation Fast and Furious is to the agency’s botched gun-walking operation which was tied to the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry three years ago.
Jones admitted at Wednesday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the ATF’s undercover storefront operations that no one involved with Operation Fast and Furious has been fired.
The storefront operation, which Jones described in prepared written testimony to the committee, “is a valuable investigative technique in which undercover law enforcement officers or Agents operate a business that is calculated to identify and proactively intervene with criminals and criminal activity in high crime areas or hotspots.”
“Some of what I’ve read I guess in Wichita, it doesn’t sound like that had exactly a glorious operation. A known criminal came in with two AK-47s – and we only bought one – and he was a known felon and was let out on, actually on the street with the other one that wasn’t purchased. Are you aware of that case?” Mica asked.
Jones acknowledged having “some knowledge” about it.
“And I’m told that we paid such a high price. I want to find out how much we paid for these that actually where we had these operations, we had little crime waves of people going out,” Mica said. “They heard that you could get these weapons purchased at a higher than black market rate, so they were—ATF is buying them at a high rate, and we had little crime sprees.
“I’ve asked the staff to also look at these different operations, but there was a spike in crime in those neighborhoods. Are you aware of that?” Mica asked.
“I know that one of the indicators that we have in terms of monitoring and making sure a storefront is operated, it isn’t manufacturing crime,” Jones said.
Though the operation is often conducted in cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, Jones admitted Wednesday that the FBI was hesitant to get involved.
“I’m told that the operations also had such a bad reputation that when FBI was contacted about participating that they shied away or denied cooperative effort with ATF. Is that—are you aware of that?” Mica asked Jones.
“I don’t have sufficient knowledge to know why that happened. I’m not gonna speculate as to what occurred to have our federal law enforcement partners pull out on that. I do know that there were concerns expressed about data de-confliction, and certain investigative concerns, but I’m not in a position to explain anything,” Jones said.
The ATF conducted 37 storefronts from 2009 to 2013, with one active in 2013. There are no active ATF storefront operations taking place now, Jones said. “As a result of our storefront operations in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Pensacola, Portland, and Wichita, 259 defendants have been convicted, and over 1,300 firearms recovered,” he said.
Defendants arrested in the six operations discussed at the hearing had “over 350 prior felonies, so these are oftentimes not first-time offenders,” Jones said. “In Milwaukee, there were 26 federal defendants and 10 state defendants, 150 firearms. In Pensacola, which was February to October in 2011, 78 defendants convicted, 275 firearms recovered.”
Jones could not tell the committee the cost of the operation, but he promised to get back to the committee with specifics.